1,000-year old Muslim joke book found

An 11th-century book by a revered Baghdad Muslim scholar turns out to be a tongue-in-cheek guide for party crashers, according to the researcher who translated the book into English.

The tome was originally authored by al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, a well known scholar of the Prophet Mohammed’s teachings.

According to Emily Selove of the University of Manchester, who did the translation, he wrote the book to remind readers “that every serious minded person needs to take a break.”

She continued, “This book, which contains flirtation, profanity, and even a little drunkenness, is a lot of fun and offers a rather different perspective to the austere image Islam has from that period. The reality is that the Baghdad of 1,000 years ago was actually rather Bohemian — it wasn’t perfect by any means — but not the violent and repressive society you might imagine it was.”

“Such ignorance is probably down to the fact that so little of the huge body of literature produced at that time has been translated into English. There’s so much more to do.”

Selove, however, added, “Though it’s light and really quite an enjoyable read, there are serious messages too. The book is about generosity and encouraging individuals to express themselves eloquently and clearly.”

“It also suggests that turning a hungry person away from a place laden with food was cruel — as food was sometimes in short supply to the poor. It castigated those who turned gate crashers away from parties as misers. You do not turn people away if they are hungry.”

Humor, though, is peppered through the book. It even contains a piece of satire: a fictional document commissioned by a Caliph on the creation of a “Government office for Gatecrashing.”


Here are some of the jokes:

Once a man crashed another man’s party. “Who are you?” the host asked him. “I’m the one who saved you the trouble of sending an invitation!” he replied.

A party-crasher walked into a gathering, and they said to him, “Nobody invited you!” “But if you didn’t invite me and I didn’t come,” he replied, “think how lonely that would be!”

Once a party-crasher walked in the house of a man who had invited a gathering of people. “Hey, you!” the man said. “Did I say you could come?” “Did you say I couldn’t come?” the party crasher replied.

Someone asked a party-crasher, “What’s four times four?” “Sixteen loaves of bread,” he said. “What is two times two?” “Four loaves of bread,” he replied. And another time he said, “I waited the amount of time it takes someone to eat a loaf of bread.”

Bunan (a popular rogue at the time that Selove likens to a cross between Falstaff and Robin Hood) had eaten and eaten well, and someone said to him, “Slow down! You’ll kill yourself!” “If it is time to die,” Bunan replied, “I want to go well fed and well watered, not parched and hungry.”

A party-crasher took up with a man while traveling. One day the man said to him, ““Go and buy some meat for us.” “No, by God, I don’t have the means,” said the party-crasher. So the man went and bought the meat. Then he said, “Get up and cook it.” “I’m no good at cooking,” said the party-crasher. So the man cooked the meat. Then he said, “Get up and sop the bread,” and the party-crasher replied, “By God, I feel exhausted.” So the man sopped the bread. Then he said, “Get up and ladle the stew.” “I’m afraid I’ll spill it on my robe,” said the party-crasher, so the man ladled the stew. “Get up and eat,” he said. “By God,” said the party-crasher, “I’ve been feeling bad for refusing you so many times,” and he came forward and ate.


The book also contains advice:

A man said to Bunan, “Counsel me!”

“Don’t fraternize,” he replied, “but if you can’t avoid it, pick someone who won’t pester you. Don’t go for greens, gorge on chicken skin, stuff yourself with goat kidneys, gulp bird gizzards, snatch fish innards, or concern yourself with the eyeballs if a head is served. And pay no attention to skinny poultry. Think of naught but what is in your plate, nor glance upon the plates of the others. And if the roast goat when passed to you has little meat left on it, pity not the weakness of the aged guests, nor the greed of the young. Eat, and don’t bother yourself with the host’s family, and don’t waste time inquiring after their health.”

Also, according to the book, the 12 features of meal-time which Muslims should learn:

Four obligatory points to invoke God: before eating to know which food is forbidden, take pleasure in it, and thank God for it.
Four customs of the prophet: to sit on one’s left foot while eating, not to reach across the table, eat with three fingers, and lick the fingers when finished.

Four matters of good manners: wash your hands, take little bites, chew thoroughly, and do not stare at friends.

The book, called “The Art of Party Crashing,” is published by Syracuse University Press.


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