NEWARK, N.J. — Members of a New Jersey mosque are devastated after their imam was shot and killed Wednesday morning. The search is on
Imam Hassan Sharif was fatally shot outside his mosque on South Orange Avenue and Camden Street in Newark at around 6:15 a.m. Officials said they do not believe it was motivated by bias or domestic terrorism.
All morning long, devout worshipers filed into Masjid Muhammad, praying for Sharif’s recovery, but his injuries proved too severe.
“Just a good person overall,” Aneesah Abdullah said. “I can’t think of anything wrong he’s done to anyone, and that comes from my heart.”
“He was part of Safe Surrender programs,” Newark Public Safety Director Fritz Frage said. “Fugitives would turn themselves in.”
According to Masjid leadership, the gunman approached just after pre-dawn prayer. Police said the imam was hit more than once and rushed to University Hospital where he died later in the afternoon.
At a news conference, state Attorney General Matt Platkin said investigators still don’t know the motive behind the shooting.
“While we are not yet at liberty to discuss the progress of our investigative efforts, the evidence collected thus far does not indicate that this was an act motivated by bias or an act of domestic terrorism,” Platkin said. “While we ordinarily do not go public with this type of information so early in our process, we know, and I know, that in light of global events, and with a rise in bias directed at many communities we’re experiencing across our state, but particularly the Muslim community, there are many in New Jersey who are fearing a heightened sense of fear, or anxiety, at the news of this slaying.”
“If there’s any evidence that this was anything, broadly speaking, a hate crime, Islamophobia, anything in that lane, it is completely reprehensible, unacceptable in the state of New Jersey, and we will take whatever actions we need to take,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “But again, that’s assuming it’s the case. I do not have confirmation that it is the case. But I will say this — we pray for the imam and his family, certainly, fervently.”
“I’m heartbroken by the shooting death of Imam Hassan Sharif,” Sen. Cory Booker wrote on X. “I am closely following updates as Newark and county police investigate and I’m hopeful justice will be served swiftly. My heart is with the members of Masjid Muhammad and the entire NJ Muslim community.”
“The [Essex County Prosecutors Office] is working with the Newark Police Department and other agencies to identify the person or persons responsible for this violent act,” Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore Stephens said. “At a time when bias crimes against members of the Muslim community are on the rise, we know this act of gun violence may heighten concerns.”
CAIR-NJ, the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, released a statement asking anyone with information about the shooting to contact the police. There is also a $25,000 reward for anyone with information leading to an arrest and conviction.
Masjid Muhammad, formerly known as Temple 25, was founded in Newark in 1957 as a foundation for Islam in the area. Worshipers at the nearby Celestial Church of Christ say they frequently saw Imam Sharif in the early morning hours, preparing for the first prayer of the day.
“He was very helpful. He let us park in the parking lot,” Margaret Adebayo said. “I don’t even know what the world is coming to. Just pray for a better world, for peace to reign.”
A public servant, Imam Sharif was a transportation security officer at Newark Liberty International Airport for the last 17 years, in addition to the work he did for the mosque. He was known as a community advocate and showed up for whoever needed him.
“Feed the homeless and the drug addicts and alcoholics,” said Jimmy Small, of the Muslim League of Voters of New Jersey. “We’d do it once a month and this past Saturday was the last time we did it.”
Word of the shooting is reverberating throughout the Tri-State Area. In Long Island’s Nassau County, authorities are increasing patrols at mosques.
“While there is no information at this time concerning the cause of the shooting, out of an abundance of caution I am increasing patrols to protect the Muslim community,” Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said.