Jalil Mohammad Qolizadeh was the founder Molla Nasraddin, a satirical magazine that would greatly influence the genre in the Middle East and Central Asia. He was born in Nakhchivan exclave of Azerbaijan. Qolizadeh considered himself to be Iranian, and was proud of the fact that his ancestors hailed from Iran. In 1887, he graduated from the Gori Pedagogical Seminary and for the next ten years was involved in teaching at rural schools in Bash-Norashen, Ulukhanli, Nehram and other towns and villages of the Erivan Governorate. He was a strong activist of the language unification movement. He condemned many of his contemporaries for what he considered a corruption of the Azeri language by replacing its genuine vocabulary with newly introduced Russian, Persian and Ottoman Turkish loanwords, often alien and confusing to many readers. Later he became deeply involved in the process of Romanization of the Azeri alphabet. In 1905, Qolizadeh and his companions purchased a printing-house in Tiflis, and in 1906 he became the editor of the new Molla Nasraddin illustrated satirical magazine. The magazine accurately portrayed social and economic realities of the early-20th century society and backward norms and practices common in the Caucasus. In 1921 (after Molla Nasraddin was banned in Russia in 1917), Mammadguluzadeh published eight more issues of the magazine in Tabriz, Persia. After Sovietization, the printing-house was moved to Baku, where Molla Nasraddin was published until 1931. Qolizadeh's satirical style influenced the development of this genre in the Middle East and writers of the first satirical magazines in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan Qolizadeh wrote in various genres, including short stories, novels, essays, and dramatics. His first significant short story, "The Disappearance of the Donkey" (part of his Stories from the village of Danabash series), written in 1894 and published in 1934, touched upon social inequality. In his later works (The Postbox, The Iranian Constitution, Gurban Ali bey, The Lamb, etc.), as well as in his famous comedies The Corpses and The Madmen Gathering he ridiculed corruption, snobbery, ignorance, religious fanaticism, etc.
MOLLA NASREDDIN (Mollā Naṣr-al-Din), one of the most celebrated personalities in Persian and Middle Eastern folklore.
i. THE PERSON
Molla Nasreddin is a character who appears in thousands of stories, always witty, sometimes wise, even philosophic, sometimes the instigator of practical jokes on others and often a fool or the butt of a joke. Stories relating to Molla Nasreddin or Naṣr-al-Din Hoca (as he is called in Turkey) are generally humorous, but in the subtle humor there is always a lesson to be learned. These stories involve people and incidents in all walks of life, including kings, beggars, politicians, clerics, etc. He is known by different names in different countries: “Koja Naṣr-al-Din” by the Kazakhs and Uzbeks; “Naṣr-al-Din Effendi “ by the Uigurs; “Nasarat” by the Chechens; “Hoja Naṣr-al-Din” by the Greeks; “Mollā Naṣr-al-Din” by Azerbaijanis, Iranians, and Afghans; and “Mošfeqi” by the Tajiks. Among the Arabs he is often referred to as “Joḥā al-Rumi” and the stories that are attributed to Joḥā or Joḥi of the Arabs are the same as those of Mulla Nasreddin. (Mojāhed, p. 26).
While, for example, the people of Bukhara claim him to be a native of that city, the Turks have tried to make Naṣr-al-Din Hoca a denizen of Turkey. According to them, he was born in 1208 in Hortu, a village near the Anatolian town of Sivrihisar, and moved to Akşehir in 1237 to study under notable scholars of the time. He served as judge (qāżi), from time to time until his death in 1284. His grave is in Akşehir (Köprülü). There is, however, a story of his meeting with Timur, which does not correspond to these dates. On the other hand, Azerbaijani scholars, such as M. H. Tahmasb and M. Sultanov find similarities between Molla Nasreddin and the scholar of the Mongol period Naṣir al-Din Ṭusi (Tehmasib, Introd.). The Azerbaijani folklorist Velayet Guliyev has collected and translated the stories and pleasantries of Molla Nasreddin that are popular among twenty-three nations (Guliyev). Thematically he has divided them into sixteen chapters and has given examples of from different sources. Individual sections deal with different themes and situations commonly found in the tales, for instance, Molla Nasreddin and the Oriental system of justice, Molla Nasreddin as a fool, Molla Nasreddin and his family, Molla Nasreddin and his donkey and so on. For many years the Turkish scholar Pertev Boratav worked on a huge corpus of materials related to Molla Nasreddin tradition not only in Turkey but throughout the Muslim world. He also wanted to catalogue analogues in international oral tradition. After Boratav’s death in 1998, Ilhan Bašgöz published his work along with an essay of his own (Bashgöz). Boratev examined the early references to Molla Nasreddin, and catalogued the compilation of the tales in manuscripts and published works. Bashgöz was able to record diachronic changes in the tradition by examining sources from different periods. Apart from a stylistic tendency to move from short stories to more developed narratives, as one moves in time, there are differences in the treatment of sexuality in more sexually permissive tribal societies to a relatively more sedentary, urban, and sexually restricted milieu.
