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Western University holds service for alumni killed in London attack

Salman Afzaal (right) and Madiha Salman (second from left) are both graduates of Western University, with Madiha being granted a posthumous doctorate in June. Supplied by family

Two victims of the London, Ont., attack were at the centre of a memorial service held by Western University on Thursday in honour of their late alumni.

The attack, that local police said targeted a Muslim family because of their religion, took place on June 6 in the city’s Hyde Park neighbourhood.

Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed while out for an evening walk in the city’s Hyde Park neighbourhood.

The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured.

Read more: ‘Taken too soon’: Funeral held for London, Ont., family killed in attack

Salman and Madiha both worked to achieve a successful academic career with Western University.

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In 2010, Salman earned a master’s degree in health sciences before launching a career as a physiotherapist working in long-term care homes.

Madiha earned her master’s in engineering at Western and was working toward a PhD in environmental engineering. In June, Western awarded Madiha with a posthumous doctorate during a virtual graduation ceremony.

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Thursday’s service opened with Imam Aarij Anwer of the London Muslim Mosque, who shared a passage from the Quran.

“Good and evil cannot be equal, respond to evil with what is best, then the one you are in a feud with will be like a close friend,” Anwer said in his reading of the passage.

Anwer added that the Afzaal family represented goodness in every aspect of their lives through their presence in the community and called on viewers to “honour their memory by responding to evil with goodness. Let us respond to hate with love and kindness because good and evil are not equal.”

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Read more: Multi-faith march draws thousands in honour of London, Ont. attack victims

Faculty, students and Western president Alan Shepard all spoke to the sorrow felt by the university community as a result of the attack.

Ashraf El Damatty, a professor in the faculty of engineering, reflected on his time with Madiha at Western, which often involved discussions on her assignments and duties as a teaching assistant.

“When you meet with Madiha, you cannot miss her kindness and her politeness,” El Damatty said. “She was one of the top teaching assistants in our department, very well-respected by the instructors, by the students, by her colleagues.”

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JP Raman, an assistant professor in the school of physical therapy, first met Salman more than 10 years ago when they were studying at Western together.

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“Our relationship really grew when Salman, my wife and another friend started preparing for the physical therapy exams,” Raman said. During this time, Salman would come over to Raman’s home nearly every day for three to four months, spending six to seven hours preparing for exams.

“He was such a hard-working person that my wife would say that, ‘he’s not even giving a break for lunch,'” Raman added.

“Our relationship was so special just because we went through tough times together initially, and then after that, we were meeting so often? Talking so often? Not much, but whenever we met, it was just this conversation, like no holding back, telling everything in my life, he’ll tell everything in his life.”

Read more: Islamic Relief Canada compiling messages of hope for survivor of London, Ont. attack

The latter half of the memorial service heard from members of Madiha and Salman’s family, who shared gratitude for the event being held by Western, along with the outpouring of support they’ve received in recent weeks.

“I’m going to be really honest, presenting this tribute is the hardest thing I have ever done. Our lives changed forever on June 6 and these past few weeks have been the hardest I have lived.,” said Salman’s sister Dr. Ayesha Shaukat.

Shaukat described the couple as humble, hard workers who were model citizens that exemplified “the typical Canadian success story.”

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“His love for cooking, passion for cricket and gardening, care for young and old, willingness to help and his ability to always look at the light of the end of the tunnel are some of the things I continue to miss about him,” Shaukat said about her brother.

“For Madiha, I cannot encompass the 17 years of love and friendship we enjoyed. She was a beautiful soul, a dedicated wife, a wonderful mother and a brilliant student. There are but a handful of people who could make me feel so completely bereft for what I have lost.”

Madiha’s mother, Tabinda Bukhari, gave thanks to Western for creating a pair of scholarships in the couple’s name, the Salman Afzaal Memorial Scholarship in Physical Therapy and the Madiha Salman Memorial Scholarship in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

“It gives us great satisfaction that Madiha and Salman’s memory and their trailblazing legacy will live on, Inshallah,” Bukhari said.

Read more: London, Ont. vehicle attack: Western University launches memorial scholarships

“Madiha was the most gentle soul out of us all siblings. She had an innate desire or ability to help anyone and everyone,” Madiha’s brother Azhar Ghani added.

“Similarly, Salman was the most humble and gentle person that I have ever met. He would go out of his way, take great personal pains, just to provide a minor support or help to even strangers.”

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Ashar Ghani described his late sister as the most creative among him and his siblings.

“She was our ‘ideas person.’ Whenever we needed an idea for a gift or creative suggestions, we would go to her,” Ghani said.

“Madiha and Salman were a source of guiding light for us in all matters of life. We pray that their light keeps shining on.”

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Thursday’s service marked the latest event held in London that aimed to honour the victims of the June 6 attack.

In the days the followed the incident, thousands attended a vigil held outside of London Muslim Mosque and just as many walked in a solidarity march that brought different faith leaders together.

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Last week, the federal government hosted an emergency summit on Islamophobia, which aimed to gather insight from Muslim Canadians on ways the government could prevent similar attacks from occurring all while protecting their communities.

The 20-year-old man accused in the attack remains involved in court proceedings, with his latest hearing taking place Thursday morning. He stands accused of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, and Crown prosecutors allege each charge constituted an act of terrorism.

The case returns to court on Aug. 25.

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