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.
Mohammad Yaseen, 60, a resident of the Pipraich village in Gorakhpur district, some 300 km from state capital Lucknow, 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 said.
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 A withdrawn Yaseen fell ill and, when in hospital, had a sadhu as his neighbour who introduced him to Hinduism, sparking his interest.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.”