It seems that Molla Nasreddin has his origin in the personality of Joḥā. Joḥā is first mentioned by ʿOmar b. Abi Rabiʿa (d. 715) and by Abu Atāhiya (d. 837; Abu Saʾd Ābi, V, p. 307). In the 3rd/9th and 4th/10th centuries he is mentioned by Abu ʿOṭmān Jāḥeẓ (pp. vii-viii). and Ebn al-Nadim (pp. p. 375, tr. II, p. 736?) respectively. While all three sources stress his foolishness, Jāḥez gives a story where Joḥā very cleverly guesses a man to be a native of Ḥoms from his clothes and demeanor. From this time on references to Joḥā increases in Arabic, Persian and Turkish sources. Ebn al-Nadim (d. 385 /1007) mentions an anonymous collection of anecdotes (Ketāb al-nawāder) featuring Joḥā (Ebn al-Nadim, p. 375, tr. II, p. 736). Rumi in his Maṯnawi elaborately relates five stories about him. Šams Tabrizi in Maqālāt, Sanāʾi in his Ḥadiqa al-ḥaqiqa, and Rašid Waṭwāṭ in his Laṭāʾf al-amṯāl wa ṭrāʾef al-aqwāl each relate one story about Joḥā (Ṣalāḥi, p.112). ʿObayd Zākāni refers to Joḥā eleven times in his works and gives seven stories under his name in his “Arabic and Persian Stories.” Furthermore, fifty-six stories or pleasantries without the name of Joḥā in the same “Arabic and Persian Stories” bear distinct resemblance to the stories of Molla Nasreddin (ʿObayd Zākāni, 2007, pp. 91-125). All of these are given under the name of Joḥā. Some of these can be found in other sources like Laṭāyef al-tawāyef˚ by Faḵr-al-Din ʿAli Ṣafi. It is only from the turn of the 20th century that references to Molla Nasreddin abound in Persian and Azerbaijani literature. The Azeri poet Tāherzāda Ṣāber made the story of Mulla and his blanket the subject of a satirical poem. Jalil Memedqulizadeh chose Molla Nasreddin as a title for his well-known satirical journal which was published for nearly twenty-six years in Tbilisi, Tabriz, and Baku, and had a strong impact on the press of the Constitutional period of Iran (see CONSTITUTIONAL REVOLUTION). Moḥammad-Taqi Malek-al-Šoʿarāʾ Bahār versified one of the anecdotes of Molla Nasreddin under the psuedonym “Mirzā Reżā Rawżaḵᵛān” (Ṣalāḥi, p. 131). Iranian satirist Abu’l-Qāsem Pāyenda analyzed his Molla Nasreddin’s personality and sense of humor.
The Nawāder Joḥā was first published in Egypt in 1859-60 under the title of Nawāder Ḵoja Naṣr-al-Din al-molaqqab al-Joḥā al-Rumi. In an other version that was published in 1881, again the same combination of Naṣr-al-Din Ḵoja and Joḥā is mentioned as Nawāder Joḥā wa Ašʿab (p. 17). The earliest Turkish version seems to be Nawāder Ḵoja Naṣr-al-Din (Istanbul, 1837). According to Ahmad Mojāhed (p. 38), the stories and pleasantries of Molla Nasreddin were compiled from the Arabic anecdotes of Joḥā and other similar Arabic and possibly Persian sources. It seems that the Molla Nasreddin’s anecdotes were already popular in Turkey when they were added to the already known stories of Joḥā.
