ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Muhammad Khan thought nothing could hurt as much as losing his handsome, gentle Tehseen to suicide, but what he says happened to him at the cemetery was like reopening the still-fresh wound and reminding him that sometimes, especially these days, the world can be a heartless, hateful place.
Tehseen was 24, a young man who had struggled for years with depression. But he had promised his father he would not kill himself, Khan said.
“He didn’t want to put me through that,” he said. “He would say, ‘I’m supposed to bury you; you are not supposed to bury me.’ And I hoped, I hoped that’s how it was going to be. He had a good job with Blue Cross Blue Shield. He worked out every day. Things were OK. He promised.”
But on June 15, Tehseen could no longer keep that promise. He died with a blast from a 12-gauge shotgun.
He was buried June 19 at Fairview Memorial Park, one of Albuquerque’s first cemeteries and blocks away from the Islamic Center of New Mexico, where Khan, who is Muslim, worships.
But five days later, Khan said, a security officer interrupted him while he was praying and reciting the Quran, appeared to mock Khan’s accent and ordered him to leave the cemetery or he would be locked inside for the night. This, even though Khan said it was between 7:05 and 7:10 p.m., well ahead of the 8:30 p.m. closure time.
(A Fairview official clarified that the cemetery closes at dusk, which at this time of year is around 8:30 p.m.)
Khan described the officer – who is not employed by Fairview but by Mesa Detection Agency – as wearing a uniform but no name tag, blond and skinny, young and a tobacco chewer.
The next morning, Khan said, he reported the incident to a Fairview employee and confirmed the cemetery closing time. He said he was advised to get the name of the officer should the same thing happen again.
That evening, it did, and then some.
Khan said he arrived at his son’s grave slightly earlier than the evening before to make sure he had enough time to complete his prayers, which take about 35 to 45 minutes and involve reciting passages along with a recording of the Quran.
Khan said he was not being loud or disruptive.
But he apparently disturbed the security officer.
What happened next, according to Khan, was horrifying, humiliating, discriminating and mostly unprintable in a family newspaper. Khan said the officer refused to allow him to finish his prayers, refused to acknowledge Khan’s grief, refused to provide his name.
“I’m already dealing with my youngest son’s death by suicide, and I’m still very patient with the guard because it’s people’s last resting place and arguing and getting involved in fighting here is prohibited by my religion,” Khan said.
Humanity prohibits it, too.
Khan said he was insulted and threatened. The officer screamed in his face, spoke obscenities about Khan’s deceased mother, spit chewing tobacco and saliva on his car, tried to slam his car door shut on his leg, stomped on his son’s grave and then blocked his way out of the cemetery.
Khan said a supervisor later arrived and allowed Khan to finish his prayers.
A check of the security officer’s name yielded not so much as a traffic ticket. An email sent by Mesa Detection Agency, owned by Troy Grimes, said that no comment would be forthcoming. Calls to a phone number listed for the security officer went unanswered.
A Fairview official said the incident is being investigated and its contract with Mesa is being reviewed.
“Our first concern is the safety of the families who come to us to care for their loved ones,” the official said. “We take very seriously the situation that Mr. Khan presented to us. Our relationship with Mesa is contingent upon our assessment of how they address the situation at hand. If we are not satisfied that they have addressed the situation, including the investigation into what happened, then we will address that among our leadership team and pursue that accordingly.”
Since June 24 and 25, Khan said, he has not encountered the same security officer, though he still fears the officer will show up, even if it’s out of uniform.
As we talk, Khan breaks down, still in shock over the death of his son and how anybody could treat him with such anger for praying in any religion over his son’s grave.
“I have faced racism, and I have always tried to think, ‘Let them be little people; don’t waste energy on people like that,’ ” he said. “But this was humiliating. It was scary. It was terrorism.”
Khan has filed a report with the Albuquerque Police Department and plans to file a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union.
He still goes to his son’s grave every day to pray and to cry, the pain still as searing, the hate still as cruel.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.