With bowed heads, mourners watched as four caskets — each draped in a Canadian flag — were pushed to the podium at a public funeral on Saturday.
In the baking heat, the crowd filled a parking lot at the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario and spilled over onto an adjacent soccer field where they gathered to listen, pray and say goodbye to four members of a well-loved family killed six days earlier in what police have said was a hate-motivated attack.
Saturday's funeral was followed by a private burial at an Islamic cemetery in London.
Before their deaths, the four members of the Afzaal family had lived what many would consider to be the embodiment of Canadian dream. The family came to Canada in 2007 from Pakistan and became well-loved and, by anyone's measure, incredibly accomplished.
Madiha Salman, 44, was working on her PhD in environmental engineering. Her husband Salman Afzaal, 46, was a physical therapist who worked with seniors. Fifteen-year-old Yumna Afzaal, was an honour-roll student who painted a mural inside her school's hallway that called on her classmates to "shoot for the moon."
Talat Afzaal, Salman's 74-year-old mother, also died in the attack. The youngest family member, nine-year-old Fayez, was the only one to survive and is recovering from serious injuries in hospital.
All five were out for an evening stroll together when they were run down by a pickup truck in what police believe was an intentional act. A 20-year-old London man is in custody, charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.
The pain of the tragedy is compounded by the fact police believe the family was targeted because of their Muslim faith.
Overtures of support 1st step to healing, relative says
Speaking at Saturday's funeral, Madiha's uncle Ali Islam said the tragedy had taken away "four fountains of sweetness."
But he said the outpouring of support from London's 30,000 strong Muslim community and beyond in the days since the tragedy has showed him there's far more love in people's hearts than hatred.
"As this week has progressed, we realized that our extended family is much larger than we could have imagined," he told the crowd. "The expressions of raw emotion, the prayers, the quiet tears, the messages of comfort from people we know and from people that are complete strangers, it has been the first step towards finding a way to heal.
"As long as we are alive, the memory of our family will be inside us."
Islam called for kindness and compassion in response to their deaths. "I ask you to take the time to learn from someone who doesn't look the same as you," he said.
In his eulogy, he also quoted Yumna's mural. "Be brave, shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you land among the stars."
Calls to address Islamophobia in Canada
Saturday's funeral was the culmination of a week of grief in the wake of a tragedy that has triggered a painful discussion about Islamophobia in Canada.
If the way the Afzaals lived embodied the Canadian dream, their deaths have highlighted the existence a hatred many Muslims say has become far too common, even before last Sunday's attack.
Like Madhia's uncle, Rayyab Rashid said he hopes their deaths will continue a discussion that can lead to positive change and address the Islamophobia in Canada. Rashid and his family made the two-hour drive to London from their home in Toronto to experience what he called "the unison in suffering" he said is crucial to healing.
Just like the Afzaals, Rashid and his wife immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in the 2000s for a better life — one he believes is still possible despite this week's events.
"Their story is pretty much our story," he said of the Afzaals. "Our kids are Canadian, we are proudly raising them as Canadian Muslims. For me [the message of] this service was 'we are all in this together, it doesn't matter what faith it is.'
"So we need to find collective solutions."
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