Nawāder Joḥā al-Kobrā, which includes the largest collection of stories, was mainly translated by Ḥekmat Šarif Ṭarāblosi (1912) from a Turkish version, who expanded the collection by adding the Arabic nawāder to the translation. Another version is by ʿAbd-al-Sattār Aḥmad Farrāj (1914), whose collection has been mostly garnered from Arabic sources. The first Persian edition, a collection of 216 stories translated from the above-mentioned Nawāder al-Ḵoja Naṣr-al-Din (1862), came out in Tehran in 1881 without the name of the translator. The widespread popularity of Molla Nasreddin’s stories in Iran began with the publication of an illustrated collection of 539 stories by Moḥammad Ramażāni under the title of Mollā Naṣr-al-Din in 1940, which also served as the source material for all other collection published in Iran since then. There is, however, a difference of 379 stories, taken from various Persian and Arabic sources (Mojāhed, pp. 593-712), between the first anonymous Persian edition and that of Ramażāni.
In conclusion it can be said that the Molla Nasreddin tradition of stories seems to be the result of two different corpora of stories originating from two personalities of uncertain historical identity (namely, Joḥā and Molla Nasreddin), who, throughout the ages and in different countries, have acquired their own somewhat different characteristics. It also can be said that Molla Nasreddin stories developed on the basis of Joḥā stories and were gradually increased as more and more materials were added. It can be likened to the confluence of two rivers that, while flowing through different environments, each one acquires its own special characteristics. Out of these anecdotes, some of which might have existed before in different lands, emerges the wise-fool personality of Molla Nasreddin as a character embodying an amusing mixture of silliness and shrewdness. This basically low-class wise fool, who carries the title of a well-learned man (mollā), with his ready wit, life experience, and bonhomie typifies the inner strength of ordinary people. He often humorously portrays centralized despotism or sham piety and resists them in his own way. The other side of Molla Nasreddin is his foolishness and naiveté that often times imparts a meaningful sense of criticism. For instance, in one story the donkey of Molla Nasreddin is missing and he asks a man if he has seen it. He says the donkey has changed and has become the judge (qāżi) of the town. Mollā says: “I believe you since when I was teaching my students, the donkey would shake his ears and listen attentively.” Then Mull goes on to reclaim the judge of the town as his donkey and ends up being beaten up by the judge’s attendants.
ii. POLITICAL AND SOCIAL WEEKLY
Molla Nasreddin (Mollā Naṣr-al-Din) was a political and social weekly in Azeri Turkish, which was published from 7 April 1906 until 1917 in Tiblisi (340 issues), in 1921 in Tabriz (8 issues), and from 1922 to 1931 in Baku (400 issues). This eight-page weekly had a tremendous impact on the course of journalism and development of ideas not only in Southern Caucasus but also in Persia, Turkey, and Central Asia. Its founder and chief editor, the celebrated writer Jalil Moḥammadqolizāda (Memed Qulizadeh; 1866-32) as well as his friend and colleague ʿOmar Fāʾeq Noʿmānzāda (1872-1940) along with a philanthropist merchant Mašdi ʿAli-Aṣḡar managed to finance its publications right from the beginning (FIGURE 1). The celebrated satirist Azeri poet, ʿAli-Akbar Ṣāber Ṭāherzāda (1862-1911), for the first five years of the journal contributed considerably to its fame. His biting satirical poems in praise of Sattār Khan were recited by the Constitutionalists fighting the Royalists in the bunkers of Tabriz (Āryanpur, II, pp. 46, 57). The paper was banned from Persia on account of its focusing on the inequalities and injustices in society (poverty, women’s lack of social rights, plight of the working classes, oppression, tyranny; FIGURE 2). It was, however, often smuggled in inside the bales of cloth. The reactionary clerics of Tabriz, who were afraid of its anti-clerical stand, ruled that it was a deceptive paper (awrāq-e możella) and “worse than the sword of Šemr [the villain of the Karbalā tragedy]” (Āryanpur, II, p. 45). The outstanding feature of Molla Nasreddin was its beautifully drawn color cartoons, which were the works of two eminent German artists in Tiblisi, Oscar Schimmerling (1863- 1938) and Joseph Rotter, and later on those of Aẓim Aẓimzāda (1880-1943). These cartoons were sharp satires illustrating the works of the writers of the weekly and were full of verve and caustic humor.
