Mosque shooting in Newark NJ leaves imam Hassan Sharif dead
The imam of a Newark mosque who was shot outside his house of worship after morning prayers early Wednesday has died from his injuries, according to community leaders who have been in contact with his family and the mosque.
Imam Hassan Sharif was shot twice in the parking lot of Masjid Muhammad-Newark on South Orange Avenue, said Imam Wahy-ud Deen Shareef, convener of the Council of Imams in New Jersey. A representative from the council was at University Hospital in Newark on Wednesday, where the imam had been in surgery, he said.
“I just got off the phone with the imam at the hospital. He just confirmed that Imam Hassan Sharif has passed,” Shareef said.
Dina Sayedahmed, communications director for the Council on American Islamic Relations in New Jersey, who was at the mosque on Wednesday afternoon, said she also was informed by multiple community members that he had died. They were preparing to deliver a statement later in the day, she said.
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The motive is unknown, but Shareef said that the imam had been attacked at gunpoint outside the mosque several months ago, also after morning prayers. In that incident, the imam wrestled the gun away from the suspect, who ran and was not caught, he said.
The shooting on Wednesday unfolded at about 6:16 a.m., according to Newark Public Safety Director Fritz Fragé, when police rushed to the location following a distress call reporting a man shot outside the mosque. The imam was taken to University Hospital in Newark and died at 2:21 p.m., officials said.
Hassan Sharif served at the Newark mosque for three or four years and was recently elected as resident imam, Shareef said. A former boxer, Sharif worked as an officer for the Transportation Security Administration, he said.
Shareef knew the imam personally. “When he got elected, he and I had a discussion about the roles and responsibilities of imams. I gave him a history of the masjid he was imam of, where I embraced Islam many years ago,” said Shareef.
Shareef said he did not know if the two incidents were connected or have any idea of the motive.
“We are making prayers for him, and at the same time, we are following up with the police to do what they need to do to try and identify who may have been the suspect,” he said.
Gov. Phil Murphy stressed the importance of protecting residents in their houses of worship.
“At a time when the Muslim community is concerned by an increase of bias incidents and crimes, I want to assure the Muslim community and people of all faiths that we will do everything in our power to keep all residents safe, especially in or near our houses of worship,” he said.
Attorney General Matthew Platkin and Essex County Acting Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens held an afternoon press conference to discuss the case.
“We know that in light of global events, and with a rise in bias directed at many communities across our state but particularly the Muslim community, that there are many in New Jersey right now experiencing a heightened sense of fear or anxiety at the news of this slaying,” said Platkin. “I want every resident of our state to know that we are bringing all our resources to bear to keep our Muslim friends and neighbors safe, and keeping all New Jerseyans safe.”
Platkin said that they do not yet know the motivation for this crime, however, “the evidence we collected thus far does not indicate that this was an act motivated by bias.”
Stephens said Sharif was shot multiple times.
Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura said the Essex County Crime Stoppers Program is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible.
“$25,000, step forward, no questions asked,” he said.
Sayedahmed, of CAIR-NJ, said the organization was shocked by news of the shooting and called the imam “a beacon of leadership in his community.”
“We are deeply concerned about this incident. Anyone with information about the shooting should immediately contact local police,” Sayedahmed said.
The Newark Interfaith Alliance and the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) held an assembly on Wednesday evening demanding that the shooter turn themselves in. This was held at the Masjid Muhammad mosque where Sharif was killed.
Other organizations like the Islamic Circle of North America-New Jersey shared their sentiments as they mourn the Iman’s death and demand “immediate and unwavering action to ensure the safety and security of every member of our community.”
Sharif was involved in Newark Interfaith Alliance and the safe surrender program where his mosque were one of the safehouses in which fugitives with non-violent arrest warrants can turn themselves in, and work to have their case resolved quickly without jail time.
“He was a community activist who protested against gun violence,” said Fragé. “He supported efforts to keep our city safe. His is a deep loss that the city will mourn.”
The shooting comes as New Jersey marks its first official Muslim Heritage Month. Murphy signed a proclamation in May designating January of every year for the occasion, in a measure meant to promote appreciation and awareness about Muslim traditions and contributions.
First appeared on www.northjersey.com