“We have freedom of religion, and we have the Constitution.” At least for now. But how many Islamic supremacists such as those who figure in this incident will be needed to change all that? And who is doing anything to stop them from coming into this country and spreading their views?
“Hindu-Muslim Family”s Choice of Cremation Arouses Anger,” by Anne Barnard for the New York Times, October 3 (thanks to RG):
Friends and family remember Shafayet Reja as an affectionate young man who stayed up late to write poetry, danced exuberantly at weddings and explored the faiths of his father and mother with an openheartedness that led him to declare on his Facebook page, “I never get tired of learning the new things that life has to offer.”
But within hours of his death on Sept. 10 after a car accident, his memory “” in fact, his very body “” had become the object of a tug-of-war over religious freedom and obligation. It began when his mother, who was raised Hindu, and his father, who is Muslim, decided to have his body cremated in the Hindu tradition, rather than burying him in a shroud, as Islam prescribes.
His parents, Mina and Farhad Reja, say a small group of Muslims who do not understand their approach to religion are trying to intimidate them over the most private of family choices. “This is America,” Mrs. Reja said. “This is a family decision.”
The couple say that people accosted them at their son’s funeral, that an angry crowd threatened to boycott a shopping center they own in Jackson Heights, Queens, and that on Sept. 13, two men they know threatened to bomb and burn down the building.
The men they accused in a complaint filed with the police “” one is a doctor and the father of a close friend of Shafayet Reja, the other a Bangladeshi business leader “” say that they made no threats and deny that they have called for a boycott. They say they and others simply expressed their concern about what they see as a deep violation of their religion and of the wishes of the son, who, according to some of his college friends, had recently chosen Islam as his sole religion.
The Police Department’s hate crimes unit is investigating whether the threats took place, whether they would constitute aggravated harassment, and whether they qualify as bias crimes, which carry tougher penalties, a spokesman for the department said. No charges have been filed.
What is not in doubt is that the episode is a source of consternation, from the Queens neighborhoods where Mr. Reja’s parents live and work to their native Bangladesh, one of the world’s most populous Muslim countries, where it has been national news.
The dispute has especially swept up several bustling blocks in Jackson Heights, where dozens of businesses are Bengali. It had business owners on edge during the busy shopping season before this week’s Id al-Fitr festival. The festival marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and brings throngs of shoppers to dine and to buy jewelry and sparkling traditional dresses.
The neighborhood is a place where business rivalries and family arguments often intersect with disputes over Bangladesh politics, especially in the case of Mrs. Reja, a prominent property owner and outspoken advocate of the rights of Bangladesh’s religious minorities. Her 1999 self-published book, “God on Trial,” angered some Muslims in the neighborhood with its critique of Islamic fundamentalism.
The cremation dispute goes to the heart of a debate among Muslims in America about what makes someone a Muslim “” to some of the critics, the fact that Shafayet Reja listed Islam as his religion on Facebook is enough “” and how to reconcile this country”s freedom of religion with what some Muslims see as a communal obligation to uphold religious observance.
But to the family, the dispute is a frightening imposition that they say violates their civil rights.
“We have freedom of religion, and we have the Constitution,” said the Rejas” son Mishal, 19, who studies at Washington University in St. Louis. “Why would they bother us? It’s none of their business. Even if he was the most hard-core Muslim.”…