Moḥammadqolizāda was instrumental in every aspect of the journal right from the outset. He had written both in Russian and Azeri Turkish in liberal newspapers of Tiblisi before he published Molla Nasreddin. The time was very opportune. After the defeat of Russian army in Manchuria in 1905 and the disturbances of the same year, a certain degree of freedom was given to the press, and a degree of liberty among the Muslim peoples of Tsarist Russia coincided with the movement of the Young Turks in Turkey and the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 in Persia. It was a time of great historical change in the region, especially in Tbilisi where the exiled and mostly liberal Russian aristocracy met with the Muslim intelligentsia and with socialists of various stripes. According to Moḥammadqolizāda’s statement in the first issue (7 April 1906), the paper came into being as a result of a socio-political necessity. He further said: “Mollā Naṣr-al-Din was the creation of its own nature and time” (Moḥammadqolizāda, apud Āryanpur, II, p. 40). The plan of a revolutionary future of the paper in its literary, social, and political venues was laid down in the first issue. Molla Nasreddin did not limit itself to the enlightenment and education of Azerbaijani society but rather took the whole colonized or so-called independent societies of the East as its domain. It aimed at showing the pitfalls of Tsarist policies toward the nations under its control, criticizing absolutism and imperialism in the Middle East, fighting against superstitious beliefs and fanaticism, and spreading learning and culture, as well as friendship, amongst various nationalities (FIGURE 3). It was also stated that the writers of the journal would use every literary and satirical form in order to achieve those ends (Akhundov, p. 28). Moḥammadqolizāda was aware of the difficulties that he faced in this ambitious plan. He wrote in his memoires: “The despotism that had faced us like a mountain was the despotism of the king and the Sultan as well as the power and oppressiveness of those who had distorted the religion” (apud Ārynpur, II, p. 42).
The exceptional success of Molla Nasreddin was primarily due to the talents of its writers. Apart from Moḥammadqolizāda and Ṣāber, other contributors included the poets ʿAli Naẓmi (1882-1946) and ʿAli-oḡlu Ḡamgosār (1880-1919), the dramatist ʿAbd-al-Raḥim Ḥaqqverdiev (1870-1933), the famous composer and writer Uzeyr Ḥājibeyov (1885-1948), and the novelist Moḥammed-Saʿid Ordubādi (1872-1950). There were also many other artists, poets, and writers who joined in during the paper’s long history. For instance, Moʿjez of Šabestar (1874-1934), an Azerbaijani poet of some fame contributed poems when the journal was being published in Tabriz (FIGURE 4).
Moḥammadqolizāda wrote under different satirical names such as Hardam/Herdem-ḵiāl (whimisical), Dala (gluttonous), Serteq (stubborn), Qārinqoli (ever-hungry). He, however, was mostly known as Molla Nasreddin and was popularly identified with a character of the same name in a series of popular stories, whose acts and sayings as a wise fool were proverbial all over Middle East and Central Asia. According to Moḥammadqolizāda’s wife, illiterate women in Tiblisi would come to their house to meet the real Molla Nasreddin (Memedqulizade, p. 114).
Moḥammadqolizāda was an able playwright and short story writer. His plays like “The dead,” “My mother’s book” and “The gathering of the mad” are interesting literary works in their own rights, but he is mostly remembered for his short stories such as “Pocht qütüsi” (The post box), “Üsta Zeynal” (Ostād Zeynāl), “Iranda hurriyat (Democracy in Iran), and “Saqali üşaq” (The bearded child), some of which predate Molla Nasreddin. He reportedly preferred his journalistic experience to his creative writings. (Sardāri-niā, p. 144).
