At a vigil for a family killed in an attack, speakers denounce anti-Muslim hatred.
Speakers condemn Islamophobia and call for action to end anti-Muslim hatred.
Hateem Amin, 14, was adamant about attending the outdoor vigil in London, Ont., in memory of her 15-year-old friend Yumna Afzaal and three family members who were run down and killed by a truck Sunday evening in what police believe was a hate-motivated attack.
"I wish to assist her. "She died as a result of her faith, as a result of her skin color," Hateen explained. "And I, too, am of her faith and skin tone. And I'd like to demonstrate to her how strong I am."
Hateem was one of thousands who blocked off a section of Oxford Street — a major London thoroughfare — on a hot Tuesday evening to gather outside the London Muslim Mosque. They were joined by community, religious, and political leaders, all of whom were present to demonstrate their support for the Muslim community and to call for action against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred.
"I'm overwhelmed by how many people care about her and are willing to share her story," Hateem said. "And all I want is for the world to understand why she died."
Yumna, her father Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and Salman's mother Talat Afzaal, 74, were out for a walk when they were mowed down by a truck. They were killed in a hit-and-run attack, police said.
Fayez, Yumna's nine-year-old brother, survived the attack.
Muslims express concern about their safety.
To commemorate their tragic deaths, the crowd observed a moment of silence at 8:40 p.m., the time the family was attacked that evening.
The deaths have shocked this university town in southwestern Ontario, which has a population of slightly more than 400,000 and is home to more than 30,000 Muslims. Last year, the city, which is a center for manufacturing, technology, and medical research, saw a total of four murders.
While the vigil was held in part to mourn the family's loss, it also served as a reminder of how unsafe many Muslims feel in their community.
Nusaiba Al-Azem, the second vice-chair of the London Muslim Mosque, stated that she has walked down the street where the family was killed.
"I've walked the trail that our London family walked on Sunday and never made it to the end," Al-Azem explained to the assembled. "And, as numerous members of my family and friends have expressed to one another and on social media, it's irrelevant that it could have been me. It was a member of our group."
The solemn event drew members of all communities, including a large number of non-Muslims who carried signs reading "We stand with our London family" and "Diversity is our strength."
Rania Lawendy, a Muslim Association of Canada council member who has consoled students at Yumna's former school, the London Islamic School, distributed purple and green ribbons to members of the crowd.
Yumna's favorite color was purple. And the green is part of the annual Green Square Campaign, which honors the green carpets of the Quebec City mosque where the victims of another deadly attack on Muslims last stood to pray in 2017. Six people were killed and five were injured in the 2017 shooting.
The deceased's family and friends, as well as first responders who attempted to save the family following the attack, were invited to be the first to tie their ribbons to the mosque fence.
"It's incredible to see this level of support," Lawendy said of the thousands who attended the vigil.
"It warms my heart, but I'd like to see more people, and not just at vigils." I'd like to see more people condemn Islamophobia and other forms of hate speech."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among the numerous political leaders — of all political stripes — who traveled to London for the vigil. Trudeau stated that there are no words to describe the anguish of losing three generations while out for a walk in their neighbourhood.
He stated that while Canadians make an agreement to look out for one another, for the Muslim community, "that pact has been violated far too frequently."
Earlier in the day, a steady stream of people made their way to the attack site, a mostly deserted intersection that has been transformed into a memorial for the family, complete with bouquets of flowers and teddy bears.
Halema Khan paid her respects to the Afzaals, whom she considered family, alongside her three children.
"I just needed confirmation that this is true, that they are no longer among us," Khan explained.
She spoke to Mahida Salman for the last time two days before she was assassinated. Salman's final words to her friend were, 'Please pray for my family.'