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.