“Foolish wisdom” sounds like a major-league oxymoron. How can someone be wise and foolish at the same time? Yet the Mullah Nasruddin, a real-life Turkish Sufi, or spiritual practitioner in the Islamic tradition who lived around 1300 C.E., is a notable example of such a person.
Once someone was said to have asked him, “Mullah, which is better—the sun or the moon?” After stroking his beard a few times, the Mullah answered,
“Obviously the moon!” “But why, Mullah, why?” “Because the sun shines during the daytime when it’s light out anyway!” On another occasion, the Mullah was outside his house searching for something in the middle of the night. When his wife went out to find him, there he was under the street lantern. “What in the world are you doing out here so late?” She asked. “I’m looking for my house key.” “Well, where did you lose it?” She asked. “Over by the door.” “Well, why are you looking for it over by the street lantern?” “Simple,” the Mullah answered. “The light is better here!”
Once the Mullah was working as a river raftsman. On this particular day the river was running high and fast as he was ferrying a famous scholar to the other side. “Can you read and write, Mullah?” Asked the scholar. “Why no, your Excellency. I never learned.” “Well in that case you’ve wasted half your life.” “Excuse me, your Excellency,” the Mullah responded, “but can you swim?” “Why no,” answered the scholar. “I never learned.” “Well in that case,” said the Mullah, “you’ve wasted all of your life. You see, we’re sinking!”
Another famous Nasruddin story has to do with donkeys. Like the Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, the Mullah at one point dealt in international trade. He would travel regularly to Persia and return to Turkey on his donkey. Each time the captain of the border guard had his men search the Mullah, for he, the captain, was sure the Mullah was engaged in smuggling. Years later, both the Mullah and the captain were retired in a Mediterranean town. In fact, they would meet regularly for tea. One time the captain asked, “Tell me, my friend, were you smuggling back then or not?” “Of course,” came the response. “But what? My men always searched you so thoroughly.” “Why donkeys, my friend. Donkeys.”
A final story concerns the Mullah’s ill-fated trip to gather wood. In the morning he said to his wife, “Wife, I’m going to the forest to gather wood.” “But Mullah,” she remonstrated, “You must add ‘Inshallah,’ as God wills.” “Look, wife, I’m going to the forest to gather wood, and that’s that.” So off he set with his donkey and an empty sledge. Some hours later his sledge and he was about to return home when a band of mounted brigands rode up, beat him, and forced him on foot to lead them to the next village, a half dozen miles away. Late that night, half dead, he finally arrived home to find his house locked up with no light in the window. Summoning his remaining strength, he pounded on the door. “Who’s there?” His wife asked. “It’s me—Inshallah!” Responded the chastened Mullah.