Opinion: Reflecting on the loss of the Afzaal family members in the face of rising Islamophobia

Kingston City Hall illuminated in purple and green on Thursday, Jun. 6, 2024, in honour of the Afzaal family members who were killed in London, Ont., on June 6, 2021. Photo via Mona Rahman.

Editor’s note: The following is a submitted opinion piece on the June 6th day of remembrance for the four members of the Afzaal family who were killed in London, Ont., in 2021, and the rise in Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hate, and anti-Palestinian hate that has occurred since the London tragedy. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.

Kingston City Hall was illuminated in purple and green on June 6, 2024,  in remembrance of the Afzaal family members —Yumnah, Madiha, Salman, and Talat—who were killed violently in a terrorist attack, an act of anti-Muslim hate.

It has been three years since this heinous attack, which left a young boy injured and orphaned after three generations of his family were ripped from his life. This was the attack that woke up Canadians of all faiths. After years of calls for action against Islamophobia, it was not even the vicious shooting at a mosque in Québec that made people identify these growing attacks as terrorism. It was the targeting of a family on a walk in their neighbourhood because they were Muslim, a walk so familiar to Canadians during a pandemic in which the evening walk started to bring back our sense of normalcy. Attacks in or around a mosque, though places that should be seen as sanctuaries like a church or synagogue, were not labelled as terrorism, as noted in the sentencing of the Québec shooter. However, this? This attack was the pivotal point in our Canadian history in which eyes started to open to our reality. This was something that was familiar, something that could have happened to any of us, and people of all faiths or no faith finally seemed to take notice. There was no doubt in the judge’s statement that this was an act of terrorism. And finally, our calls to recognize the rising cases of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate have been noticed. Or have they?

For the past three years, we have continued to see a rise of Islamophobia, anti-Muslim hate and, more recently, anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab hate in conjunction with a rise in antisemitism. These are all interconnected through the common root of white supremacy. Yet, despite finally recognizing the existence of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate, the Muslim community still finds itself constantly calling on those in authority to take concrete action for policies to combat them. Even in the quiet Calvin Park neighbourhood of Kingston, last winter a man threatened to drive his vehicle into two women of colour. 

Over the last three years, I have watched my friends (relatives of the Afzaal family in Kingston and London) struggle with their grief of violently losing their family members, yet constantly fighting for justice through the hearings, providing victim impact statements, and working to educate the community about the dangers of Islamophobia. I have seen a generation of youth in London, friends of Yumnah, band together in their grief to form the Youth Coalition Combating Islamophobia (YCCI) to work for change. I have been in awe of the resilience that they have shown, strengthened by their faith, to fight against injustice. I have known a few of these youth since they were born, watched them grow (albeit from afar), and feel a great sense of pride at their strength and resilience, but with a sense of sadness that this heavy mantle of responsibility has now been thrust upon them. My parents’ generation worked hard to educate others about Islam and Muslims so that we would grow up in a community of understanding. Similarly, my generation (particularly since 9/11) continued these efforts to combat Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate so that the next generation would not have to. And, London? The London Muslim community is at least one generation older than other communities in North America… maybe even older. Yet, here we are. Just this week, a young relative of the Afzaal family, Esa Islam, was advocating for the Our London Family Act on Advocacy Day at the provincial legislature. I saw clips of Ali Islam (Madiha’s uncle) and Maryam Alsabawi (Yumnah’s best friend) making testimonies at the hearings on Islamophobia to the Justice Committee. Even through their grief, they must advocate for justice for those they have lost and to work towards this never happening again to others.

We remember the loss of Our London Family, and the family members who feel their loss every day in London, Kingston, Pakistan, and around the world. This week, an empty chair was draped with a gown to honour Yumnah at what would have been her graduation from high school. In our faith, we believe that Talat, Madiha, Salman, and Yumnah have been raised to the highest level of Paradise as shaheed (martyrs) and pray they can be reunited with their beloved ones therein. We pray for those who remain in this world, and who have to continue in their absence. And, we call to the community to renew our intentions to stand up against hate and injustice in all forms.

On June 6, in the illumination of City Hall for the third year in a row, we chose purple to honour the young Yumnah with her favourite colour. We also chose green as an extension of the Green Square Campaign — established to honour the victims of the Québec Mosque Attack — to remember the gardens of Paradise where we believe the family has been raised and as a unifying reminder to stand up against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate.

Mona Rahman
Kingston resident

Share your views! Submit a Letter to the Editor or an Op/Ed article to Kingstonist’s Editor-in-Chief Tori Stafford at [email protected].

2 thoughts on “Opinion: Reflecting on the loss of the Afzaal family members in the face of rising Islamophobia

  • This could be one of the most divisive articles I have ever read. It lost me with the term white supremacy. City hall should have been lit up to honor D day. This city is embarrassing.

  • A beautiful letter. May I add to this, that Canadians who call for a ceasefire and an end to the killing of Palestinian children and civilians — are not anti-Semitic.

    Here, even in Kingston, there have been many instances of Islamophobia, eg. hot coffee was thrown at a woman whom I know, just passing by. Teach your children kindness. Empathy. Strike up an ordinary chat with someone dressed differently than you, about the weather. Just say hi. -Jerri Jerreat

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