The Loss of a Muslim Family: A Loss for the Entire Community
On the evening of June 6, 2021, the Afzal family were on their daily walk, when they were run over by a black pick-up truck, killing Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Salman Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother, Talat Afzaal. The youngest son, a nine-year-old, is in hospital, left orphaned.
According to London Police, the driver of the truck intentionally targeted the family because they were Muslims. If this information is true, then indeed, this is a tragedy for the entire Muslim community and is being profoundly felt.
Those who knew the family remember them as being involved with the masjid, and an active part of the Muslim community. Salman Afzaal was a physiotherapist, his wife Madiha was pursuing her PhD in Environmental Engineering, and the teenager, Yumna, loved to paint. With the help of her mother, they had painted the walls of the Islamic school she had graduated from. As for Auntie Talat, even at her advanced age, she loved her walks with the family.
They were known to be a friendly family. They enjoyed maintaining their well cared for garden. May they be united in one better.
As we remember their names, make dua for them, and use our funds to support the survivor and his family, we cannot allow this family to become just another statistic We must come to terms with the reality of the anti-Muslim bigotry that exists in this country, its causes, and finally what we need to do as Muslims to address it.
An Isolated Incident?
While the alleged attack was indeed horrific, it is hardly surprising. Muslims have been singled out as a target for hatred time after time. There was a string of attacks a few months ago against our sisters in Edmonton, who were hit on their heads with shopping bags, shoved to the ground, and given death threats. Our sisters’ fear is so real that the local masjids are offering self-defence courses in case they need to ward off aggressors.
During the pandemic, we have seen an increase in hate crimes against Muslims in general, be it vandalizing and attacking masjids in Toronto, a Muslim woman wearing the Hijab, being repeatedly punched while aboard the Vancouver public transit, and Muslims being verbally attacked in cities such as Toronto, Montreal, London and elsewhere. Just last week in Calgary, a sister wearing hijab at a train station was shoved and had her hijab pulled, and while the man apprehended by the police was said to be mentally ill, the repeated targeting of a Muslim sister reflects something revealing about the toxic environment in which we find ourselves.
As Muslims in Canada, we are abundantly aware of the kind of hateful rhetoric, suspicious looks, and threats of violence that we are in constant exposure to. When this toxic environment bubbles up into an actual act of deadly violence, we are suddenly given the national spotlight, as media officials, local and national politicians, and the elite descend into our communities, assuring us that hatred has no place in Canada, and that our concerns will be taken seriously.
Many in the Muslim community welcome this spotlight and are eager to create a space for these political and media elite in hopes of having our voice and narrative heard. The problem is, it is these same elite who are the first to scapegoat the Muslim community when their interests dictate it.
It is easy to condemn open murder in the streets, but the very politicians who have voiced support for Muslims are the same politicians who are behind policies which negatively impact Muslims.
Both the Conservatives and the Liberals agreed on Bill C-51 – legislation designed to surveil and intimidate the Muslim community in particular. In fact, the current Mayor of London, Ontario voted for this bill.
The Conservatives have supported a series of laws forbidding Muslims from wearing a niqab during voting or taking an oath ceremony, and demonizing Muslim values through support for a Barbaric Cultural Practices Act Bill, (legislation also voted for by the current mayor of London when he was a Federal MP). Virtually all the parties have offered no meaningful resistance to Bill 21, Quebec’s hijab ban law.
This is a law that Canada’s own federal court recognizes as violating the religious and expression rights of Muslim women. And both the Liberals and the Conservatives have, even in the wake of escalating brutality in Quds and devastating bloodshed in Gaza, reaffirmed their support for the Zionist entity.
These policies require the dehumanization of Muslims. So, should we be surprised when people swallow this hate and act upon it?
It is no issue for media outlets to draw in the ‘sympathy views’ when a Muslim family in our community literally bleeds out in public view, may Allah (swt) shower them with his mercy. However, these are the same outlets that will willfully obfuscate the brutal ethnic cleansing and colonization of Palestine by discussing it as a “regional conflict.”
These are the news outlets that will threaten their Muslim reporters with damage to their career for being ‘impartial’ if they dare to ask their employer to describe Zionist violence for what it objectively is. These are the same news outlets that will run with half-baked stories to smear thousands of Muslim protestors as violent and anti-Semitic for daring to march against the oppressive policies of the Zionist entity.
Are we just a political softball to be demonized or valorized based on what the elites deem useful? And the media outlets, in their desire for funding and access, are beholden to the elite. While it is important to know how to counter the blows of hateful politicians, and to be adept and navigating the media landscape, it should be clear that we cannot rely on the tools of this system to
address the hatred at its core.
Diversion, Cruelty and Hatred
The self-serving and duplicitous nature of this political and media class is to be expected. After all, these are the individuals and institutions that have risen to the top of the capitalist system in which we live. Capitalism is a system that nurtures individualism and self-interest and has no meaningful restrictions on what those with power and influence can do.
Under Capitalism, demonizing minority communities to achieve financial and political goals is not a crime, it is a legitimate exercise of free speech and democracy. So, if there is a need to distract the majority from their legitimate economic and social concerns by scapegoating Muslims, while there are no repercussions for engaging in this exercise, and if explicit or even subtle hatred of Muslims is profitable for the brand, why not engage in it?
It is essential that we understand that the values, convictions, personalities and even lives of our children will not be secured by our continued reliance on this political and media ecosystem.
Reestablishing our Shield
Those of us who migrated to this country likely never imagined we would share it with those who would prevent our sisters from following the deen in their place of work, or where an evening walk could end in bloodshed solely because of our worship of Allah (swt) alone. Yet here we find ourselves. A clear understanding of our situation compels us to consider a real solution to the danger of discrimination.
We must remind ourselves that our protection is in the control of Allah (swt) alone, and that our relationship with Him is more precious to us than any loss of wealth, privilege or even life itself. He is the controller of our affairs, and any desire to compromise in our obedience, reverence or conveyance of His Commands will lead to misguidance and humiliation in this life and the
“It is Satan who urges you to fear his followers; do not fear them, but fear Me, if you are true believers.” [TMQ 3:175]
Ultimately, the only way to secure our children’s future is to work for the re-establishment of a system of government based on the eternal principles of the Creator. This is the Islamic Khilafah state in the Muslim lands, in which the rights of the people, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, are not subject to political games.
As our beloved Messenger (saw) tells us:
“Only the Imam is a shield, behind whom you fight and you protect yourself with” [Muslim]
It is a system based on these eternal principles that will not only protect the Muslims under its rule but will be a clear voice against injustice toward religious or ethnic minorities anywhere in the world, whether they be Muslims, indigenous communities, the poor and all the oppressed.
And more importantly, a society built on the example of the Messenger (saw) would preserve and exemplify the correct understanding of Islam to both our children, and to any seeker of truth. It is on us, as Muslims living in Canada, to use the relative peace we find ourselves in to collectively organize, study and articulate the systems of Islam for the return of Islamic rule in the Muslim lands, for ourselves and our children. It is the only legacy that is worthwhile.
“…He said, ‘I call God to witness, and you too are my witnesses, that I disown those you set up as partners with God. So, plot against me, all of you, and give me no respite. I put my trust in God, my Lord and your Lord. There is no moving creature which He does not control. My Lord’s way is straight. But if you turn away, then I have conveyed the message with which I was sent to you, and my Lord will bring along another people in your place. You cannot do Him any harm: it is my Lord who protects everything.’” [TMQ 11:54-57]