Yes, there are many ways to spell the name of Mullah Nasreddin. His longevity, legend and stories are known across a great swath of the planet, from Greece to Kurdistan, China to Romania, India to Russia. In Swahili and Indonesian he’s called Abunuwas and Abunawas. In Central Asia he’s known as Afandi. Nasreddin may be spelled Nasruddin, Nasruden, etc., etc., etc. But this is a humor blog, not a study of name etymology, so I hope you‘ll forgive if the list is incomplete.
His origins are unclear, though he was probably born in the early 13th century. Some say he was born in Iran, others say he was born in an area that is now Turkey. The town of Aksehir, near Konya in Turkey claims to be his hometown and it’s the location of his tomb. His humor is reflected in the design of the tomb. Though it sports a heavy iron door with a large padlock, it has no walls (in truth,it’s surrounded by a gate, but that is a modern addition). Each year, July 5-10, Askehir hosts The International Nasreddin Hodja Festival in his honor.
We know the Khalif in Baghdad sent Nasreddin to Anatolia in modern-day Turkey in order to organize an uprising against the Mongols. While living there, he served as a kadi, a judge. This is why so many of his stories address judicial issues rather than religious ones.
Nasreddin’s stories have survived the centuries and are told today across the Muslim world.. At this point, he’s become the center of stories he never actually told, but he is always at the center, telling the story from his point of view. There are thousands of jokes and anecdotes about him, enabling tellers to come up with a Nasreddin story for almost any occasion. In some he’s a philosopher, in others he’s witty and wise, and in others he’s the butt of the joke. In all, he’s the embodiment of the wise fool. His stories allow to hear the profound in the profane and the profane in the sanctimonious.
Here is one of my favorite Nasreddin stories:
One day, Nasreddin was asked to give a lecture or sermon. He walked to the podium, turned to the crowd and asked, “Do you know what I’m going to say?” The audience replied, “No.,” so he told them, “I have no desire to talk to people who don’t even know what I’ll be talking about!” He turned away and left.
The next day, the people asked him to come back. They were prepared for his question and, when he asked if they knew what he’d say, they said, “Yes!” So, Nasreddin said, “Well, since you already know what I’m going to say, I won’t waste any more of your time.” Again, he turned away and left.
The people came up with a plan and invited again the next day. Once again, he asked the question, “Do you know what I’m going to say?” This time, half the people said “yes” while the other half replied “no.” They were sure they had bested the Mullah. He thought for a moment and said, “Let the half who know what I’m going to say tell it it to the half who don’t.” And he left.