B.C. Muslims to hold vigil for Ontario family at VAG on Wednesday

B.C. Muslims to hold vigil for Ontario family at VAG on Wednesday

Two Muslim leaders speak of their fears of being targeted for being Muslims but say they’re resolved to continuing attending mosques and displaying signs of their faith.

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B.C. Muslim leaders shaken by the “shocking” attack on an Ontario family out for an evening stroll say they won’t let the alleged hate-crime murders stop them from openly living their faith.

The four members of the family of the Sunday attack Prime Minister Trudeau called “terrorism” were identified Tuesday — Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife, Madiha Salman, 46, their daughter, Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Afzaal’s mother, 74.

Nine-year-old Faye Afzaal was hurt and is expected to survive.

“My initial reaction was of shock and disbelief that such (an incident) could happen to a family out on the most mundane and ordinary of activities,” said Imam Yahya Momla before afternoon prayers Tuesday at the Masjid Al-Salaam mosque in Burnaby.

He said he was also angry, and the attack in which police say a man intentionally drove his truck on the sidewalk and targeted the family because of their Muslim faith strengthened his resolve to encourage Muslims to “continue displaying proudly our faith and continue attending our mosques.”

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Momla said there has never been a violent act at the Burnaby mosque but said “absolutely” it could happen here. There was a small shrine of flowers at the front of the mosque, dropped off by locals wanting to memorialize the tragedy. If it could happen to a family taking an evening walk in their neighbourhood, “there’s really no place it couldn’t happen,” he said.

News of the attack stunned Yusuf Siraj on Monday, especially since the Afzaal family was engaging in what so many families do, an evening stroll: “It was absolutely horrific. We could put ourselves in their shoes. This was our family.”

Siraj, assistant secretary general of the B.C. Muslim Association, said the attack does instil fear and “I think, ‘Should I go out dressed as a Muslim? Should I go to the mosque?’ This is part of what terrorism is. It makes you question your daily activities. And there is fear in the community. My wife wears a head scarf. I think each morning, ‘Is this the day that someone attacks her for what she is wearing?’ ”

But he said he and others are determined to exercise “our fundamental rights” to practise our religion because “faith is such an important part of our life.”

Imam Yahya Momla stands in front of the Masjid Al-Salaam & Education Centre in Burnaby on June 8. The small shrine of flowers was dropped off by locals wanting to memorialize the family of the London, Ont., tragedy.
Imam Yahya Momla stands in front of the Masjid Al-Salaam & Education Centre in Burnaby on June 8. The small shrine of flowers was dropped off by locals wanting to memorialize the family of the London, Ont., tragedy. Photo by Mike Bell /PNG

Siraj said it’s more important than ever to continue to openly practise Islam because the goal of terrorists “is to eliminate and silence a visible Muslim population. We are proud Canadians. We are here and we are not going to be cowed from this.”

He said the Jewish and Christian communities are among those openly supporting the Muslim community and that, along with the “outpouring of support” from the public, has been heartening.

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A vigil for the Afzaal family is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Vancouver Art Gallery, said Siraj.

Hate crimes reported to police across Canada in 2017 rose to 349 cases, up from 139 cases recorded in 2016, according to Statistics Canada. Two-thirds of hate crimes go unreported, StatsCan said.

Siraj said he would support the striking of a Royal Commission similar to the one in New Zealand after deadly attacks on mosques there, to determine the extent of anti-Muslim racism in Canada as a first step to combat the discrimination.

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Rachna Singh, parliamentary secretary for anti-racism initiatives, said in a news release that there has been “an increase in instances of Muslims being terrorized for their beliefs,” but offered no examples or statistics. They called on British Columbians to “stand in solidarity against anti-Muslim hate in any of its forms.”

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said in a news release that it “strongly condemns the premeditated actions of the driver with the blatant acts of hate, intolerance and discrimination that seek to target, harm and terrorize marginalized communities.”

B’nai Brith Canada also condemned the attack “in the strongest possible terms.”

A 20-year-old London, Ont., man was arrested and charged with four counts of first-degree murder.

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