Principal of London Islamic School says support for Muslim community 'pouring in from all directions'
Fayez Afzaal, sole survivor of truck attack, 'doing better than expected,' says Asad Choudhary
In the days since four members of a Muslim family were killed in a hate-motivated hit-and-run in London, Ont., Asad Choudhary says there's been an outpouring of support for the community.
Choudhary is principal of the London Islamic School where nine-year-old Fayez Afzaal, the attack's sole survivor, is a Grade 3 student.
A funeral was held on Saturday for the four members of the Afzaal family killed: Salman, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna, 15, and Salman's mother Talat Afzaal, 74.
In a conversation with Cross Country Checkup's Ian Hanomansing, Choudhary shared how London's Muslim community is coping with the loss, the conversations he's having with students and the latest on Fayez Afzaal who remains in hospital.
Here is part of that conversation.
You were at the funeral yesterday. How are you remembering the Afzaal family?
Since we've heard the news of the Afzaal family being the victims of this horrific tragedy, there's been a lot of pain here in London, Ont.
I think yesterday's funeral, as well as the vigil and the march that we had here in our city, really showed us that this is not just individual pain, but there's the feel of a collective communal pain happening here in London.
WATCH | Funeral held Saturday for members of Muslim family killed in hate-motivated attack
One of the things that a lot of people have struggled with is how to speak to children about this — Muslim or non-Muslim children. In your school, you have 250 students, so obviously a tight-knit school. What are they saying and feeling about the attack?
I had to have some very courageous and difficult conversations with some of our students, specifically those in the Grade 3 classroom. And one student was very fearful of the fact that he may lose his friend, as well.
This was at a time where Fayez was in critical condition in the hospital, and the child had actually called the school asking to speak to me directly and asking some very difficult questions with regards to what's going to happen to my close friend: His family died. Will he die and will I lose my close friend?
And one of the things I think we all need to know and pay attention to is that when we're speaking to children's emotions, it's extremely important that we allow them to relay their feelings, relay their emotions and we validate them.
So what I told this student, this Grade 3 student ... I asked, how are you feeling? And they finally used some adjectives describing their feelings as sad and hurt. And so I told them that I am also feeling this way, so let's talk about it. Let's talk about what we're thinking, so that way we can help each other.
I think that goes an extremely long way with young children, as it did in that conversation, which really helped both of us.
And some of these students have been reaching out to Fayez.
Fayez went from critical condition to stable condition quite quickly, and we're very thankful of that. Fayez did request to speak to some of his friends over the phone, and that request was granted. He was able to speak to a few friends over the phone.
In fact, one of the friends that he spoke to two days ago, I was there — I was at the school — and the student happened to be at the school at the time.... One of his first questions was [about] the new show Loki, and if they had seen that yet and how that show is.
So he's in high spirits, and I trust that his courage and his magnificent character will help get him through this as well.
Is there anything more that you can share with us about how he's doing now?
I did speak to a family member just yesterday, and they are saying that he's doing better than expected. His physical condition is healing quicker than initially expected. So that is good news. I look forward to relaying that good news to our school community [on Monday] as we do virtual class sessions again.
We just do not have a timeline of when he would be discharged from the hospital, but we are in high hopes that could be soon.
WATCH | Afzaal family honoured during march in London, Ont.
What do the last seven days say about about London?
It's something I've been reflecting on this entire week. As I said before, certainly we weren't in grief alone. We didn't mourn alone. The entire community has been extremely supportive of this fatal tragedy. And I think that the outpour of support has been refreshing first and foremost, I think, for the family — the family members of Fayez, of Yumna, of Madiha [and] Salman, of Talat Afzaal.
And largely through the school community at the London Islamic School, and the London community and the Canadian community, and perhaps the global community, the support has been pouring in from all different directions.
So it really showed us that we stand together, we stand united in our fight towards stopping hate in our country, and spreading love and having inclusivity as a true part of our Canadian culture and the mosaic in this country.
Written by Jason Vermes with files from CBC News. Interview produced by Mikee Mutuc. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.