As N.L. Muslims mourn truck attack victims, some warn 'the threat is real'

·3 min read
A woman lays flowers at a growing memorial at the London, Ont., site of a crash that killed four members of a Muslim family on Sunday evening.  (Colin Butler/CBC News - image credit)
A woman lays flowers at a growing memorial at the London, Ont., site of a crash that killed four members of a Muslim family on Sunday evening. (Colin Butler/CBC News - image credit)

Muslims in Newfoundland and Labrador are in shock and grief after four members of a Muslim family in Ontario were killed in what police there are calling a hate-motivated attack.

And some are calling for a stronger societal renunciation of Islamophobia.

"Why? That's the first thing that comes to my head — why would someone do that to a peaceful family?" said Enaya Abdelgaber, who works at Memorial University in St. John's.

That family of five were out for a walk on Sunday in London, Ont., when they were struck by a pickup truck. The only survivor was Fayez Afzaal, 9 — his parents, sister, and grandmother were all killed, and the driver is facing charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder.

"My heart goes out to that family," said Abdelgaber.

A community leader in St. John's echoed that heartbreak, saying Muslims in the province have been "shaken to the core" by the Ontario tragedy.

"Our community is devastated. They feel insecure," said Mansoor Pirzada, the president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.

That vulnerability comes from racist incidents in this province, Pirzada said, with both he and the association fielding calls from members subjected to racist slurs and confrontations. "We do see this thing on the rise," Pirzada told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show Tuesday.

Krissy Holmes/CBC
Krissy Holmes/CBC

'We have to deal with this menace'

With that in mind, Pirzada said it's past time for politicians, both federal and provincial, to step up.

"This threat is real. The Islamophobia is real. Just like anti-Semitism is real. And I don't know what we are waiting for," he said. "We have been trying to tell the government they have to deal with the rise of Islamophobia in Canada."

Politicians at every level have been swift to condemn the truck attack. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it "an act of terrorism," a statement echoed in Newfoundland and Labrador by NDP MHA Jim Dinn, while Premier Andrew Furey tweeted, "This should be impossible in Canada today."

Pirzada wants to see action, particularly to deal with online forums and websites that foment hate.

"It is happening around us, and we have to deal with this menace," he said.

Sherry Vivian/CBC
Sherry Vivian/CBC

Finding solidarity

COVID-19 restrictions on the size of religious gatherings are keeping many Muslims from gathering at the province's only mosque, Masjid-al-Noor.

But for those who can attened, Pirzada said, Friday's sermon will address the attacks, and the association is keeping tabs on its members via email, offering consolation and strength.

Abdelgaber said she wanted to extend feelings of solidarity beyond the Muslim community, and send a message to all people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

"As Muslims, we're part of the community. I don't like separating people based on their faith' we're all part of one community," she said.

"So what we should do here is just protect each other and look after each other, no matter what faith or religion we practice."

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