Amtul Jamil recalls seeing her close neighbour Madiha Salman gardening at her home on Sunday.
Little did she know it would be the last time she would see Salman from across the street in London, Ont.
“All of us are just saddened and just shaking — I have no words to explain,” the 40-year-old Pakistani-Canadian told Global News.
The local Muslim community in London, Ont., is reeling from the aftermath of a deadly attack on Sunday evening that saw a man intentionally ram his truck into Madiha and her family while they were out for an evening walk.
Madiha, her husband Salman Afzaal, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother were all killed, leaving their nine-year-old son as the lone survivor in the family.
Both Jamil’s family and the Afzaals migrated to Canada from Pakistan separately in 2007.
“Our heart is broken to hear that the nine-year-old has only survived,” said Jamil, who has known the family for the past 14 years.
“We are just crying. Sky is crying.”
The mood in the city was somber on Tuesday as both Muslims and non-Muslims gathered at a grass patch near the intersection of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads, where the attack on Sunday night took place, to pay their respects, laying flowers and written messages.
Jamil, who hails from Punjab, Pakistan, said she had never felt unsafe living in Canada for the past 14 years, but is now at a loss for words.
It’s a sentiment shared by many others in the community.
Suha Hammad, a 42-year-old Palestinian-Canadian, is concerned that her hijab makes her a visible target for anti-Muslim hate crimes.
After Sunday’s violent attack, she is worried about the safety of her three young children.
“I never imagined that this event will happen here in London … but what happened made me (feel) unsafe for myself, my kids, for any woman who’s wearing a hijab.”
Thousands, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and leaders of the opposition, gathered for a vigil at the parking lot of the London Muslim Mosque to honour the family. Earlier in the day, Trudeau condemned the killings as a “terrorist attack”.
The London attack was the latest targeting Muslims in Canada, where Islamophobia and hate crimes are on the rise, according to statistics and lived experiences of the community.
In January 2017, six men were killed and 19 others seriously injured in a shooting at mosque in Quebec.
Most recently, in September 2020 a Muslim man, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, was stabbed to death outside of a mosque in Toronto.
His daughter, Bebe Zafis, said she could understand the pain and suffering that the relatives of the victims are going through. Since her father’s death, Zafis said she has stopped wearing her hijab in public over fear of getting attacked.
She called on the Trudeau government to take steps to stop hate crimes in the country so other families would not have to go through the same thing.
“I am suffering because of a hate crime in Canada,” Zafis, who works at a restaurant in Toronto, told Global News.
“We should be able to live free, go about our business. We should be able to go and pray any time we want.
“We should be able to leave our home.”
London resident and Pakistani-Canadian Tanveer Chaudhry said there needs to be serious action taken by the government.
“This is the time now to bring some proper legislation … and properly investigate what the mindset is behind (these attacks).”
— With files from Global News’ Farah Nasser
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