'We have to stay strong,' member says as Etobicoke mosque reopens after volunteer caretaker killed

A mosque in Rexdale reopened its doors for the first time Friday since a volunteer caretaker was fatally stabbed outside the place of worship earlier this month.

Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58, was fatally stabbed outside the International Muslims Organization on Sept. 12

Flowers were placed on the spot where Mohamed-Aslim Zafis was fatally stabbed outside the mosque. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

A mosque in Rexdale reopened its doors Friday for the first time since a volunteer caretaker was fatally stabbed just outside its doors earlier this month.

The International Muslims Organization (IMO), located near Rexdale Boulevard and Islington Avenue, closed almost two weeks ago when Mohamed-Aslim Zafis was killed. Zafis, 58, was making sure people entering the mosque were following COVID-19 protocols when he was attacked on Sept. 12.

On Friday, a stream of people entered the mosque for congregational prayers as flowers were placed by the entrance to mark the tragedy.

Shabeeb Hasan has been coming to this mosque for most of his life.

He said the community is still in shock but that it's important not to let fear win.

"Despite what's happened, we have to stay strong," he said.

"I'm glad that people are still showing up."

Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58, was remembered by friends and family at his funeral on as a 'kind, gentle soul' who, even on the day he was killed, handed out food to the hungry and worked to keep his fellow worshippers safe.  (Toronto Police Service)

Ziaullah Ueeal said Zafis's death is "beyond words."

"He was a good man," he said.

"He was a very quiet man, worked hard and volunteered too."

Omar Farouk, the president of the mosque, said many in the congregation are still mourning the loss but he hopes that coming together again in worship will bring some solace.

"We want to bring about a sense of confidence and stability and let the community know that as the leaders of the community, we are here for them," Farouk said.

Calls for killing to be investigated as hate crime

Guilherme "William" Von Neutegem, 34, has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the killing of Zafis and made a brief court appearance by video on Friday at a North York courthouse.

The case has been put over until November.

While the arrest has given the community a sense of relief, the mosque is continuing to urge police to investigate the killing as a hate-motivated crime.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network says Von Neutegem appears to have ties to an extreme online hate group, sharing what appears to be content from a satanic neo-Nazi cult in social media posts.

Guilherme 'William' Von Neutegem, 34, is accused of stabbing Zafis while the 58-year-old was sitting outside the mosque earlier this month. (Guilherme Von Neutegem/Facebook)

Toronto police have said they are looking at that possibility but would not comment on Von Neutegem's social media activity.

Police have also said they can't exclude the possibility that Zafis's death is linked to another fatal stabbing five kilometres away.

In the meantime, the mosque will be upgrading its security measures by installing additional lighting and more sophisticated security cameras.

For the rest of the congregation, coming together again may be the best way to heal.

"There's always sadness in our heart, but at the same time, we cannot allow that to overcome our presence," Farouk said.