Sufi Folktales
  1. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.

Through the three Suni folktales, "Mullah in the Turkish Bath," "Mullah’s Miracle" and "Three Fridays," learners analyze the power of folktales in teaching a lesson in generosity and proper behavior.

PrintTwo Fifty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • use the geographic themes of location, place and human-environment relations to describe the setting and culture represented in the folktale.
  • identify the type of folktales represented by the stories.
  • identify cultural aspects of a people as revealed in the stories.
  • describe people’s motivations for serving and analyze whether their motivations can be changed.
  • analyze character traits portrayed in the stories.
  • judge the appeal of the stories to other cultures.
Home Connection: 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework: Learners will ask their family members to share instances when they learned a hard lesson through life’s experiences and discuss whether they could have learned that lesson just as well through a story instead.

  • "Mullah’s Miracle." Daenecke, Eric. Tales of Mullah Nasir-ud-Din: Persian Wit, Wisdom and Folly. New York: Exposition Press, ©1960. p. 31.
  • "Mullah in the Turkish Bath." Daenecke, Eric. Tales of Mullah Nasir-ud-Din: Persian Wit, Wisdom and Folly. New York: Exposition Press, ©1960. p. 29.
  • "Three Fridays." Yashinsky, Dan (collected by). Tales for an Unknown City: Stories from One Thousand and One Friday Nights of Storytelling, Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, ©1990. Pp. 15-17. Used with the permission of Celia Lottridge.
  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the learners to define the term mullah and speculate on how mullahs might appear in folktales. Explain that today’s stories are all about Mullah Nasruddin, a famous figure in folktales around the world.

  2. Explain that it is important to understand people and their environment when studying folktales. Two of the stories, "Mullah in the Turkish Bath" and "Mullah’s Miracle" are Sufi folktales from Persia (modern Iran). On a map, locate Iran’s absolute location (longitude and latitude) and relative location (general descriptors of where the place is located).

  3. In a brainstorming session, have the learners describe Iran as a place by listing recognizable physical characteristics (landforms, water bodies, climate, soil, natural vegetation, animal life) and human characteristics (inhabitants, settlement patterns, languages, religions, how they make a living).

  4. Explain that all of the folktales involve the Mullah Nasruddin whose stories are so popular he is claimed by three countries−Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. The Sufis have used stories for teaching purposes for thousands of years. Although these are folktales, the Sufis believe they increase understanding of things that can be difficult to fathom. Sometimes the mullah is wise, and at another time he is ridiculous. Nevertheless, his stories are known all over the world.

  5. Split the learners into three groups and assign one tale to each group. Ask them to read their story and identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable). They should identify the lesson of the story. Report the group decisions.

  6. "Mullah in the Turkish Bath" deals with motivations for giving or serving. What are the motivations of the attendants? Was the Mullah telling the truth when he said "last time’s tip was for today." Will the Mullah’s actions ensure better service in the future? Is the lesson applicable to modern society?

  7. "Mullah’s Miracle" is a more difficult story to understand. Since he knew that the tree would not move to him, was there a "miracle" that occurred in the story? What does the Mullah want the listener to learn from the story?

  8. "Three Fridays" at first appears to be a story about a Mullah who finds a way to get out of doing his duty three weeks in a row. At second glance, that’s not really what the story is about at all. What was the lesson that the Mullah taught all those people who flocked to hear him? Did they finally understand what he was saying? How effective was this technique for teaching his lesson? Do people today learn from those around them as much or more than from great teachers?

  9. Which of the following character traits (caring, courage, civic virtue and citizenship, giving, honesty, justice and fairness, perseverance, respect, responsibility, trustworthiness) were exhibited by the Mullah in the three stories? Give examples of where these occurred. Was there a "generosity of the spirit" exhibited in these stories?

  10. Although the folktales revealed the Sufi culture, do the stories have universal appeal? Would they be understood by someone who knew nothing of that culture?


Ask the learners to reflect on: a) instances in their lives when a story was used to teach them a lesson; or b) lessons they learned which could have been put into words in a story form. Using the lesson they learned, have the learners create a one page story similar to the technique of the Mullah in using a story to teach a lesson.