Celebrate the 1st Friday of Ramadan when you read (author of Story Power) Kate Farrell’s newest blog post.
One day Nasreddin Hodja rode his donkey to the nearby town of Ak Shehir. The Imam there was away for three weeks and asked the Hodja to preach the Friday sermon at the mosque while he was gone.
For the first few days of his visit, the Hodja was as free as a butterfly. He could talk with friends in the market place. He could go hunting in the hills. He could lounge in the coffee house.
But it was one thing to swap stories with the men in the coffee house and quite another to stand alone in the high pulpit and talk to a mosque full of people. The men, each sitting on his own prayer rug would look up at him with solemn faces. Then there was the fluttering in the balcony behind the lattices: the women would be waiting too.
The first Friday he walked slowly through the cobblestone streets of Ak Shehir. He saw the veiled women slipping silently past him on their way to the latticed balcony. He saw the men hurrying by to hear his sermon.
But what sermon? He stopped at the mosque door to leave his shoes. He walked with the other men across the soft thick rugs. His head was as empty as his donkey’s as he climbed the steps to the pulpit.
He gazed at the blues and reds of the tracery on the ceiling, but not a thought came. He looked at the mosaics on the walls, but there was no message there. He saw the men’s faces staring up at him. He heard tittering in the balcony.
He must say something.
“Oh, people of Ak Shehir!” He leaned on the pulpit and eyed them squarely. “Do you know what I am about to say to you?”
“No!” boomed the men.
“No!” floated down in soft whispers from the balcony.
“You do not know?” said Nasreddin Hodja, shaking his head and looking from one face to another. “You are sure you do not know? Then what use would it be to talk to people who know nothing at all about this important subject. My words would be wasted on such ignorance.”
With that, the Hodja turned and climbed slowly down the pulpit steps. He slipped on his shoes at the mosque door, and was out in the sunshine—free until next Friday.
That day came all too soon. The Hodja mingled with the crowds going to the mosque. He climbed the steps to the high pulpit. He looked down at the sea of solemn faces. He heard the rustling behind the lattices of the balcony. He had hoped that this week he would think of a sermon, but nothing had come to mind.
Still, he must say something.
“Oh, people of Ak Shehir!” intoned the Hodja, gesturing with both hands. “Do you know what I am about to say to you?”
“Yes,” boomed the men who remembered what had happened when they said “No” last week.
“Yes,” echoed in soft whispers from the balcony.
“You know what I am going to say?” said the Hodja. “You are certain you know what I am going to say? Then I need not say it. It would he a useless waste of my golden words if I told you something that you already knew.”
The Hodja turned and again climbed down the pulpit steps. He scuffed into his shoes and escaped into the sunshine. Another free week was ahead of him.
But the best of weeks end. The third Friday found him once more climbing the pulpit steps, with not a word worth saying. Even the Koran’s pages in front of him might have been blank instead of its Arabic script and illuminated borders. Men’s faces looked up at him expectantly. Bright eyes peered through the lattices of the women’s balcony.
The time had come again when he must speak.
“Oh, people of Ak Shehir!” demanded the Hodja. “Do you know what I am about to say to you?”
“No, no” came from those who were thinking of the last Friday.
“Yes, yes” came from those who were thinking of the Friday before that.
“Some of you know and some of you do not know!” The Hodja rubbed his hands together. “Wonderful! Now let those who know tell those who do not!”
The Hodja gathered his robes about him, humming to himself as he came down from the pulpit, two steps at a time. He nodded and smiled as he left the mosque.
Source: Retold by Kate Farrell, based on the version in Once A Hodja by Alice Kelsey, David McKay Co, 1943.
Note: This is my favorite Hodja tale of the hundreds, if not thousands, told throughout Muslim countries. My version is useful for telling the story, as I’ve bolded the transitional phrases in the story sequence as a memory aid. Nasreddin Hodja is the archetypal wise fool, a legend—several countries claim to be his birthplace.
*Though many statues depict the Hodja riding backwards on his donkey, he does not do so in this tale, but in others.
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