Here's How The Muslim Family Killed While Taking A Walk Is Being Remembered
"Last Sunday evening, four fountains of sweetness were taken away," one relative said at the family's funeral service.
Four members of a Muslim family who were run down while taking a walk, allegedly by a driver motivated by hate, were remembered as gentle souls during a public funeral ceremony Saturday.
Salman Afzaal, 46; his wife, Madiha Salman, 44; their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna Afzaal; and Salman Afzaal's mother, Talat Afzaal, were killed after the driver of a black pickup truck mounted the curb and struck them as they were walking down a sidewalk in London, Ontario, on June 6. Police have said the driver, a 20-year-old man who has been charged with murder, did not know the family but targeted them because of their faith.
"Last Sunday evening, four fountains of sweetness were taken away," said an uncle of Madiha, standing next to four caskets draped in Canadian flags outside the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario. "Three generations taken too soon."
Salman and Madiha's 9-year-old son was also injured in the attack but survived.
According to CBC News, the couple moved to Canada from Pakistan in 2007 with their then-baby daughter, intent on creating a new life for their family.
"It wasn't an easy journey for them, but they made it," Halema Khan told CBC.
They worked hard and quickly immersed themselves in the local Muslim community, and also the larger Canadian community.
"Their family had the biggest heart — anytime you needed something done or the community would give them a call, and they will be available," Omar Khamissa, a spokesperson with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, told BuzzFeed News.
In 2009, Madiha began her master's degree in engineering science at Western University. Her program supervisor, Jason Gerhard, described her in a statement as "a sparkling and generous, loving person who treasured education, female advancement, equality and research.”
The university said Madiha was passionate about nature and focused on contributing research "to reversing the human impact on natural resources." She served as a teaching assistant for more than six years and was working toward her PhD in civil engineering.
Her husband, Salman, also studied at Western University, earning his master’s in health sciences in 2010. He went on to work as a physiotherapist, caring for seniors in long-term care homes.
Jeff Renaud, CEO of Ritz Lutheran Villa, one of the homes where Salman worked, told CBC "you could see he was kind and caring, loving and deeply, deeply committed" to the residents just by watching him with them.
He enjoyed cricket and was known for greeting people with "his gentle and welcoming smile," wrote Sana Yasir, a neighbor of the family, on a GoFundMe page.
Imtiaz Khan, who knew the family for more than decade, told a Global News Toronto reporter that Salman "would be the one that would help so many people in the community," buying groceries for new immigrants and taking them to driving exams.
The couple's daughter, Yumna, was in the ninth grade at Oakridge Secondary School. She previously attended the London Islamic School, where she painted a space-themed mural on a wall of one of the buildings, Principal Asad Choudhary told the BBC.
Her grandmother Talat was described in the GoFundMe as "a pillar" of the family who "cherished their daily walks."
"It's a very genuine family, very honest, very friendly, very social," Khan told Global News Toronto.
Their killings have sparked outrage across Canada, and community and political leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have described the attack as terrorism. Police have said the attack was premeditated and motivated by hate, but no terrorism charges have yet been filed.
Thousands of people attended a vigil for the family in London on Tuesday to express solidarity with the Muslim community and denounce hate. Crowds have also gathered at other vigils in cities across the country.
During Saturday's ceremony, Raza Bashir Tarar, Pakistan's ambassador to Canada, said the fact that the family's caskets were adorned by the Canadian flag was "an apt testimony" that the entire nation "stands with them."
Speaking to the hundreds who had gathered at the service, Madiha's uncle expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support from Canadians and people across the world, saying that over the last week, he and other relatives have realized "that our extended family was much larger than we could have ever imagined."
The messages of comfort offered by so many have "confirmed the potential of absolute innate goodness inside humankind irrespective of color and creed," he said.
He added that many have asked what they can do to help, to which he made a plea for people to "be examples of love and compassion."
"I ask you to take the time to learn from someone who doesn't look the same as you. I ask you to inspire others with your affection," he said. "Be humble, be true, be persistent, be creative. Be brave."
BuzzFeed News reporter Clarissa Jan-Lim contributed to this report.