Today I was thinking of something interesting to say about the Arabic language and culture, just to go beyond the ordinary numbers, features and comparisons we always make when discussing a language. I believe that one of the most interesting – and yet very informative ways – to learn more about a culture is given by common stories, jokes, proverbs and an aware revision of all the stereotypes that outsiders usually consider true without having a clue about them in reality.
I recently came across Mullah Nasruddin’s stories and I have to say that he was a great discovery! I didn’t know who he was – he is actually quite a difficult character to trace – and I had a very good laugh at reading his short stories!
Apparently Nasruddin lived during the Middle Ages and he is claimed by many to be of Turkish origins. He was a Sufi visionary and philosopher roaming around the deserts of Arabia, and thanks to his stories and anecdotes, he became famous throughout Arabic-speaking countries, although his stories feature also in the oral tradition of China.
As they generally do, jokes and folk tales have a very solid basis of truth. They aim to make you laugh at first, but they have a moral as well, and this is what most of the time makes us think and reflect about aspects we underestimated or simply ignored before.
Nasruddin’s stories are still very popular in the Arab world and you can hear them on many occasions. Children love his stories and so do adults. As generations went by, new stories were added and the character and his tales spread to other regions; this is the reason why today we can find Nasruddin’s stories translated into many different languages, apart from Arabic.
Nasruddin’s stories tell about common situations, but they always have a pedagogic nature and they often refer to ideals very precious to the Arabic culture, such as trust, friendship, religion and tradition. However Nasruddin had a very wise and open view about several of these aspects and thanks to his bizarre style and subtle humour, he was able to deliver his morals in an unconventional yet very effective way. If you read these stories without knowing that Nasruddin wrote them back in the Middle Ages, you would probably assume they are some comedian’s jokes from a TV programme!
The one below is just to make you curious about Nasruddin’s jokes, and realise that there are much more translated funny Arabic tales than you would imagine that you might enjoy reading!
A friend asked Nasruddin how old he was. “Forty”, he replied. The friend said: “But you said the same thing two years ago!” “Yes” replied the Mullah “I always stand by what I have said”.