This story was collected and translated by Idries Shah, who helped introduce Sufism to the Westerm world in the 1960s. They are part of a vast collection of teaching stories about the Wise Fool, the Mulla Nasrudin, dating back at least five hundred years.
Nasrudin stories like the one below have been told all over the world for centuries now. While he most likely lived in what is now Turkey, he is a folk hero in Greece, Sicily, Spain and the former USSR.
Idries Shah writes, “The Sufis, who believe that deep intuition is the only real guide to knowledge, use these stories almost like exercises. They ask people to choose a few which especially appeal to them, and to turn them over in the mind, making them their own. Teaching masters of the dervishes say that in this way a breakthrough into a higher wisdom can be effected.
One day the villagers thought they would play a joke on Nasrudin. As he was supposed to be a holy man of some indefinable sort, they went to him and asked him to preach a sermon in their mosque.
When the day came, Nasrudin mounted the pulpit and spoke:
“O people! Do you know what I am going to tell you?”
“No, we do not know,” they cried.
“Until you know, I cannot say” said the Mulla, overcome with indignation. He descended from the pulpit and went home.
Slightly chagrined, a deputation went to his house again, and asked him to preach the following Friday, the day of prayer.
Nasrudin started his sermon with the same question as before.
This time the congregation answered in one voice:
“Yes, we know.”
“In that case”, said the Mulla, “there is no need for me to detain you longer. You may go.” And he returned home.
Having been prevailed upon to preach for the third Friday in succession, he started the address as before:
“Do you know or do you not?”
The congregation was ready.
“Some of us do and some of us do not!”
Excellent,” said Nasrudin, “then let those who know communicate their knowledge to those who do not.”
And he went home.