Toronto mosque launches food drive in honour of volunteer caretaker killed 1 year ago

·3 min read
Bebi Zafis, right, daughter of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, speaks to reporters about his death one year ago on Sunday. A food drive has been launched in his memory. (CBC - image credit)
Bebi Zafis, right, daughter of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, speaks to reporters about his death one year ago on Sunday. A food drive has been launched in his memory. (CBC - image credit)

Members of a Toronto mosque have launched a food drive in honour of a volunteer caretaker killed one year ago on Sunday.

Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58, was fatally stabbed outside the doors of the International Muslim Organization mosque, 65 Rexdale Blvd., near Islington Avenue, in Etobicoke at about 8:40 p.m. on Sept. 12, 2020. He died at the scene.

Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said at a news conference on Sunday that Zafis was killed while serving his community.

Zafis was attacked while sitting in a chair outside the mosque while he was controlling access into the building to ensure worshippers complied with public health regulations. At the news conference, Zafis was described as a good man who distributed food hampers to needy people.

"Today, we are here to talk about a legacy and it is a legacy that we all need to live up to," Farooq told reporters at the mosque. "He was a man who insisted on bringing good to others."

Farooq said he was at the mosque shortly after the killing.

"I will personally never forget the flashing sirens, the confusion, the terror of violence so close to home, the loss of a man I had just started getting to know," he said. "Today, we are here because we will not allow hate to win."

Toronto Police Service
Toronto Police Service

Guilherme "William" Von Neutegem, 34, has been charged with first-degree murder in Zafis's death. Von Neutegem appears to follow a hate group founded in the U.K, according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, an organization that tracks online extremism.

'This was the man that he was'

Farooq said he met Zafis at the mosque in the summer of 2020 after a long day of travelling. Farooq was tired, looking haggard and wearing sweatpants when Zafis saw him.

"I think he thought that I was one of the needy. And so, he immediately grabbed some food, he grabbed whatever he could and said: 'Take it, make sure that you can go feed your family tonight.' This was the man that he was."

Farooq urged all residents of Greater Toronto Area to honour the life of Zafis by going to participating neighbourhood mosques on Sunday and Monday and donating non-perishable food items. The donations will be used to feed people across Canada.

"That means to do what he did when he was killed to try to make the lives of others better," he said.

Bebi Zafis, the daughter of Zafis, said she misses him every day. She said she last saw him on the Thursday before he was killed on the Saturday. She said losing her father has been "very hard" but she has support and is not alone in her grief.

"He was the father that I always had and I will never have him again. He was dearly missed by everyone that been there for him, loved him and looked out for him," she said.

Zafis said the killing has left her traumatized.

"I'm afraid to go to mosque, to wear a hijab, to go out there. I'm not the next victim but sometimes I feel I am," she said.

"I just want the hate crimes to stop."

NDP leader says governments must take action

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who also spoke at the news conference, said Zafis lost his life through a "cowardly act of Islamophobic terrorism." She said these kinds of actions continue to happen in communities in Ontario.

"Here we are, hoping that this hatred will stop," Horwath said.

Horwath said it is long overdue for governments in Ontario to take action against Islamophobia. The hate crimes create lasting trauma in communities, she said.

"There's no room for that kind of hate and the rest of us have to talk about how we will not tolerate it. It's completely, completely unacceptable."

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