Skip to main content

Man charged with hate crime for allegedly vandalizing Nob Hill mosque over Ramadan

A broken stained-glass window with various colored panes, some shattered, in a yellow frame.
A man smashed six windows at the Masjid al-Tawheed mosque in Nob Hill on April 4. It was just one of several attacks against the place of worship in recent weeks, Muslim leaders said. | Source: Felix Uribe Jr. for The Standard

Eid al-Fitr began Tuesday evening, marking the end of four weeks of daily fasts for Muslims worldwide. In San Francisco, the celebrations of Ramadan have been shadowed by repeated attacks on a mosque involving smashed windows, graffiti and even pornography taped to the place of worship. 

But Wednesday night brought some hope of justice and relief as police arrested a man allegedly caught on camera committing some of the vandalism.

Surveillance footage provided to The Standard showed a white man with a skateboard walking up to Nob Hill’s Masjid al-Tawheed mosque on April 4 as Ahmed Algahim, the mosque treasurer, stood at the front door. The man smashed six windows from the building.

The suspect was identified as 35-year-old Robert Gray of San Francisco, according to police. The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office on Thursday filed a charge of felony vandalism against him with a special allegation that the alleged act was a hate crime.

“Vandalism of this nature is completely unacceptable and is even more alarming as it occurred during the holy month of Ramadan and while Muslim families were present praying and worshipping,” District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said in a statement. “Our houses of worship are sacred spaces and targeting them in any way will not be tolerated in San Francisco.”

Masjid al-Tawheed's Imam says a man smashed six of the Nob Hill mosque's windows with a skateboard on April 4 as a member of the congregation stood nearby. | Source: Courtesy Masjid al-Tawheed

Gray is due to be arraigned on Friday, according to the DA’s Office, which is asking that he be detained pending trial “because of the public safety risk he poses.”

If convicted as charged, he faces up to six years in prison, the DA’s Office said.

According to Imam Mohammed Alnuzaili, the same man returned to the mosque on Tuesday afternoon and attempted to smoke a Swisher Sweets cigarillo inside before some of the men praying removed him. The suspect swore at those at the mosque before he fled the area.

“He left in the same car. He had the same clothes even,” Alnuzaili told The Standard. He said he had never seen or interacted with the man before the incidents.

Following the reappearance, San Francisco Police Department confirmed both incidents and said they believed the man who smashed the windows on April 4 was the same man in the area on Tuesday morning shortly before noon.

A green sign with Arabic text and "AL TAWHEED MOSQUE" written in English, on a building with a golden-domed minaret.
The Masjid Al-Tawheed mosque, located at 1227 Sutter St., has experienced repeated attacks that involved smashed windows, graffiti and even porn taped to the place of worship. | Source: Felix Uribe Jr. for The Standard

“Officers canvassed the area and were unable to locate the suspect. No incidents of vandalism occurred on today’s date,” a police spokesperson said Wednesday afternoon.

Then, shortly after 8 p.m., the man returned to the mosque, demanding to pray with the congregants, according to Algahim.

When mosque leaders confronted him about the property damage, he admitted that he had done it.

“He said that he was mad at someone, and when we asked him if it was someone at the mosque, he couldn’t tell us what exactly happened which provoked him,” Algahim said. 

By engaging the man in conversation, mosque leaders were able to keep him occupied for 10 minutes, at which point the police arrived and arrested him, Algahim said.

‘You will burn in hell’

Although sure to be greeted with relief by community members who had been calling for police action, the arrest left questions, including why the mosque was targeted and whether the man arrested was responsible for all the incidents.

“I’ll be honest with you. We have been dealing with this all through this month,” Alnuzaili said. “They put graffiti right at the door, which we had to have removed. Someone wrote, ‘You will burn in hell’ near our front entrance.”

In another vandalism incident during Ramadan, someone covered the entrance to the mosque with pornographic pictures of women.

Vandalized window glass at the front of the Masjid Al-Tawheed Mosque at 1227 Sutter Street in San Francisco on Wednesday, April 10, 2024.
Broken window glass is covered with cardboard at Masjid Al-Tawheed on Wednesday. | Source: Felix Uribe Jr. for The Standard

“It was an attempt to provoke us because we believe our women should be covered up,” he said. “You can see the number of the brothers here, but we are not trying to take matters in our hands. We are really trying to work with the system in place.”

According to Alnuzaili, the mosque has been in the area since 1994 and has been a safe space for the large local Arab Muslim population.

“Our community shouldn’t have to feel like this is not a safe place, but with these recent events, everyone is on edge in what should be a celebratory time as Muslims,” he said.

San Francisco Immigrants Rights Commissioner Aseel Fara, who grew up in the Tenderloin and attends the mosque, called for the city to step in and do more to support the Muslim community.

Cyclist passes the Masjid Al-Tawheed Mosque at 1227 Sutter Street in San Francisco on Wednesday.
A man caught on camera smashing mosque windows with a skateboard was arrested Wednesday night, mosque leaders said. | Source: Felix Uribe Jr. for The Standard

“The mosque doesn’t seem like a safe space anymore, which can cause a bunch of feelings that question your security,” Fara said. “It makes you have to be more aware of your surroundings.”

Fara brought up an incident from November last year, when three Palestinian college students were shot at close range and seriously injured by a 48-year-old man in Burlington, Vermont. All three men survived.

“We don’t want to wait until one of our community members is shot for us to take action,” Fara said. “We need action now.”