Rutgers Islamic Student Center Vandalized During Eid Al-Fitr

The chair of the student center’s board said the vandalism was “undoubtedly fueled by Islamophobia.”

An Islamic student center at Rutgers was broken into and vandalized early Wednesday morning, and the intruder or intruders smashed religious items and TVs and ripped down a Palestinian flag, according to a chaplain at the school.

A video of the damage, shared with HuffPost, showed broken glass covering the floor of the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, or “CILRU.” The break-in occurred on Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan and began Tuesday night.

“This is a day in which we keep saying Allahu Akbar, ‘God is greater.’ So someone might want to trash our building, but they can’t trash our will or our hearts,” Kaiser Aslam, the Muslim chaplain at Rutgers, told HuffPost over the phone Wednesday. “We’re grateful no one got hurt in this incident, and we’re going to build back in a better way than it was.”

Aslam said the vandal or vandals destroyed religious items, including a plaque with the phrase Masha Allah — Arabic for “by the will of God” — but also that televisions in the building and even Star Wars figurines in his office had also been destroyed. Though most destroyed items were left on the floor, he said he had still not been able to find a Palestinian flag that had been ripped off of a flagpole inside the building.

An email alert from Rutgers University said campus police were investigating “a burglary, criminal mischief, and bias crime,” which reportedly occurred overnight, around 4:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. Jonathan Holloway, the university’s president, said in an email to students that the incident was “an affront to our values as a community.”

Holloway said, “Hate has no place at Rutgers. Islamophobia and all forms of intolerance come from a place of ignorance.”

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said Wednesday he was “disgusted” to learn of the vandalism and that a criminal investigation was underway.

“Islamophobia has NO place in New Jersey,” Murphy said on X, formerly known as Twitter. Aslam said Murphy called Wednesday morning to wish him Eid Mubarak and to say, “We’re going to bring the full force of justice on this incident.” New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin said in a separate statement Wednesday that his office was working with law enforcement and prosecutors “to investigate this matter and hold those involved accountable.”

The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations welcomed the investigation of what it said was a “deeply distressing” instance of desecration and also called on Rutgers to “heed the concerns of Muslim students who have long expressed concern of the rise [in] anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hate.” The chair of CILRU’s board, Atiya Aftab, said the vandalism was “undoubtedly fueled by Islamophobia [and] is clearly a hate crime targeting our Muslim population at Rutgers.”

According to Aslam, it appeared an intruder broke the window on the student center’s back door and was then able to open the door from the inside. He said police were reviewing nearby security cameras for potential investigative information.

The chaplain said CILRU had gone years without an incident like Wednesday morning’s break-in. He said he believed it was connected to Eid al-Fitr and the ongoing Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip.

“To say the campus has been in an anxious state would be a severe understatement,” he said.

“I’ve seen more activism on campus — protest rallies, vigils — than ever before, and of course, the Muslim community, the Arab community, is feeling vilified in many ways, because of how the conflict, or the ongoing genocide, is being covered. And CILRU was a safe haven for our students. So I can’t imagine this isn’t connected.”

Despite the break-in, Eid al-Fitr is “a day of celebration,” Aslam said.

“It seems like this is supposed to be something to scare us, but we’re still going to celebrate on this day,” he added, “and we’re still going to make sure CILRU is known as a safe haven for our students and any students.”

Rowaida Abdelaziz contributed reporting.

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