Hundreds from the Muslim community and the greater London, Ont. community gathered Tuesday evening to hold a vigil marking the second anniversary of the worst mass killing in the city’s history.
Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were run down by a pickup truck on June 6, 2021. The couple’s nine-year-old son was seriously hurt.
Maryam Al-Sabawi, a 16-year-old that was friends with Yumna, was an organizer of the vigil with the Youth Coalition Combatting Islamophobia (YCCI). She says the theme for this year is “resilience.”
And whether it was Islamic faith leaders, local politicians, or the family of the Afzaals, the theme of resilience rang through loudly throughout the night.
Ashar and Arjumand Salman, brother and sister, respectively, of Madiha Salman, said during the vigil they missed their oldest sister dearly. Both spoke of how their own families looked up to Madiha and how both she and her husband, Salman, were instrumental in helping them adapt to life in Canada after being the first to move.
“They were a guide and support we relied on navigating life in a new world,” said Ashar, joking they assisted in using “this strange creature called Kijiji.”
Arjumand, born a year after her sister, was emotional at times as she described how every major life milestone was done with Madiha.
“We were always like twins,” said Arjumand. “Birthdays, the first time we fasted, the first time we learned how to pray and everything was together.”
Speaking during the vigil, Esa Islam, a relative of the Afzaals, said while he still grieves the loss of four family members, he works to support the lone survivor of the attack.
“These past years, I have spent much of my time trying to fill the massive gap left behind by his big sister, Yumna,” said Islam.
“While this may be an impossible task, all I can do is ensure he has someone he can talk to and rely on.”
The event, organized by the YCCI in conjunction with the City of London, heard multiple poems and showed a video message focusing on the theme of resilience London and the Muslim community has built up since the attack.
Mayor Josh Morgan, area ward Coun. Corrine Rahman and Canada’s special representative on combating Islamophobia, Amira Elghawaby, both extolled the work done by the YCCI as what brings hope to the city and country for the future.
“In what other city in the world do you see the young people doing what they have done over the past two years,” said Morgan.
“Inspiring so many of us in the ways they have, that’s resilience, that’s impressive and that’s the kind of city that we all want to be a part of.”
In the closing of the vigil before a call to pray, Imam Abd Alfatah Twakkal of the London Council of Imams called on the city of London to be known as the city that ended Islamophobia.
“It’s a weighty responsibility, but based on what we’ve heard today, and who we see here among us, this is something that is achievable,” said Twakkal.
Prosecutors allege the attack on June 6, 2021, was an act of terrorism targeting London’s Muslim community. Nathaniel Veltman, who was 20 at the time of his arrest, faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
He is set to stand trial in September in Windsor, with the change of venue done to ensure he is given a fair trial.
-with files from The Canadian Press