Friday, May 06, 2016

Do We Know Our Children?

(You can also read the article here.)

Five days after the bodies of Golam Rabbi, 59, and Shamima Rabbi, 57, were discovered at their home in San Jose, California, about three hundred friends and relatives gathered at the Five Pillars cemetery in Livermore on a Friday to bury the couple. With the sun on our back and a brisk breeze blowing, we prayed for their forgiveness and salvation as the bodies were lowered into the grave next to one another while the Imam recited verses from the Quran.

Shamima Rabbi and Golam Rabbi

Police have charged the couple’s two sons, Hasib Golamrabbi, 22, and Omar Golamrabbi, 17, with homicide. “I want everyone to know what happened,” said Hasib in a jailhouse interview. Both brothers pleaded not guilty to the murders at their arraignment.

I knew the Rabbis for over two decades as Bangladeshi immigrants who worshiped at the same mosques. We were members of the Evergreen Islamic Center where Golam, an engineer, and Shamima, an accountant, volunteered their services. Soft-spoken, humble and generous, they radiated peace. Friends sought Golam’s advice on how to grow the perfect apple or the peach, drawing on his extensive knowledge of gardening. He often brought his two sons to the mosque to pray next to him. Although I found them rather reserved, nothing seemed amiss or foreboding.

Ever since 9/11, Muslim-Americans have been stereotyped as jihadists and extremists and found themselves in the cross-hairs of politicians and presidential candidates like Donald Trump who would stand to gain from such labeling. We had been under siege for home-grown terrorists like those responsible for the 2009 Ford Hood shooting, the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings and the San Bernardino attacks in 2015.

But this macabre murder is a darker development in which young people have allegedly turned on their own family. Every parent’s nightmare is that their children will kill themselves due to depression, anxiety, stress, or emotional rage, or get killed in gang fights, or wind up in jail, or most frighteningly, run away to join ISIS, as did a teenager from Virginia last year.

Added to these fears now is the fear of violence being turned on the family itself, causing despair among us bordering on fatalism.

A week after the killings, a few Bangladeshi-American families in the Evergreen area met to try to make some sense of what had happened. After a lot of anguished back and forth, we concluded that we only had a superficial relationship with our children, other than constantly worrying about them. We led our lives and they led theirs, with the occasional intersection that didn’t mean much. We didn’t know what animated them, whether they felt alienated from us, or what they wanted to do with their lives. In the end, we resolved to be more involved in the lives of our children, not as parents but as friends. And not just with our kids, but with the kids of our community. What we realized is that it takes a community to raise a youth in these tough times.

It is impossible to fathom what Hasib and Omar had been thinking prior to their alleged roles in the killings. A recent Instagram posting by Omar offers a clue: “I always hated myself. Not sure what I am doing here.” No clue could, of course, be clearer or more chilling than what the brothers had scrawled on the wall and the floor of their home (police have matched the writings to the brothers): “Sorry my first kill was clumsy,” and “I can’t be like you telling a lie … I can’t love someone without telling them.”

While the Quran does not directly address the issue of patricide and matricide, it talks extensively about mercy and forgiveness. “My mercy encompasses all,” says a verse, complemented by a saying of the Prophet Muhammad: “My (that is, God’s) mercy takes precedence over My anger.” Another verse states: “If one is patient in adversity and forgives, this indeed is something to set one’s heart on.”

There is a most stirring example of the power and grace of forgiveness in recent times. In June of 2015, a 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylann Roof, embraced with open arms at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, opened fire during a prayer meeting, killing nine people. Within a few days, however, relatives of the nine victims declared that they had forgiven Roof. “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive,” said the sister of one. “I pray God on your soul.”

But while mercy and forgiveness are pertinent for the wider public, it should be remorse and repentance for the alleged perpetrators. The Quran says: “Those who committed evil deeds and then repented afterwards, surely your Lord is forgiving and merciful.”

Are the sons feeling any remorse? Are they repenting? Do thoughts of atonement even cross their minds?

We have no way of knowing, unless they themselves disclose what is in their hearts.

No matter how noble the instincts of mercy, forgiveness and repentance may be, however, they will not override the imperatives of justice. San Jose’s deputy district attorney Matt Braker has said that “there are some unanswered questions to this case. Police are working tirelessly to answer those questions and to ensure that both of these victims receive justice."

So what can we do as we await the trial that is likely to be as sensational and gripping as any in recent memory? Perhaps it is contained in one of the verses that the Imam recited after we had buried the Rabbis: “Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear.”

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