A New Jersey imam was gunned down outside his mosque before dawn Wednesday, leaving authorities hunting for a shooter and saying they’ve found no evidence yet that an anti-Muslim bias played a part in the shooting.
Imam Hassan Sharif was in his car when he was shot more than once at about 6 a.m. near the Masjid-Muhammad Mosque in Newark, the state’s largest city, Essex County Prosecutor Ted Stephens said at a news conference. He was taken to a nearby hospital but died in the afternoon.
“I know that in light of global events and with a rise in bias directed at many communities we’re experiencing across our state — particularly the Muslim community — there are many in New Jersey right now who are feeling a heightened sense of fear or anxiety at the news of this slaying,” Attorney General Matt Platkin said.
Despite that, Platkin said law enforcement has stepped up outreach to houses of worship, particularly Jewish and Muslim ones, explicitly acknowledging the tensions unfolding in many parts of the world amid the fighting in Gaza since the Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel.
Sharif had been a resident imam at the local mosque for five years, Newark Public Safety Director Fritz Fragé said. He remembered the imam as a leader in the interfaith community who worked to keep the city safe.
“We share your pain and we promise to utilize the full resources of those here and those who are continuing to partner with us to make sure that this heinous crime is solved,” he said.
Mosques Advised to ‘Remain Cautious’
The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, called Sharif a “beacon of leadership and excellence.” and said that while the shooter’s motives are unknown, the group is advising all mosques to “remain cautious” while keeping their doors open.
About 320,000 of the state’s roughly 9 million residents are Muslim, Platkin said. After Wednesday’s shooting, officials reached out to Muslim communities in the city and across the state.
“We’re asking everybody in our community and our partners to let us know if there’s anything that they want to be done and anything that is making them feel unsafe so we can respond,” he said.