“This sort of horror stays with you”
Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims that led to late April, is a time of neighborhood. Households collect to interrupt quick collectively, and the mosque is at all times full for evening prayers. However there was an increase in hate crimes towards Muslims in Canada this previous month. A person tried to run over congregants on the Islamic Society of Markham. At one other Markham mosque, a man yelled slurs at worshippers and was charged with three counts of assault. One more man broke right into a Montreal mosque, shattering its glass doorways whereas worshippers prayed inside. In New Jersey, an imam was stabbed whereas main morning prayer. Mosques are areas of peace and sanctuary. Watching these assaults has been terrifying.
This sort of hate isn’t new. I’m a chaplain at Western College however I used to be imam of the London Muslim Mosque for 2 years, between 2020 and 2022. I used to obtain all types of vile nameless letters and voicemails attacking Muslims and peddling Islamophobic stereotypes. Muslims would inform me about their very own experiences with hate. These are tales that don’t go away you: one lady stated that shortly after 9/11, when she was nonetheless at school, a classmate approached her within the cafeteria and instructed her that “her individuals” had attacked “us.” Mosque shootings at house in Quebec and overseas in Christchurch made us query if we’re even secure in our personal communities.
It was an early Monday morning in June of 2021 when the president of the London Muslim Mosque known as me. He instructed me that the evening earlier than, a person drove right into a Muslim household out for a stroll on a busy London avenue. Possibly nobody died, I assumed. Possibly they have been simply injured. I rushed to the mosque. Our tight-knit Muslim neighborhood was already speaking about what had occurred—I wanted to search out out for myself.
I discovered the opposite imams within the mosque’s lobby, subsequent to London’s deputy police chief and one other constable. He confirmed our worst concern: the van assault was a focused hate crime. We have been in shock and, for a very long time, nobody spoke. We have been scared and offended: how may this have occurred? When it lastly sank in, some individuals began crying. I didn’t understand who the victims have been till our custodian confirmed me a WhatsApp image of Salman Afzaal, whose smiling face I typically noticed within the congregation.
I taught Yumnah Afzaal, Salman’s daughter, Islamic research at a neighborhood Islamic college when she was in Grade 8. She was sensible and studious, at all times on the prime of her class. She handed in her assignments on time and did her work diligently. As a trainer, you’d be fortunate to have a pupil like that. She was quiet and so gifted: Yumnah as soon as painted a mural for the varsity of a crescent moon with a star taking pictures out of Earth, subsequent to the phrases “Shoot for the moon. Even for those who miss, you’ll land among the many stars.” It was lovely and I used to be amazed by her creativity.
Dropping Yumnah and her household was devastating. There’s no different solution to describe it. You hear about Islamophobia on the information, however seeing that hate in your personal neighborhood shakes you.
It was onerous to search out time to grieve. There was a lot taking place. Two days after the assault, on Tuesday, we hosted a vigil with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. On Friday, there was an interfaith march. The day after that was the Afzaals’ funeral service. These occasions have been nationally broadcast, and family and friends of the victims shared their tales with the media. We supplied counselling to neighborhood members who wanted it. There was an outpouring of assist from the non-Muslim neighborhood too: individuals laid flowers on the mosque and the place the Afzaal household was struck, wrote messages of assist and walked with us whereas we grieved.
The assault modified a lot. We puzzled if we have been secure within the streets we grew up in. Muslim girls instructed me they have been frightened of carrying their hijabs outdoors, afraid it could make them a visual goal for hate. The mosque employed a safety guard for every day prayers and at evening throughout Ramadan. There are surveillance cameras and gates and further safety for Friday prayers when numerous Muslims come to the mosque. However there’s solely a lot we will do, and solely so many occasions we will ask police to patrol the realm. Listening to about hate crimes now opens up the grief of dropping the Afzaal household once more. It’s unnerving to really feel like we’re at all times wanting over our shoulder.
A few weeks in the past, throughout Ramadan, there was an individual sitting of their automotive within the mosque car parking zone. Everyone else was speeding into the mosque for evening prayers, however this particular person regarded like they have been about to drive off. I finished and stared at them, questioning what they have been pondering and why they have been simply sitting there. I hate that I used to be suspicious of them.
Ultimately, nothing occurred. However the terror we’ve lived via stays with you.
—As instructed to Sabra Ismath