CROWN HEIGHTS — Religious graffiti scrawled in front of a local mosque and church this week are being investigated by the NYPD’s Hate Crime Task Force, the police department said.
The mysterious messages written in dark green spray paint appeared on the sidewalk in front of the Baitush Sharaf Islamic Center on Tuesday, the police department said, reading “Jehova es el Rey,” Spanish for “Jehovah is the king.”
A member of the mosque reported the graffiti to the NYPD, which referred the case to the department’s Hate Crime Task Force. The message also appeared half a block away at a Spanish-language church, Iglesia Filadelfia, written in three different spots on the sidewalk outside in the same green spray paint.
The imam at Baitush Sharaf, Zakaria Mahmud, said he asked a neighbor who speaks Spanish what the phrase meant when he first saw it because he wasn’t sure — and still isn’t — whether or not it was meant to be offensive.
“It is a question … I have to ask more to understand. What does this mean?” he said.
The graffiti appeared on the sidewalk in front of the Baitush Sharaf Islamic Center on Bergen Street. (Photo credit: DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith)
The mosque has been in the neighborhood since 1996 and has never had to deal with any negative or threatening messages, except one anonymous letter sent from California years ago, he said.
“This is the Islamic center. Why here?” he said of the spray paint, adding it “may be kind of offensive.”
Calls to the staff of Iglesia Filadelfia were not returned Wednesday.
The graffiti appeared as the NYPD is beefing up security at city mosques and Islamic cultural centers before the start of Ramadan next week. On Tuesday, Police Commissioner James O’Neill said hate crimes committed against Muslims are up 33 percent so far this year.
“Bias crimes have no place in our city,” he said. “This is an issue we continue to take very seriously.”