London

Muslim community gathers to start healing during funeral for family in London, Ont.

Canadian flags draped the caskets of four members of a Muslim family who were mourned at a funeral Saturday in London, Ont., almost a week after they died in what police have said was a hate-motivated attack.

Public funeral held Saturday afternoon for couple, daughter, grandmother

Canadian flags draped the caskets of four members of a Muslim family who were mourned at a funeral Saturday in London, Ont., almost a week after they died in what police have said was a hate-motivated attack.

Madiha Salman, 44, her husband Salman Afzaal, 46, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Salman's 74-year-old mother Talat Afzaal died after they were run down by a pickup truck on June 6 while on one of their regular evening walks. The lone survivor is nine-year old Fayez. Other family members arrived in London from as far away as Pakistan and Australia to support him.

Police have said the attack was premeditated and believe the family was targeted because of their faith. A 20-year-old man faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Yumna Afzaal, 15, left, Madiha Salman, 44, centre left, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, were out for an evening walk June 6 when they were run over by a man who police say was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. They will be honoured at a funeral Saturday. (Submitted by Afzaal family)

Saturday's funeral was held at the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, with the public portion of the funeral getting underway just after 2 p.m. ET.

The funeral was held in the centre's parking lot, with space for the public in nearby soccer fields.

Madiha Salman's uncle was among those who spoke at the service, telling those in attendance that the outpouring of support from friends and strangers alike has helped him feel less alone in his grief.

He says the messages of comfort he and other relatives have received over the last week have marked "a first step towards finding a way to heal" as they grapple with sleepless nights and survivor's guilt.

The public funeral was at the Islamic Centre of southwest Ontario on Saturday afternoon. (CBC)

Pakistan's ambassador to Canada also spoke at the service, saying all of Pakistan stands "shoulder to shoulder" with those who lost their loved ones.

"Our hearts are bleeding because of the atrocity that has befallen this wonderful, marvellous family," he said.

A private burial was to follow the public portion of the ceremony.

Members of the Muslim community set up signs outside of the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario in London, Ont., where the funeral service was held Saturday for the four victims of a deadly vehicle attack. (Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press)

Ahead of Saturday's funeral, a local imam said the service would serve as a crucial step in healing a grief-stricken community.

"I think we're emotionally exhausted," Aarij Anwer said. "We are grateful for everything that has happened since that horrific tragedy. We're looking forward to having some closure on Saturday."

A woman looks on Saturday near a makeshift memorial at the scene where a Muslim family was killed in what police describe as a hate-motivated attack in London, Ont. (Alex Filipe/Reuters)

On Saturday afternoon, London Mayor Ed Holder told CBC News that the tragedy was simply "beyond words."

"This is too heartbreaking to see three generations of a family just wiped out like that," Holder said shortly before the start of the public funeral.

"We're trying to comprehend the incomprehensible and none of this makes any sense, at any level, anywhere."

The O'Neil Funeral Home is seen in London, Ont., on Saturday. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

Imam tells community to rely on their faith

London's Muslim community, which numbers about 30,000, is mourning the loss of a family that came to Canada in 2007 when Yumna was a baby in search of a better life. Madiha became an accomplished academic working toward a PhD in environmental engineering, while Salman was a physiotherapist who provided care for seniors. Yumna was an honour-roll Grade 9 student who painted a mural at her school that called on her classmates to "shoot for the moon." 

The killings have raised concerns about Islamophobia in Canada and highlighted fears among Muslims that simply showing their faith in public could make them targets. 

Imam Aarij Anwer says London's Muslim community is feeling 'emotionally exhausted' after a week of grief. 'We're looking forward to having some closure,' he said ahead of Saturday's funeral. (Meagan Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Anwer said he's telling congregants to rely on their faith to get them through the tragedy. 

"We believe as Muslims in destiny,  whether it's good or evil," he said. "We believe it is for God and it's part of his wisdom. If he puts us in a difficult situation, He will bring us through. Part of the process of healing is accepting our pain."

Anwer said that after the funeral, the focus will shift to supporting Fayez.  

"The doctors expect him to make a recovery, and his long-term health will not be compromised by what he went through, so we're really happy about that."  

With files from the CBC's Andrew Lupton and The Canadian Press

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