29 November, 2009

For 40 years, Muslim discourses on Hindu scriptures

IANS, 29th November, 2009

Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh): Dressed in saffron robes, adorned with rudraksh garlands, sporting a sandalwood mark on his forehead and delivering discourses on Hindu scriptures in temples across eastern Uttar Pradesh, this 'saint' is actually a devout Muslim, who offers namaaz five times a day.

Meet Mohammad Yaseen, 60, a resident of the Pipraich village in Gorakhpur district, some 300 km from state capital Lucknow, who has been giving lectures on the Ramcharitmanas and the Gita for nearly 40 years now.

'I believe there's a lot to learn from the holy scriptures, particularly the Ramcharitmanas and the Gita that guide our behaviour towards individual, family and society,' Yaseen told IANS.

Initially ostracised by his family and relatives for studying Hindu religious texts and even being turned out of his house, Yaseen is today respected by Hindus and Muslims alike for his efforts to bring the two communities together.

His affinity for Hindu religious texts followed an emotional period after the death of his father in a road accident, when Yaseen was only 17. A withdrawn Yaseen fell ill and, when in hospital, had a sadhu as his neighbour who introduced him to Hinduism, sparking his interest.

'It was a road accident in which I lost my father. I loved him most of all the family members. I left my studies, went into a state of shock and even stopped talking to my family members. I used to lock myself in a dark room for days and did not meet anyone,' recalled Yaseen.

'I fell ill and was admitted to a hospital, where I met a sadhu who was in a bed next to mine. He used to share teachings of the Ramayana with me and asked me to tell him about the Quran. Though the sadhu was much older than me, we became friends.

'The day before I was to be discharged from the hospital, he suggested I should listen to a discourse on Ramcharitmanas that would help me a lot in diverting my attention from my problems.'

Acting on the advice, Yaseen went to listen to a discourse at a temple on the outskirts of his village.

'I cannot put into words what I felt after listening to the discourse. It was something that provided me complete peace of mind. Later, I decided to participate in the discourse on a regular basis and started studying Hindu scriptures,' said Yaseen, who has a family business selling clothes.

There was opposition from his family members, who threatened to shun him if he did not stop attending discourses at temples and studying Hindu scriptures.

'I did not bother them, still they even forced me to leave the house. As I became totally free, I decided to give small lectures in temples after convincing their priests,' said Yaseen.

Today Yassen's son looks after the family business, while he passes most of his time in delivering religious lectures in temples of various districts in Uttar Pradesh. Recently, he returned from Ballia, where he was called to attend a religious function at the famous Duddheshwar Nath Temple.

At the same time, Yaseen remains a devout, practising Muslim.

'On a number of occasions, I have to take a break from the discourse when it's the time to offer the namaaz. That I can't skip under any circumstances,' he said.

Yaseen has become popular among both Hindus and Muslims of his village as both the communities believe he could bridge differences between them.

'Though he is Mohammed Yaseen, we call him Sant Yaseen Bharti. A saint like him, in a true sense, is working to promote communal harmony,' said Banshraj Mishra, who runs a utensils shop in the village.

Another resident Ijaz Warsi said: 'Some politicians and people, who for vested interests, make efforts to divide society in the name of religion, should learn something from Yasin bhai, who is liked by Hindus and Muslims alike.

10 November, 2009

Vande Mataram issue: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar & Deoband clerics find middle ground

Above: Sri Sri with clerics at Darul Uloom Deoband

Samay Live, 9th November, 2009

In a bid to tone down the row over its fatwa against the singing of 'Vande Mataram', clerics from the Deoband Islamic seminary have said they won't stop Muslims from singing the national song but the fatwa would stay.

The climbdown comes after some clerics from Darul Uloom Deoband met Hindu spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

"The clerics have changed their stand on 'Vande Mataram' to bring the Hindu-Muslim communities closer," said a press statement from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

The clerics, according to the press release, said they "do not have any objection to the national song" and have left it to the "conscience" of Muslims who should decide for themselves whether they want to sing it or not.

The press statement quoted Maulana Khalik Madrasi of the Darul Uloom as saying the fatwa on 'Vande Mataram' cannot be recalled now, but the Darul Uloom will not stop anyone from singing it.

Present at the meeting with Sri Sri were "Maulana Margubur Rehman of the Darul Uloom, Darul Iftah (fatwa section) in-charge Mufti Habibur Rehman, who issued the (decree), Mufti Ehsaan Qasmi and Usman Mansoorpuri of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind", the statement said.

Sri Sri told them that 'Vande Mantaram' is not a prayer but a means of thanksgiving.

