After waking up from a two-month-long coma, the 47-year-old father of three was paralyzed from the chest down.
“What a hero. He’s a hero and he’s a Canadian hero. One that we should be celebrating and supporting,” said Amira Elghawaby, a member of the Ottawa Muslim community who recently travelled to Quebec City.
“He basically wanted to do that for them [for the community]. He even said he would rather be paralyzed for life than run away and left unscathed.”
The hope is that Derbali will soon be able to leave rehab, but the worry is that he won’t have a place to go home to as his fourth-storey apartment is not adapted for his wheelchair.
“He’s doing better than he was earlier this year,” Shaykh Daood Butt, an imam who has spent time with Derbali, told Global News.
“He’s trying to move his hands a little more. He can move the fingers on one hand, except one finger. He can move his arm.”
There are still several bullets lodged in him that doctors have not been able to remove.
DawaNet, a Toronto-based non-profit community organization that had previously raised over $400,000 for the families of the mosque shooting victims, is now working to help Derbali.
READ MORE: Anti-Muslim incidents in Quebec: a timeline
“Finding a home for Aymen is a high priority, if not the highest priority now,” explained Elghawaby, a volunteer with the DawaNet team.
“He really sacrificed himself, he really was ready to take all the bullets for the congregation.”
The group has also provided counsellors to speak to younger members of the community to make sure they’re doing all right.
“This has been such an overwhelming tragedy — even more so when it’s a small community,” Elghawaby told Global News.
An online fundraising campaign was started Sunday, Dec. 17 and has since raised over $185,000 to pay for a new, adapted home for Derbali and his family.
Elghawaby points out the community has faced continued backlash since the shooting.
Most recently, there was controversy over a request to have a Muslim cemetery, the mosque president’s car being set on fire and Quebec’s religious neutrality law, which Elghawaby notes, specifically targets veiled women.
“There’s this constant feeling of fear and concern, yet the community does its best to be resilient,” she said.
“They still go and pray and use the mosque. They’ve really been carrying quite a heavy burden.”
Butt points out the family was hesitant to ask for help.
“It’s been a challenge for his family. His wife, she doesn’t work, she has kids to look after and a husband to look after. She’s strong, but it’s been extremely hard on her,” Butt told Global News, noting that one of the couple’s children lives with autism.
“She’s mentally and emotionally drained, but she’s still going, she’s still pushing hard.”
Derbali still goes to the mosque every Friday, transported in a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.
“He requested it because he said it’s prayer, it’s therapeutic for him,” Butt explained.
“The psychiatrist asked, ‘you’re going back to the same place where you were shot? How does that help you?’ and he said, ‘I was there praying for God, I’m going to pray for God, that’s why it’s a place of worship.'”
It’s not yet known when he will be able to go home, but the family hopes to be able to stay close to the mosque and their community.
“From what we understand, there have been very limited offers of support from government agencies,” Elghawaby said.
“The family really feels that they have been looking for support and really haven’t found it.”