Imam fatally shot outside New Jersey Masjid

Muslims in New Jersey, USA, have been left devastated after an Imam belonging to a masjid in Newark was shot and killed on Wednesday morning.

Imam Hassan Sharif was fatally shot outside his Masjid Muhammed on South Orange Avenue and Camden Street in Newark at around 6:15 a.m.

According to local reports, the gunman approached just after fajr prayer.

Police said the imam was hit more than once and rushed to University Hospital where he died later in the afternoon.

Officials said they do not believe it was motivated by “bias or domestic terrorism.” However, the Imam’s killer remains at large.

In a statement released on the Facebook page of Masjid Muhammed, Imam Antar Mateen, a colleague of the late Imam Hassan, spoke for the first time since the sad news went public.

“As Muslims, it is important that we give the deceased his rights. Allah called him back, so we have a responsibility, as an Ummah – we have to shroud our brother and conduct a janaza.”

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He added: “Of course, we will address all other matters at a later time. We are hurting and it’s a reality that we are facing. The reality is he was a Muslim and we have to give him his rights as a Muslim.”

Imam Antar later emphasised calls for prayers and duas for the grieving friends and family of Imam Hassan.

As members of the public took to social media to publish messages of support, prominent American Muslim figure, Dr Omar Suleiman, posted on X: “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon. Imam Hassan Sharif, a beloved Imam of the Newark community, was shot and killed outside of his masjid. We ask Allah SWT to grant him Al-Firdaws and to grant his family patience. May Allah protect our communities and imams.”

The U.S. Senator from New Jersey, Cory Booker, also wrote on X: “I’m heartbroken by the shooting death of Imam Hassan Sharif. 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.”

While the motive for the shooting remains unclear, it comes amid increasing reports of threats, violence and hate speech targeting Muslim and Jewish Americans since the start of Israel’s latest round of aggression against Gaza.

U.S. New Jersey Governor, Phil Murphy, was reported to have said: “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. 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.”

The New Jersey branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) urged anyone with information about the shooting to contact police.

In a statement, CAIR-NJ Communications Manager Dina Sayedahmed said: “To Allah we belong and to Him we return. Imam Hassan was a beacon of leadership and excellence. We are devastated at the news of his killing. We are praying for the Imam, his family and loved ones, and his congregation, and we ask everyone to do the same.

“While the perpetrator’s motive remains unknown and irrespective of this specific incident, we advise all mosques to keep their doors open but remain cautious especially given the recent spike in anti-Muslim bigotry.”

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organisation. Its mission statement is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.

Essex County Crime Stoppers will offer a $25,000 reward for anyone who shares information regarding the shooting, Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.

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