New York City police are searching for the person who vandalized a mosque in Brooklyn with anti-Palestinian graffiti on one of the holiest days in the Muslim faith.
Muslims in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood arrived to Tayba Islamic Center early on Thursday to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, when they discovered “Death 2 Palestine” spray painted on the front.
The graffiti was immediately reported to police and is being investigated by the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, Detective Arlene Muniz told CNN.
No other property damage was reported and the perpetrator has not yet been found, according to Detective Annette Shelton.
The mosque’s imam, Mohammad Younus, said he was shocked by the graffiti and could not understand why anyone would target the small community.
“We have not harmed anyone, we have no issues with anyone, and we peacefully live side by side with the Jewish community,” Younus told CNN. “We have done nothing to anyone and there is no reason to target our mosque, especially on our holiday.”
The vandalism comes at a time of increased tension and violence between Israelis and Palestinians, fueled in-part by Israel’s planned eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Since Monday, Israeli airstrikes into Gaza have killed more than 120 Palestinians, including 31 children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Militant rocket fire from Gaza into Israel has killed eight Israelis, officials there said. Protests and mob violence, including lynchings, have also been reported throughout Israel and the West Bank.
The Tayba Islamic Center does not count many Palestinian-Americans among its congregation. Most are Pakistani-American, but Younus said they’re watching developments in the region closely.
“We are praying for our Palestinian brothers and sisters,” Younus said. “We see what is happening to them, we watch the oppression they are facing… Our prayers will always be for them.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter on Thursday to denounce the vandalism.
“To call this vile is an understatement. Eid is a moment to celebrate peace, community and family,” he said. “An attack on that is an attack on all New Yorkers.”
The Islamic Leadership Council of New York (ILCNY), which represents mosques throughout the state, and the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) have called on state and federal authorities to investigate the incident.
According to the FBI’s 2019 Hate Crime Statistics, the most recent available, about 20 percent of single-bias hate crime incidents were motivated by disdain for the victim’s religion. Roughly 13 percent of those incidents were fueled by anti-Islamic (Muslim) bias.
“Over the past four days we have seen a rise in disturbing rhetoric from public officials, city agencies, and political candidates that completely dehumanizes Palestinians and Muslims alike,” ILCNY spokesperson Mosaab Sadeia said in a statement on Thursday.
“Several elected officials have thrown blind support behind Israel’s atrocities with little regard for how that affects Muslim communities, as both constituents at home and humans abroad. The vandalism that took place earlier today is a direct consequence of that.”
Muslim community members have since covered the graffiti and “reclaimed their space” with positive messages, community member Ali Najmi said in a Twitter video.
Among the messages plastered over the graffiti was “Love not hate.”
“It’s not fair that Muslims went to the masjid for Eid prayer and were met with this hateful message. How could someone write that message knowing that so many innocent people died? That so many children were killed?” Zainab Iqbal, another member of Sheepshead Bay’s Muslim’s community, told CNN.
“Muslim communities need to be protected. And maybe we can’t do much for people back in Palestine, but over here, we can call on our elected officials to take a stand for what’s right.”
CNN’s Mirna Alsharif contributed to this report.