Afghanistan: Mullah Joke and Religious Rigidity

Context: TA is a 71 year old clan head in Afghanistan and served as the Minister of International Relations for a previous president of Afghanistan. In this joke, he mentions Mullahs, which are educated Muslim men who often teach the religion. In the joke, TA discusses differences in religious rigidity.

Main Piece: The following joke was told to TA about six or seven years ago from some students he encountered in an Afghan village. He told me that the joke is primarily about religious rigidity, and it makes fun of how some people are too rigid with religious beliefs. 


TA: Some boys, their fathers send them to the temple on Fridays to listen to some recitation from the Holy Book. And then the Mullah also tries to teach them religion. And he was telling the boys, “If at any time you have a crush on a woman or someone, you must go and take a bath because you’re not clean and you have to be clean to offer worship… you won’t be able to do that if you have a crush on the woman or you see her in a dream. But the thing is even if you have a dream, you’re dreaming of another woman and you’re dreaming of having sex with her. You must go, even if you don’t have any intimate relations with her, just go and tell her so that she also takes a bath.” So some young guys, they’re smart guys, and they wanna make fun of him. So the next morning he goes and he knocks on the Mullah’s door, he says “I’m sorry to say this, but last night I had a dream, and I had your wife with me in the dream. If you could please ask your wife to take a bath.” So the guy is very angry, but he can’t say anything because that’s what he taught them. And the next day he goes and talks to him again, and the Mullah says “what now?” And the guy says “Well, Mullah, you take a bath please.”

[Laugh together]

HR: Do you know, where did you first hear that joke?

TA: I was in a village in Afghanistan just a few years ago, 6-7 years ago, these were students I was talking to, and they told me this story…

HR: Do you think that this was a joke told to make fun of religion in general? Like how in the US we like to make fun of Catholic priests for some of the same things?

TA: Not so much in general, but it’s just about the rigidity… some people see religion as very rigid, and others don’t.

Thoughts: I think that the humor in it is similar to the humor in making fun of Western religious teachings. Whenever religion is so rigid that it locks people into hard rules for their lives, it invites them to challenge that authority through humor. This joke provides a divergence from religious culture while tying into the direct punchlines of other Afghan jokes.