The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin

The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin

Paperback book cover (2015 edition)
Author Idries Shah
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher Octagon Press, The Idries Shah Foundation
Publication date
1968, 2015
Media type Print (Paperback), E-book, Audiobook
ISBN 0-86304-023-3 (earlier paperback edition)

The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin is a book by the writer Idries Shah,[1][2] based on lectures he delivered at the University of Geneva as Visiting Professor in 1972–1973.[3] Published by Octagon Press in 1968, the book was re-released in paperback, ebook and audiobook editions by The Idries Shah Foundation in 2015.

Shortly before he died, Shah stated that his books form a complete course that could fulfil the function he had fulfilled while alive. As such, The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin can be read as part of a whole course of study.[4]


Idries Shah

Part of a series of books, The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin is a collection of teaching stories, anecdotes and jokes drawn from Middle Eastern folklore and the Sufi mystical tradition, which feature the populist Middle Eastern philosopher and wise fool, Mulla Nasrudin.[5]

Thousands of stories have been written around this popular folk character over the centuries, since his purported birth in the 13th century in what is now modern Turkey.[5]


Douglas Hill, Literary Editor of the socialist Tribune weekly magazine, wrote in 1969 that The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin contained “a great deal of timeless and universal wisdom made accessible and highly attractive with humour”, adding that “conventional responses and received frames of mind are challenged on every page.”[6]

In The New York Times, award-winning writer and later winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature, Doris Lessing called The Pleasantries of the Incredible Mulla Nasrudin “perhaps the most shocking to our assumptions about ‘mysticism’” of Shah's books at the time. She said that this corpus of Nasrudin “jokes” was “deliberately created to inculcate Sufic thinking, to outwit The Old Villain, which is a name for the patterns of conditioned thinking which form the prison in which we all live.”[7]

In an earlier review in The Observer, Doris Lessing pointed out that most of the jokes in the book were new to the West; while others could also be found in the written work of Sufis like Rumi, Attar and Jami. She explained that “[Nasrudin's] antics are parallels of the mind's workings, designed to amuse the teahouses, but also for use on other levels”. As an example she refers to their use at an international scientific conference to illustrate problems in physics that were otherwise difficult or impossible to verbalise.[8]

Collections of Mulla Nasrudin stories

Note: ISBNs refer to the original paperback editions, published by Octagon Press. For current ISBNs, see The Idries Shah Foundation.


  1. Staff. "Idries Shah – Grand Sheikh of the Sufis whose inspirational books enlightened the West about the moderate face of Islam (obituary)". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2000-05-25. Retrieved 2008-10-16.
  2. Cecil, Robert (26 November 1996). "Obituary: Idries Shah". The Independent. Archived from the original on 27 November 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-27. Article has moved and is now incorrectly dated 18 September 2011.
  3. Staff (3 November 1972). "Shah appointed". Times Higher Education Supplement. London: The Times. p. 19.
  4. Shah, Tahir (2008). In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams. New York, NY: Bantam. pp. 215–216. ISBN 0-553-80523-1.
  5. 1 2 Javadi, Hasan. "MOLLA NASREDDIN i. THE PERSON". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 2015-12-07.
  6. Hill, Douglas (24 January 1969). "Sufi teaching". Tribune magazine. London: Tribune.
  7. Lessing, Doris (7 May 1971). "What Looks Like an Egg and Is an Egg?" (PDF). The New York Times. Section 7, Part I. New York: The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2015-12-07.
  8. Lessing, Doris (19 January 1969). "Some kind of a cake: Doris Lessing on Sufism". The Observer. London: Guardian Media Group. p. 30.
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