The soulful voice that no longer resonates in Kashmir’s grand mosque

Jamia Masjid muezzin, Molvi Mohammad Yaseen Shah.

A year after his demise, the late Jamia Masjid muezzin is making many nostalgic for his melodious voice and faithful devotion.

Days before the Jamia Masjid in Srinagar would be locked down for the fasting Muslims of Kashmir on the occasion of Shab-e-Qadr and Jumat-ul- Vida, Abdul Qadir sat inside and longed for the voice that fell silent last year.

That Kashmir’s grand mosque won’t be the same again was an overriding feeling of the sexagenarian—frequenting the sanctum for over fifty years now.

“We lost the voice of our souls last year,” Qadir, a retired teacher from Shopian, lamented.

“The departure of Molvi Mohammad Yaseen Shah has been hard for those who know how he held the fort for the faithful during these terrible years.”

The feeling was shared by many meditative elders missing the company of the man whose resounding recital of 99 names of Allah would enthrall all and sundry in the Shahre-Khaas where the muezzin’s melodious voice would echo through rafters and rooftops.

“This Ramzan didn’t feel the same,” said Khazir Aakhoon, a trader in Gojwara area of Old City.

“Yaseen Sahab’s demise ended that signature vibe that would create a certain spiritual mood for the revered occasions like Ramzan.”

For over six decades the Shahr-e-Khas resonated with mellifluous voice of Molvi Yaseen, the octogenarian muezzin who passed away on 23 April 2021.

Be it the regular five times or the Friday congressional prayers, his voice with a typical Kashmiri accent would create its own impact.

As the fourth-generation muezzin of Jamia Masjid from the nearby Shah family, Molvi Yaseen had a reputation of taking the devotees on a spiritual journey. His recital in praise of the last prophet of Islam [PBUH]—‘Rasool-e-Khuda bae misaal Allah, Allah / Haseena che chukh pur jamaal Allah, Allah’—would send masses into meditation.

“The tearful eyes and yearning hearts would sing along the mystic voice of Molvi Yaseen Soab before the holy sermons would begin on the night of Lailat-ul-Qadr,” Aakhon recalls.

But now, the void left by his departure in the 600-year-old Jamia Masjid is felt by both the regular and occasional visitors who either miss the old muezzin or the humble ‘Natkhwan’.

Molvi Yaseen’s heir and Jamia Masjid’s new muezzin.

Beyond the soulful voice, the muezzin was the custodian who spent most of his life marching in and around the Kashmir’s largest mosque.

“He was always on his toes for the Jamia Masjid welfare,” said Nisar A. Shah, the fifth-generation muezzin of Jamia Masjid. “He wanted me to take on the legacy of our family as muezzin of Kashmir’s grand mosque, but I would often ignore my late father’s wish.”

But the day Molvi Yaseen passed away, “something from within” pushed Nisar to call the Friday congressional prayer.

And since then he has been trying to follow the footsteps of his late father’s unseen journey on which every new turn has something to surprise him.

But before replaced by his son, Molvi Yaseen had taken over from his father Ghulam Mohammad Shah, famously known as ‘Maam Seab’—whose legend is still spoken high in the neighborhoods of downtown.

“I only knew that my father spent most of his time in the mosque, but now only I’m getting to know from the people that how he would walk through every corner of the place to see if a nail is to be fixed or a bird guano is to be cleaned,” the son says.

“My father would keep the presence in the mosque to fill the gaps missed on part of the mosque management.”

Jamia Masjid muezzin, Molvi Mohammad Yaseen Shah.

During the turbulent years of 2008, 2010 and 2016, Molvi Yaseen would be the first person to walk towards the gates of the Jamia Masjid amid the surcharged atmosphere.

“The Azaan must be called even if it is the Magrib and Isha only. The markaz of the Kashmiri Muslims must not go silent,” Nisar recalled the words of his late father.

Waking up midnight and reaching the Jamia Masjid was a routine that Molvi Yaseen barely skipped even during the nightmarish nineties, the son says.

Apart from standing upfront at taking care of the mosque, the late muezzin would always be welcoming and at task to create and raise the environment of solace for the faithful.

“During this holy month of Ramzan, Yaseen Saab would enlighten us about the spiritual aspects of fasting, the historic significance of the days like Jang-e-Badr and then his heartwarming Darood-o-mankabat and Natkhwani,” said Mohammad Asif, a mosque regular. “His presence in the Jamia Masjid was akin to a ten-thousand people itself.”

As someone whose heart was always in the grand mosque, Molvi Yaseen had once confronted the late Mirwaiz-e-Kashmir Molvi Mohammad Farooq for not taking enough measures for the maintenance of the Jamia Masjid.

“Sensing his genuine concern, Molvi Farooq Saab asked my father to take up the fulltime responsibility to which my father responded by taking a leave from the office for nearly two years,” Nisar says.

“Jamia Mashid, he would say, holds the central significance for people of the Kashmir and we as people associated with it owe a responsibility towards it.”

Stepping in his father’s shoes isn’t easy for Nisar A. Shah.

The late muezzin’s ailment kept him back from calling the prayer for one week only before he passed away.

“It was longing to call the Azaan that would take a toll on his health,” Nisar said.

“The shutting down of the mosque would turn him restless and anxious: ‘Markazz chu bandd, Karaar katti yee’ (The centre is locked, how I can be at peace).”

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