6 Muslim youth reflect on safety and solidarity in the wake of the London attack

Since the June 6 attack, these young Canadians have felt scared and shaken. But they say this isn't the first time Islamophobia has touched their everyday lives.

On June 6, 2021, four members of the Afzaal family were murdered in London, Ont., in what has since been identified as an act of Islamophobia and terrorism. Their youngest member, Fayez, was left orphaned and remains in the hospital. 

In the days since the attack, Muslims and non-Muslims across Canada have mourned the family and called on federal and provincial politicians to take action against Islamophobia.

The Pigeon spoke to six Muslim youth following the attack on their community and faith. Each of them shared similar feelings—of fear, frustration, and most importantly, the need for change. Here’s what they had to say. 

Editor’s note: These responses have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

laviza syed, hanya kaoud

On feeling unsafe outside

“Since I was young, it’s been such a hard thing to wear a hijab in predominantly white communities. And now, given everything in the news, in the back of your head whenever you’re walking you do feel it—you know that there are people looking at you. 

“I feel nervous and scared, not just for myself but for my Mom, for my friends, everyone who is visibly Muslim. You feel as if they’re your own family and it’s really hard.”
—Laviza Syed, Ajax, Ont.

On the impacts of Islamophobic attacks

“There have been so many mosque attacks in such a short span of time around us. During Ramadan, my family and I were concerned about when to do Maghrib because there have been several hate crimes against other communities as well as attacks against a woman in Alberta.

“After the vigil that was held in Kingston, there were cases of people harassing Muslims or other visible minorities who are not Muslim, telling them things like ‘you’re next,’ and shouting and swearing at them.

“I want to make sure that we support Muslims not just when we are killed, but when we are alive, too.”
—Hanya Kaoud, Kingston, Ont.

On Canadian (in)action

“I think it’s important for non-Muslims to recognize that this isn’t just an isolated incident. It’s all connected. We’ve been saying that for years, but I think this time we want to be heard and acknowledged. It’s terrible that this tragedy has caused some people to recognize that Islamophobia and hatred towards our existence is a significant problem. 

“It’s important for us to be heard instead of just told ‘Oh, this isn’t Canada. This isn’t London.’ Yes, it is. I lived in London for a year. I walked by that mosque. I’ve been in that area, I’ve seen people stare at me weirdly. 

“We’re clearly hearing empty words from politicians, especially today after Trudeau said that he doesn’t believe the secularism law in Quebec promotes hate and discrimination. So it’s just more empty words. 

“We need to see action, because right now we’re just hearing words, and we’ve been hearing these same words directed to other communities.”
—Anonymous, Brampton, Ont.

On non-Muslim allyship

“There are more people that want good, and that support Muslims, and that support minorities than those that are there to push the idea of hate. People drove from faraway places just to be at the vigil in London to show their support and solidarity with the Muslim community. It’s really heartwarming to see that.

“I would also ask non-Muslims to come to your Muslim neighbors and your Islamic mosques. If you want to learn more, there are loads of people that will be happy to teach you and explain to you what Islam is about. It’s very necessary for perspectives to change.”
—Rufaida Elahi, Calgary, Alta.

Mariyah Salhia, Hannan Ullah

On community solidarity

“One of the main tenets of our religion is compassion and community. In times like this, it’s really beautiful for me to see our community come together. At the same time it’s sad for me to know that when I’m seeing these images of my community members in London at vigils holding hands and praying together, it’s because of the loss of people.

“Sometimes I don’t feel safe wearing traditional clothes because of the looks that I get. It just feels uncomfortable. People make these judgments about me and they don’t know anything about me. But I think as a community, we work really, really hard to try and tear down a lot of those stereotypes.  

“It’s really beautiful for me to see everybody coming together. But at the end of the day, when things like this happen, it reminds me that no matter how hard we work to make people understand that we’re not terrorists and that we’re not each individually responsible for what happened on 9/11, there are still going to be people who refuse to listen to us.”
—Mariyah Salhia, Brampton, Ont.

“One of the first lessons we’re taught in the Quran is that the thing that will hurt us as a community is disunity. So if there’s ever a time to come together and ensure that unity is strong, it’s now.

“At the vigil, Yasmin Khan, a close family friend of the deceased family, said that Fayez is everyone’s son now. I totally agree. Whether it’s him, or anyone who’s orphaned, or anyone who’s lost their family, we have to take them in and show them overwhelming community support. 

“As a Muslim community, we’re not a set of different families, we’re one family altogether.”
—Hannan Ullah, London, Ont.

If you’d like to make a donation to the Afzaal family and London’s Muslim community, you can visit LaunchGood or GoFundMe. If you need someone to talk to, the Naheesa Helpline is available across Canada. Those seeking support can call 1-866-627-3342.

Duaa Rizvi is currently a journalism student at Ryerson University. She also serves as the president of the school’s Journalism Course Union and the president of the Journalists for Human Rights’ Ryerson chapter. She aspires to have a career in broadcast journalism so she can show young girls there is space for women of colour in the newsroom.

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