Tragedy of attack on Muslim family in London, Ont., has strengthened faith, passion to combat hate, youth say
On the second anniversary of the truck attack that killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., hundreds of people came to commemorate their lives while carrying on the fight against Islamophobia.
A vigil hosted by the Youth Coalition Combating Islamophobia (YCCI) and the City of London was held Tuesday evening at the site of the attack on the Afzaals — who are known as Our London Family. On June 6, 2021, the family was out for a walk when Salman Afzaal, his wife, Madiha Salman, grandmother, Talat, and the couple’s daughter, Yumnah, were killed when a truck hit them at the intersection of South Carriage and Hyde Park Roads in what police are calling an alleged hate-motivated attack.
Tuesday’s vigil saw multiple relatives of the Afzaal family take the stage, including Madiha Salman’s brother and sister, who spoke emotionally about living the last two years without their loved ones.
“Thank you so much everyone. Keep trying to reach out to each other, to your neighbours and your friends,” said Arjumand Salman, Madiha’s sister.
Her voice cracking, she explained to the crowd at the vigil that she had tried many times to write a speech but couldn’t find the words. Instead, she spoke from the heart about losing a sibling who was always a phone call away, ready to share recipes and laughs.
Madiha’s brother recounted how his knees gave out when he got the unimaginable phone call. Others who attended the vigil talked about how they had found meaning and a greater connection to their Muslim faith since the attack.
“Ironically, the one who killed Yumnah and her family wanted to fuel the fire of Islamophobia and make Muslims afraid to be who they are,” said 16-year-old Esa Islam, a cousin and one of the vigil organizers.
“For me, this horrific attack only strengthened my faith and increased my passion for fighting Islamophobia so no family or community will every have to face this hate again!”
Change in the wake of tragedy
The tragedy prompted the creation of YCCI, comprised of teenagers and young adults working to educate others about Islamophobia, what it looks like and its impact on society. Working with other groups, they’ve had the ear of city institutions, which are also looking for ways to better promote understanding.
A Muslim Community Liaison Officer was hired by the City of London in 2022, and on Tuesday, the Thames Valley District School Board, the largest in the region, said it would release a new anti-Islamophobia strategy next year.
“I think that Canada has a lot say about being inclusive, but we have a lot more to do,” said 17-year-old Karli Jones, who was attending the vigil. “It made me angry when people said, after it happened, that they were surprised. Because we shouldn’t be. Islamophobia is here.”
The vigil ended with a moment of silence, followed by a call to prayer with several hundred people unrolling prayer mats in the middle of the Hyde Park Road. Many in the audience said they were changed by what happened to the Afzaal family and felt they needed to be a part of the event.
“We are here to show solidarity with the family,” said Iman Nasir Butt, holding a blue sign that said Love for All. “In the Muslim community, this is our message and it’s the way to peace and love.”
On Monday, Salman Afzaal’s brother, Umar, and his family released a statement issued through their lawyers that reflects on the family’s legacy and describes how each person who was killed is being remembered.
Umar is helping to care for the youngest family member, who survived the incident. CBC News has agreed to not name the boy so he can have as normal a life as possible.
The trial for the man accused of killing the Afzaals is scheduled to start this September in Windsor, Ont.