The main factor in the great popularity of Molla Nasreddin and the impact that it had upon the satirical press of the time was the poetry of Ṣāber, whose satirical poems were regularly published in the paper until his death in 1911. Alesio Bombaci described Ṣāber as an author who combined the wrath of Decimus Juvenal with the sarcasm of Béranger and the humanism of Nekrasov (Bombaci, tr., p. 217). He has been considered him “incomparable in depicting political and social problems” (Dehḵodā, Loḡat-nāma, s.v. Ṭāherzāda Ṣāber). Ṣāber’s originality of thought and form marked him as a truly great poet. The vivid realism of his poetry reflects the hardships of his own life as well as the corruption, superstition, repression, and ignorance prevalent in his society. He faced the opposition of the officials and various clerics and suffered greatly as a consequence. The same was true of Moḥammadqolizāda, who, after publishing an article on the freedom for women, had to take lodging in the Christian quarter of Tiblisi, away from Muslim fanatics.
The satirical works of Ṣāber embraces a wide variety of subjects, ranging from the defeat of the vainglorious czarist armies by Japan to scenes of social and domestic life at home. The butts of his satire range from Emperor Wilhelm of Prussia to Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah of Persia, from Sultan ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid of Turkey to very minor officials and clerics. His most fruitful years were those from 1905 to 1911, which coincided with the Constitutional Revolution in Persia. The struggle between the reactionaries and the Constitutionalists, the social corruption in Persia, the nature of the totalitarian government of Moḥammad-ʿAli Shah, and many other aspects of the revolution are all depicted in the bitingly satirical poems of Ṣāber. Ṣāber depicted the monarch as a ruthless, hypocritical, and miserly tyrant. In one of his famous poems, Ṣāber depicts him as a man who has put Persia up for auction, including the royal treasures, the provinces, and the country’s heritage. All these poems on Moḥammed-ʿAli Shah and on Persia were freely translated in verse by Sayyed Ašraf Gilāni and published in his journal Nasim-e Šemāl without the mention of Ṣāber’s name. Although the original terseness, beauty, and some flair of Ṣāber’s tone are lost in the process, they were good rendition in Persian and created a sensation in Tehran upon publication (Āryanpur, II, p. 64 ff.).
The immense popularity of Ṣāber, Moḥammadqolizāda, and other contributors of Molla Nasreddin’s led to much imitation. For instance the humorous and sometimes cynical character Mollā Dāʾi or Mollā ʿAmu, which appeared everywhere in the paper as poet, or/and as the person who answered letters, advised the youth, parodied the viewpoints of the establishment and was ever present in the cartoons, was adopted by the weekly Āḏarbāyjān, which began its publication in 1907 in Tabriz. Āḏarbāyjān presented the figure of Ḡaffār Wakil in Molla Nasreddin’s or Mollā Dāʾi’s role. On the cover of the first issue of Āḏarbāyjān, Ḡaffār Wakil is standing before the Mollā, listening to him like a faithful disciple.
Similar characters appear in other Persian satirical weeklies, among them Ḥašarāt-al-Arż (Tabriz, 1908), Šeydā (Istanbul, 1911), Bohlul (Tehran, 1908), and Sheikh Čoḡondar (Tehran, 1911). The device was taken up also by Dehḵodā in his column in Sur-e Esrāfil, entitled “Čarand parand,” which contained some of the most telling examples of Dehḵodā’s satire. Two of the pseudo-names used by Dehḵodā were reminiscent of those used by Moḥammadqolizāda: “Damdamki” (Whimsical) and “Ḵarmagas" (Gadfly). Some of the satirical techniques used by the former in stories such as “Democracy in Iran” are similar to those used by Dehḵodā in “Čarand parand.” Karbalāy Moḥammed-ʿAli in the former story and Āzād Khan Karandi in the latter are very similar in their innocent ignorance and naiveté. Sometimes the questions raised by Ṣāber or Moḥammadqolizāda were answered in prose or poetry in Sur-e Esrāfil and other contemporaneous Persian periodicals.
Individual poems of Ṣāber were also frequently translated or imitated by writers of the Persian press. His famous poem that begins with “However the nation is plundered, what do I care?” was imitated in Persian by Mirza Mahdi Khan, the editor of the newspaper Ḥekmat, and the rendition appeared in the weekly Āḏarbāyjān (issue 10). Ṣāber’s influence can be also seen in the poems of Moḥammad-Taqi Bahār and Abu’l-Qāsem Lāhuti. Molla Nasreddin created a new style and approach in journalism in Persia, particularly during the period of the Constitutional Revolution, and had a profound effect on shaping the intellectual thought and ideas of the early 20th century Azerbaijan.