Mullah Nasruddin Hodja appears as the whimsical character in a growing tradition of stories dating from at least the thirteenth century.
The tales of Nasruddin are sometimes adapted and used as teaching stories not just by the Sufis but also by such diverse and alien organizations as the British Society of the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and the Soviet Government.
His stories also appear in psychology textbooks, illuminating the workings of the mind in a way no straightforward explanation can.
These traditions use jokes and stories to express certain ideas, allowing one to bypass normal thought patterns.
By developing a series of impacts that reinforce certain key ideas, the rational mind is occupied with a surface meaning whilst other concepts are introduced. Thus paradox, unexpectedness, and alternatives to the convention are all expressed in the humor of Mullah Nasrudin.
Once a renowned philosopher and moralist was traveling through Nasruddin's village and asked Nasruddin where there was a good place to eat. Nasruddin suggested a place and the scholar, hungry for conversation, invited Mullah Nasruddin to join him. Much obliged, Mullah Nasruddin accompanied the scholar to a nearby restaurant, where they asked the waiter about the special of the day.
"Fish! Fresh Fish!" replied the waiter.
"Bring us two," they requested.
A few minutes later, the waiter brought out a large platter with two cooked fish on it, one of which was quite a bit smaller than the other. Without hesitating, Mullah Nasruddin leaped to take the larger fish.
The scholar, giving Mullah Nasruddin a look of intense disbelief, proceed to tell him that what he did was not only blatantly selfish, but that it violated the principles of almost every known moral, religious, and ethical system.
Mullah Nasruddin calmly listened to the philosopher's extempore lecture patiently, and when he had finally exhausted his resources, Mullah Nasruddin said,
"Well, Sir, what would you have done?"
"I, being a conscientious human, would have taken the smaller fish for myself."
"And here you are," Mullah Nasruddin said, and placed the smaller fish on the philosopher's plate.