Nasruddin’s Burro and Violence, or How to Save Face

by Modaser Shah

Should we believe Nasruddin or his burro?  Do we favor an animal over a fine human being? Before I narrate that story, let’s examine some recent events.

Iran’s president Rouhani said sometime ago that there was no place for violence in Islam. What could he have meant by this?  Does he define these two words, Islam and violence differently from common usage? That where there is violence, Islam does not exist? Or perhaps, where violence exists, Islam doesn’t?

Perhaps it is violence of a certain kind that is claimed not to be compatible with Islam, or being a Muslim. Violence, as usually conceived, has always existed. Three of the four Khulafa-e Rashidun (the Rightly Guided Caliphs) died in a violent manner. Perhaps the perpetrators were not, by definition, adherents of Islam. Does this mean that if someone commits violence of a sort, he/she is to be considered an apostate?

Perhaps, it is violence against legitimate Muslims that is decried as inconsistent with the faith. But who is legitimate? Any person of any faith or no faith can claim legitimacy of his/her belief.

So, Nasruddin or his burro?

Perhaps it is unjustified violence that is being disowned, not the violence justified by divine decree or by fatwa, such as the Iranian fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie, which has, as far as I can tell, not been rescinded. Is the action ordained by this fatwa non-violent?

Perhaps Rouhani is simply saying that the Islam he follows has no place for violence. That his government would renounce violence, if he had the power. If so, he runs the risk of  a fatwa against him by the powers that be.

As far as one can tell, Da’ish has never claimed that their version of the religion disfavors violence. If they did, the gulf between their words and their actions would be too glaring. However, even in the case of Mr Rouhani, there remains a gulf between words and actions. The words are doing violence to the facts. Is he willing to see the facts, reality?

Now the story. A friend went to Nasruddin’s house  early one  morning and asked if he could borrow his burro. The Mullah apologized that he could not grant this favor because someone else had already taken the animal. To demonstrate his “sincerity,” he was effusive in his apology. Meanwhile, the donkey, not having been consulted in the matter, broke its silence and started to bray loudly. The friend was shocked, having found out, in the braying of the burro, that the Mullah had lied.  The Mullah, never one to acknowledge a faux pas, started to accuse his friend of having such little regard for their friendship that he (Mullah’s friend) would take the “word” of a burro over the Mullah’s, cursing the times that had degraded ties of friendship to such an extent! He was offended. The point for him was not that he lied, but that his word has been given less value than that of his animal.

A point missed, a face saved. A dialogue broken off. The casualty: truth.

And for us to ponder: Actions or words? His burro or Nasruddin? Facts or face?

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