When a dispute between two local farmers arose in the village, the council of elders, unable to come to an agreement, decided to ask Mulla Nasrudin to help them find a solution.
Ali, the blacksmith’s son, was dispatched to find Nasrudin. The boy found the Mulla and his students lying in a field in a nearby town. Nasrudin told Ali that he would come as soon as they’d finished the lesson. The boy crossed his legs and sat down on the grass next to the Mulla and asked him what he was teaching. Ali could sees no books, scrolls, or pens, and everyone was lying on their back.
‘Today, we are observing clouds. Take a look at the sky and pick a cloud,’ said Nasrudin to the boy.
‘Which one?’ Asked Ali.
‘Whichever one takes your fancy’, replied the Mulla.
‘That one,’ said Ali pointing to the sky.
‘Why that one?’ Said Nasrudin.
‘Because it reminds me of a piece of cake,’ said the boy.
‘Here, take this,’ said Nasrudin, opening a handkerchief he had wrapped around his belt and producing a slice of cake. Ali grabbed it and stuffed into his mouth uttering a muffled ‘Thank you!’ and the Mulla smiled.
‘And remember, the clouds never lie; we just have to listen to them,’ said Nasrudin to Ali, as the boy got up to leave. Nasrudin gave him instructions before sending him on his way., but before leaving, Ali whispered something into the Mulla’s ear and left after Nasrudin nodded to him pursing his lips.
Ali ran back to the village and told the elders Nasrudin would be arriving soon with his students. He also told them the Mulla had suggested they greet him, with the rest of the village, in the main square. This way, they could discuss the dispute without wasting time, and in full view of the local population.
An hour or so later, Nasrudin arrived followed by his pupils. He was riding his donkey back to front.
When the elders greeted him, one of them, speaking in a loud voice, so as to be heard by the villagers, challenged him.
‘What? We are supposed to give you the deciding vote on the settlement of this dispute, and you don’t even know which end of your donkey is the head and which is the tail?’ Shouted the elder, looking around for support from the villagers.
A murmur of approval rippled through the crowd.
‘But I do know the head from the tail,’ replied Nasrudin.
‘Then why are you riding back to front?’ asked the elder.
‘That’s because I needed to lead my students, but at the same time I didn’t want to give my back to them as this would be disrespectful,’ replied Nasrudin.
As the villagers repeated the Mulla’s reply to those too far away to have heard it, people began to cheer him, and he took his seat among the elders.
That evening, lying in bed, Nasrudin felt happy about having helped dispense justice and happier still to have heard Ali whisper these words, ‘I saw one of your students wrap a scarf around a knife. He didn’t see me because he was looking at you.’
The next day, after having asked Ali’s father, the blacksmith, to sharpen the blade, a student approached Nasrudin and gave him a knife as a present.
Nasrudin gave him a coin and thanked him, telling him he would treasure the knife forever.