Hundreds of Hamiltonians showed their support for the victims of a hate-driven attack in London during a physically distanced vigil and sunset prayer service at Bayfront Park Wednesday evening.
The event was organized by McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion following the horrific hit and run on Sunday.
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 after police say a pickup truck intentionally mounted the sidewalk and struck the family.
Nine-year-old Fayez Afzaal, the lone survivor, suffered serious injuries.
Koubra Haggar and Sabreina Dahab, two of the event’s organizers, addressed the physically distanced crowd ahead of the sunset prayer.
Dahab said it’s not difficult to imagine what happened to the Afzaal family happening elsewhere in Canada.
“We understand intimately what it means to be Muslim and visible every single day. We know that our mothers, our aunts, our grandmothers are being harassed for wearing the hijab, and the fear that takes over us is often overwhelming. We see ourselves in the Afzaal family.”
Those gathered in the park also heard from Imam Sayed Tora of the Hamilton Mountain Mosque, who also delivered the sunset prayer, called the Maghrib.
Tora called on elected officials to take strong action against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate.
“We respect the words of solidarity that we have been receiving from everyone in the community, from our leaders, from our politicians, from law enforcement agencies,” said Tora.
“But with all respect due, the answer that we have is … words are not enough. We are no longer accepting just words of sympathy and condemnation.”
Referring to a National Council of Canadian Muslim meeting on Tuesday, Tora said white supremacist ideology is growing online and is fuelling anti-Muslim sentiment.
He referenced a 2020 study that linked more than 6,600 right-wing extremist social media channels, pages and accounts to Canadians.
“That is where these kind of ideologies are flourishing and that is where it has to be combated. Islamophobia has to be stopped right there because we cannot afford the loss of another innocent life.”
Javid Mirza, president of the Muslim Association of Hamilton, echoed that sentiment during an interview on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show on Wednesday.
“On the internet, they can say, do whatever. They’re just getting brainwashed. This is where the problem is, I really believe that from this incident, at least, we need to have some legislation in place so these people are held accountable.”
Mirza said he was contacted by Hamilton’s new police chief following the Sunday attack to offer support at local mosques, but he said he’s more concerned about Muslims being attacked while they’re out walking on the street — just like the Afzaal family.
“People are very nervous,” said Mirza. “Especially people that wear hijab, people that you know, quote-unquote look like Muslims.”
“They’re worried about their families. You know, you’re walking down with your child, down the street or something, and God forbid…. I’m not saying that this is the stuff that’s going to happen every day or everywhere. But, you know, if you have a family, you start thinking about things.”
Mirza said another vigil and community prayer will be held in front of Hamilton city hall this weekend between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., organized by local mosques.
– with files from Hannah Jackson, Global News, and The Canadian Press