Thousands took to the streets of London, Ont., on Friday for a show of unity that capped off one of the most traumatic weeks in the city’s history.
The Multi-Faith March to End Hatred gathered at the corner of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads, where just days prior, a vehicle attack left four members of a Muslim dead and a nine-year-old boy in hospital. London police say the victims in Sunday’s attack where targeted because of their faith.
The deceased include Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother, Talat Afzaal.
Fayez Afzaal, 9, remains in hospital with serious injuries, but is expected to make a full recovery.
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The march was organized by St. Aidan’s Anglican Church and gathered a variety of faith leaders and thousands of Londoners to walk from the site of the attack to the London Muslim Mosque.
“We want our safety and our peaceful presence to say to the Muslim community, to the wider community, to Fayez, we love you,” said Rev. Kevin George, addressing the massive crowd just before the march.
“Love will overwhelm hatred everyday of the week.”
“I know I share the sentiments of all of us here … when we talk about the loss of a beautiful family. A beautiful family that just wanted to take a walk,” Mayor Ed Holder added
“But tonight, what you are doing, you are taking back the streets of London for all citizens in this community.”
Mohamad Kablawi attended the march after what he described as a scary week for a Muslim such as himself.
“The other day, I was driving through the neighbourhood and I actually saw my buddy’s dad going for a stroll and you’re always thinking it could be him, it could be me, it could be my dad,” Kablawi said.
The Londoner added that his fear had eased thanks to the march and the vigil attended by thousands on Tuesday.
“I don’t speak on behalf of the Muslim community, but it meant a lot to me, so I imagine it means a lot to them.”
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“I think in a time of need, we come together for each other … showing our beauty amongst the ugliness we just saw,” said Reina Persaud, who attended the march with her two daughters.
A parent in a family of mixed ethnicity, Persaud felt it was important for her children to see “that there could be a blending, not only within our own family, but within our own culture.”
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“It’s also for them to have some closure,” Persaud added.
Sarah Elnaffar remembers driving up to the aftermath of the attack on Sunday and said she’s been afraid to go on her regular walks and runs ever since.
“I am Muslim as well, so when I heard it, it was just really scary,” Elnaffar said.
Elnaffar added that she was happy with the outpouring of support that followed, including support from non-Muslims in the community.
“London as a community is coming together, not because of different religions, but because this is a basic human right and we should all stand together,” Elnaffar said.
“Islamophobia is something I don’t tolerate at all.”
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Salah Watad said he was inspired to see such a diverse crowd at Friday’s march and felt it represented a growing sense of love and acceptance in London.
“The past week was crazy, but now I can tell that people from all types of races are hurt, not just us Muslims,” Watad said.
“That makes London feel like home again.”
By 8:30 p.m., the march arrived at the London Muslim Mosque where the crowd gathered for closing speeches and a moment of silence to honour the victims of Sunday’s attack.
George, the reverend with St. Aidan’s who helped organized the march, gave thanks to those in attendance as he recalled how he felt visiting the site of the attack the morning after.
“I almost lost hope,” George said.
“But you tonight, everyone of you, each footstep, cumulatively, you’ve restored hope in this community and in my heart.”
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The march was the latest event aimed at bandaging the wound left by the city’s deadliest mass murder on Sunday.
A roadside memorial continues to grow at the site of the attack and dozens of flowers, along with a giant teddy bear, line the front steps of the London Muslim Mosque.
Elsewhere, a box has been set up at the London Islamic School, attached to the mosque, where cards can be dropped for Fayez as the nine-year-old boy recovers from his injuries.
On Saturday, funeral services will be held for the four members of the Afzaal family killed in the attack.
The family is asking people not to go to the funeral home where a private visitation will be held, nor line the streets along the procession route.
However, the public is welcome to attend the funeral at the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario at 951 Pond Mills Rd.
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