The story begins with the tragic death of 22 year old Shafayet Reja on September 10 due to injuries suffered in an automobile accident.
He had been brought up attending both Hindu temples and Muslim mosques, honoring the religion of both of his parents—his mother was Hindu and his father a Muslim. Lately, he had been attending a mosque more frequently and participated in fasting for Ramadan.
His parents, Mina and Farhad Reja, decided that they would have both Muslim and Hindu rites for their son and then have him cremated in the Hindu tradition.
During the Muslim service, his parents were surrounded and confronted by several dozen Muslims, including imams from several mosques, who came to express their objections to the cremation of Shafayet and demand that he receive a proper Muslim burial.
According to the Reja’s, the people crowded around them as they were weeping and paying their last respects beside their son’s body. Mrs. Reja recounts:
“I was having my last moment with my son. What gave them the guts to do that?”
The police were actually called but the crowd was persuaded to leave by their son Mishal Reja, 19, the brother of the deceased. Mishal responded with this observation:
“We have freedom of religion, and we have the Constitution. Why would they bother us? It’s none of their business. Even if he was the most hard-core Muslim.”
The Family owns a building which houses a Bengali mall with a number of small businesses, on Sept. 13, an angry crowd gathered in front of the building and threatened to boycott the shopping center. Also, one man threatened to bomb the building while another claimed that it would be burned down.
To the protesting Muslims, the family had no right to cremate their own son, the fact that Shafayet prayed and attended local mosques should outweigh his family’s wishes. Junnun Choudhury, secretary of the Jamaica Muslim Center, responded to the situation:
“It was the community’s business because the community knew he was a Muslim. It is our job to bury him in the Muslim way.”
The Police Department is investigating the incident, but according to a spokesman, no charges have been filed.
Response: This is the ultimate story of culture and religious conflict—what is remarkable about this case, it happened in New York, USA where there is supposed to be freedom of religion to practice any faith you wish or none at all.
The family has the right to dispatch their son in the way that they choose. The Muslims have no legal standing to object or force their way upon these grieving parents, neither do they have the moral right to treat the family in this way.
Their actions towards the Reja’s are outrageous and completely out of line. The Muslims have no idea how badly this comes across to other Americans and how it tarnishes their religion. The anger, compulsion, protests, and threats in this case are way beyond the pale and completely un-American.