London Muslim Mosque Imam Aarij Anwer says it has been an emotionally exhausting week, swaying between hurt stemming from Sunday’s vehicle attack on a Muslim family and gratefulness for the outpouring of support and compassion demonstrated by the community in the days since.
Four family members were killed and a fifth was injured when they were struck June 6 by a pickup truck in London, Ont. The London Police Service has alleged they were targeted because of their faith.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother were killed.
Nine-year-old Fayez Afzaal suffered serious injuries but survived. Anwer says he is expected to make a full physical recovery.
A box has been set up at the London Islamic School, attached to the mosque, for people to drop off cards that will be given to Fayez “when the time is right, when he is able to meet us and receive those things,” Anwer says.
“That’s an initiative from the school and his teachers to collect a box of ‘get well soon’ cards, cards expressing our love for him, our compassion for him,” he explained.
“There are also gifts that other people not from the school have left outside at the memorial, just on the steps of the mosque, including a massive teddy bear. And all of those will be given to him as a show of our love.”
Friday also marks the resumption of religious services, with restrictions, as Ontario enters Step 1 of its provincial COVID-19 reopening plan.
Under Step 1, religious services, rites and ceremonies can be held indoors at 15 per cent capacity and outdoors at whatever capacity allows physical distancing.
“We really needed this today because of this horrific situation that has taken place,” Anwer says.
“Our hearts are broken. We need to come together to heal together.”
People are lined up outside the London Muslim Mosque as the province begins reopening. For a community still mourning the loss of one of their own, allowing 15 per cent capacity is a welcome change. @AM980News #OurLondonFamily #ldnont pic.twitter.com/JHzTQHo5gN
— Sawyer Bogdan (@sleebogdan) June 11, 2021
London lawyer Ali Chahbar says the mosque is more than a physical space and its reopening, especially at this time, is important.
“The mosque for many, many, many Muslims in London is an extension of their own self. The mosque is a place of security, a place of reflection, a place that is really their second home,” he told Global News.
“In light of the death and destruction of Sunday, the fact that we as a community have the ability to come together — not just spiritually, not just emotionally, not just virtually, but physically in the same space again — I think is incredibly important in terms of the grieving process and in terms of the mourning process.”
Health restrictions have been necessary and there will still be precautions in place, like physical distancing and the use of face masks, Chahbar says, but being able to return to the physical space and see other members of the community is impactful.
Chahbar spoke with Global News before he went to the mosque for Friday prayers.
“Pre-COVID the mosque was open five times a day for the five daily prayers. But Friday is the day of the week that, it would be analogous to like going to church on Sunday. Friday’s our day,” he explained.
Friday evening, hundreds are expected to walk from the site of the attack to the mosque in a march organized by St. Aidan’s Anglican Church. The Multi-Faith March to End Hatred will get underway at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, funeral services will be held for the four members of the Afzaal family killed in the attack.
The family is asking people not to go to the funeral home where a private visitation will be held, nor line the streets along the procession route.
However, the public is welcome to attend the funeral at the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario at 951 Pond Mills Rd.
“We are having the funeral on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.,” Anwer said. “It’s an open event, everybody can come for it. It’s at the Islamic Center of Southwest Ontario. All are welcome to come by and grieve with us together.”
While the community is still feeling the aftermath of the attack, Chahbar is hoping that when the time comes, action will be taken to address Islamophobia.
“If we truly want to honour the legacy of this family and we truly want to honor their memory, we can’t just leave it at words and we can’t just leave it at rhetoric. We need to take concrete action to address the factors that gave rise to what happened on Sunday so that we can take whatever steps we can take to ensure that this will never, ever, ever happen again,” he said.
“Because, realistically speaking, what’s the alternative?”
The driver of the truck that ran down the family, 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman, is facing four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the case. He is due back in court on Monday.
— With files from Global News’ Sawyer Bogdan
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