"The first lines of 'Vande Mataram' are not objectionable in any way. This issue should not be given more importance. The country is above all and there should be no rift between the Hindu and Muslims," he said.

Quoting a Supreme Court judgment, Sri Sri also said that no one should be pressurised to sing 'Vande Mataram'.

03 November, 2009

Baba Ramdev's Yoga steals the show at Islamic conference in UP

DNA, 3rd November, 2009

In a rare confluence, Yoga guru Baba Ramdev performed Pranayam while a Hindu Priest recited Vedic hymns at the largest congregation of Muslim clerics of the country here today.

The 30th General Assembly organised by Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind at the Darul Uloom Islamic seminary was the first occasion when a Hindu religious figure addressed the audience, primarily comprising Muslim clerics.

The jam-packed pandal of the seminary, which is the seat of Sunni Muslims in Asia, fell silent as Pandit NK Sharma started reciting sacred Sanskrit texts at the dias.

More than two lakh clerics and students first listened attentively to Hindu religious texts which dealt with peace, unity and brotherhood and then watched the Yoga performance of Baba Ramdev.

Ramdev, in his signature style, started with a brief introduction about unity, health and well being followed by demonstrating Anulom-Vilom, Pranayam, Kapaal Bhati and other Yogasans to the gathering.

"I teach people Yoga. I speak of well being, healthy life and haven't changed anyone's religion," a beaming Baba Ramdev said. Incidentally, the 143-year-old influential seminary had in the past issued a fatwa in favour of yoga after some clerics banned Muslims from practising it.

Stressing on the need to promote yoga, Ramdev sought to dispel misconceptions about the activity by saying, "These yogas were like exercise to keep the body fit and do not violate any tenets of Islam since one is not required to recite any shlokas."

As the Baba who is the founder of Patanjali Yaogapeeth in Hardwar exhibited some fine points about breath control, concentration, meditation, the audience was seen following him in the acts. He emphasised the need for promoting communal harmony satying the unity between Hindus and Muslims was the strength of the nation.


02 November, 2009

Hiding from the massacre: 1984 remembered

Above: A young Harmeet Shah Singh pictured at the wedding of one of his older sisters

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN, 1st November, 2009

The school bell rang and along with my sixth-grade friends, I climbed down the stairs. My teenage sister was in the hallway waiting for me. Her being there was unusual.

"Indira Gandhi has died," she whispered in Punjabi. Kukki, as we called her, hung my bag on her shoulder, clasped my hand and whisked me out. We jumped onto a cycle rickshaw outside. In about 15 minutes, Kukki had brought me home.

It was the afternoon of October 31, 1984. I was 10, but I could sense some unease in the air as strong rumors persisted that then-Prime Minister Gandhi had fallen to the bullets of her Sikh bodyguards. There were no private TV networks in those days in India and confirmation of her death on state-run television and radio came late.

By evening, we did hear rumors of some stray attacks on Sikhs, but I don't remember seeing anything on our television about the assaults that night.

My parents didn't send me to school the next day. By now, we knew attacks were not sporadic. Ours was the first Sikh home - and the tallest - in our lane. Curious, I darted to our roof. I remember seeing plumes of dark smoke rising on the horizon.

Sikh properties were on fire in the commercial and industrial belt that ringed our locality in New Delhi. On November 2, our neighborhood, largely Hindu, decided to begin building defenses. A makeshift barricade of bamboo was put up right at the entry to our lane and residents were on night patrol like watchmen for at least the next month. I still remember a night when I heard young boys issuing what would be a false alert about mobs being close - perhaps to keep everybody awake. It worked.

In the first week of November of 1984, we secretly shifted what we regarded as our most expensive belongings to the home of one of our Hindu neighbors. A double-deck tape recorder, which my father had bought from London, was one thing that I carried to the neighboring house.

Attacks went on until November 3. Our locality was spared, but in the aftermath my parents would ponder the future. A challenge was how to take me to Punjab, where most of my maternal family lived.

Sikhs had been singled out and killed in trains and buses. Like other children from the community, I would wear a "patka," a small under-turban or a scarf, as headgear.

It was decided my mother would dress me up as a girl. I was unwilling, but my mom told me that was a good safety precaution.

I think it was most of December that I spent in Punjab. My father - maybe many other parents like him - in New Delhi had already submitted a leave application with my school, a Sikh school.

I began feeling terribly homesick in Punjab, so for me perhaps the happiest moment from that time came when I stepped into my home again. When I rejoined my school, a teacher circulated some "chits" to our class, a sacred Sikh verse asking for God's help in difficult times.

I remember we all sang it in chorus.