Standing in the shade of Al-Salam Mosque in Maplewood with more than a dozen members of the community beside him, the president of the Islamic Institute of Minnesota said Friday he didn’t think the vandals who spray-painted slurs and obscenities on the walls of the mosque should be charged with hate crimes.

“This mosque has been in this city for more than 20 years,” said Amin Kader. “We know our community and we know our neighbors. We consider it the work of misguided individuals who do not know what Islam is or what Islam calls for.”

Maplewood police are looking for two suspects caught on camera spray-painting the back of the mosque during the early morning hours of July 29.

Kader took particular issue with one of the lines left on the mosque: “Jesus saves.”

“Those people would be shocked to know we actually believe in that,” Kader said. “As Muslims we do. The message of Jesus saves. Yes.”

In the spirit of that message, Kader said, worshipers at the mosque will drop charges if the vandals turn themselves in.

“Come forward,” he said. “Own what you have done. Know that you hurt people. Apologize. Clean the mess, and we’ll intercede with the police department to drop the charges.”

Maplewood Police Chief Scott Nadeau said the department will be working closely with the mosque.

But until police know more about the motives of the vandals, they will be investigating the matter as a hate crime, he said.

“The Maplewood Police Department has made this crime our highest priority,” he said. “The vandalism of this mosque is not just an offense for those who worship there, but an attack on our entire community.”

The police department has placed pictures of the two suspects on its website and Facebook page.

Neighbors of the mosque have been sending cards and flower bouquets since the vandalism was discovered, Kader said.

He said he was reminded of the Friday after 9/11, when he opened the mosque for the first time after the terrorist attacks.

His heart was pounding, he said. He didn’t know what to expect.

He found flowers and cards from neighbors.

“That’s how people know us here,” Kader said. “We are among friends.”

The graffiti is still up. Removal is expected to be expensive, requiring dry ice and power washing.