On a quiet Sunday in their calm San Jose neighborhood, Golam and Shamima Rabbi were found shot to death in their home.
The San Jose double murder proved to be worse than the worst hate crime.
Golam and Shamima were Bangladeshi immigrants who had been members of the Muslim community in San Jose for decades. Their grisly murders shook both the Bangladeshi and Muslim as the news rippled through the Bay Area, along with talk of the ominous message that was allegedly scrawled at the murder scene:
As the community mourned the loss of Golam and Shamima, the message, even more than the murder, set many on edge. Written in black permanent marker, witnessed by those who claim they were at the scene of the crime, the message scribbled on the floor read like a warning to many in the Muslim community:
“I’m sorry my first kill was so clumsy.”
Many, myself included, feared that this meant this was the first murder in a string of more to come. Could the Bay Area be facing a potential serial killer? Someone who was perhaps targeting visible members of the Muslim community, someone who was fueled by the hatred and ignorance so many of us fear, and unfortunately, experience daily?
The answer to these questions was more sinister and devastating than any Bay Area Muslim could have initially imagined. Shamima and Golam were not murdered by a hateful outsider. Shamima and Golam were not done under by some nameless Trump supporter, some open-carrying homicidal maniac driven to cold-blooded killing by a fear of immigrants and Muslims.
Shamima and Golam were murdered by their own sons.
As Muslim funeral rites dictate, Shamima and Golam were to be washed, prayed over, and laid to rest less than twenty four hours after their deaths. But the Muslim community, still grieving, still fearful of a killer on the loose, received even more bad news. Shamima and Golam’s bodies could not be released, as their son–the person who, by California state law needed to receive their bodies–.
From the very beginning, police had insisted that their investigation was not pointing in the direction of a hate crime, and that the victims knew the person (or persons) who had committed the murders.
A short time later, San Jose police issued astating that the Rabbi’s oldest son, Hasib bin Golam Rabbi, age twenty-two, and their younger son, only seventeen, had been arrested for the murders of their own parents.
Many outside the Muslim community may wonder why this may be more shocking–and more tragic–to the Muslim community than if this was a hate crime. Shouldn’t we be relieved that there aren’t more murders on the horizon, complete with hastily scrawled messages?
To Muslims, this murder is more terrible than a potential hate crime because of the nature of the relationship between mothers and their children in Islam. Many of us recall a, the narration of prophetic tradition as set down by Muhammad (PBUH), that so many of us are told over and over again as children.
“Honor your mother. Then honor your mother. Then honor your mother! Then honor your father.”
Within Islam, mothers are owed a respect and a reverence that demands from their children a holy obligation. As children and as adults, Muslims are expected to honor and care for their parents, especially their mothers, as these are the people who safeguarded our lives by nursing us, caring for us, and loving us when we were but helpless infants. This duty goes beyond simply being kind to our mothers or obeying them as we grow up: it also extends to caring for our mothers as they grow older, mirroring the way they cared for us in our infancy as they enter the hardship of advanced age.
This duty is so sacred in Islam that it is narrated that Heaven lies beneath the feet of your mother, meaning that your hope of entering Paradise depends on how well you live up to your duty of honoring your mother, and the sacrifices she made for you.
The tragic gruesome murders of Golam and Shamima Rabbi has, for those who mourn them, only compounded further in the knowledge that those accused of their murder are those who had the highest obligation to them. A parallel to the crime of matricide is the crime of infanticide: the murder of someone who is helpless and dependent by someone who has an obligation, societally and culturally, to care for them, and instead makes them a victim of senseless violence.
Further, the deaths of Golam and Shamima force us to focus on the fact that while we fear violence from outside our masjids, homes, and communities, the danger may be much closer to home. Could our own sons do this to us? What cause could Hasib bin Golam Rabbi and his brother possibly have for killing their own parents?
In times of grief, we often look to the words of the Quran and Hadith for guidance and comfort. But while searching, we may also find an admonition. As parents, we have obligations to care for and display kindness to our children, and to live up to the position of high esteem we are given by our faith. As children, we must remember that Heaven lies beneath our mother’s feet, and heed the Prophet Muhammad’s admonition:
“Honor your mother. Honor your mother. Honor your mother.”
Written by Amani Hamed