Across the Muslim world, stories and anecdotes attributed to or about Nasreddin Hodja are as much a part of the collective consciousness as the Grimm’s Fairy Tales in Europe and North America.
Nasreddin was probably a real man who lived in Turkey in the 13th century. Some sources say he was born in Turkey, others that he moved there from Iran. In any case, it seems agreed that he lived and worked as a judge and teacher in Aksehir, near the city of Konya in central Turkey. He is known for his sly wit, appreciation of the absurd, optimism and genial nature. The honorific Hodja refers to a wise teacher.
For a Monday – The Hodja Looks on the Sunnyside
One day, the people of Aksehir noticed the Hodja walking all over town. He walked the streets, up one side and down the other. He peered into shops and cafes. He stood on his toes to look over fences. He disappeared into the shadows of narrow alleys and reemerged moments later. He crossed fields and hiked into forests. With every step, or nearly so, he said, “thank God.” Finally, a neighbor asked him what he was doing. “I’m searching for my donkey,” the Hodja replied. “He has been missing since this morning. I am both worried and inconvenienced.” “But I heard you saying ‘thank God’ repeatedly,” said the neighbor. “What’s that about?” The Hodja replied, “I’m thankful that I am not riding my donkey. If I were, I would also be lost,” as if it were obvious.
Another day, the Hodja was walking through Aksehir carrying a basket of beets. When a friend asked what he was up to, he told him that he was taking the beets to Tamerlane as a gift. (Tamerlane, aka Timur, was an invading ruler.) The Hodja’s friend had heard that Tamerlane did not like beets and advised him to take dates instead. In Tamerlane’s tent, the Hodja presented his gift of plump, sweet dates. That is when he discovered that Tamerlane did not like dates either and would make no allowance for the thought behind the gift. He waved off the basket, ordering his servant to pelt Nasreddin with all of the dates inside. Nasreddin stood and took the abuse. What else could he do at the mercy of the fierce, marauding Mongol? With each blow he said, “thank God.” When the basket was empty and the dates scattered on the floor at Nasreddin’s feet, the servant asked him why he thanked God for the humiliating treatment. “I thank God that I brought dates instead of beets,” he replied.