Hindu-Muslim Family’s Choice of Cremation Arouses Anger

04_cremate190My family here is fairly mixed in terms of the religions.  I have noticed the hardening of confessional identities among many family members, alongside the growing secularism and syncreticism and atheism among others.  I’d meant to post this story earlier, which I just find so sad. It has echoes of Gogol’s Dead Souls, except not funny at all and with religious fanaticism replacing Chichikov’s opportunistic moderation and conformity, all against the backdrop of the giant cultural-sectarian war that characterizes our era. In the NYT:

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.

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