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HomeEntertaintmentGlobalMemorial plaza unveiled as Muslim youth reclaim site of London, Ont. attack

Memorial plaza unveiled as Muslim youth reclaim site of London, Ont. attack

Memorial plaza unveiled as Muslim youth reclaim site of London, Ont. attack

The site of the deadliest mass murder in London, Ont., history has been renovated to provide a space that honours and remembers those who died.

On Monday, members of the Youth Coalition Combating Islamophobia (YCCI) unveiled a memorial plaza at the site during a vigil held in honour of the Afzaal family, which was attended by hundreds.

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Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumnah and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, died after police say they were deliberately hit by a truck during an evening walk in northwest London on June 6, 2021. The family’s nine-year-old boy was hurt, but survived.

Monday’s vigil marked one of several events taking place in the city to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the attack, which prosecutors have labelled a hate-motivated act of terrorism.

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The memorial plaza, which sits at the southwest corner of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads, features four shooting star bands incorporated into its interlocking stone ground. The stars reflect the lives lost in last year’s attack and shoot northeast to align with Muslim prayer.

A mural serves as the plaza’s centrepiece and is filled with a variety of symbolism intended to honour the Afzaal family while also pointing toward a future the artists who created it hope for.

This includes the use of white space throughout the mural which intends to represent community-building and healing, while the hexagons reflect a common usage of the shape in Islamic art to represent infinity and harmony through symmetry.

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Within those hexagons are the four colours of the medicine wheel — red, yellow, black and white — which was added by Indigenous artist Mike Cywink.

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A friend of Yumnah’s, Huda Sallam, is one of several artists who contributed to the mural and says it meant a lot to be able to take part in the artistic endeavour.

“We basically wanted to have a mural that represented all members of the family,” Sallam said.

“We wanted something emotional for us and hopefully really eye-catching for everybody else, it’s a beautiful piece of art.

Sallam says she got to watch Yumnah grow her artistic abilities from a very young age, adding that the late 15-year-old “blew my mind every single day.”

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Sallam says she’s often asked what she misses most about her friend, and until recently, hasn’t been able to provide a specific answer.

“After a year, I really miss her humour. She always knew how to make me laugh and she always knew how to make me smile. She really just knew how to cheer me up when I never thought I could ever be cheered up again,” Sallam said.

“I just miss the sound of her laugh around me.”

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YCCI had set out to reclaim the space of last year’s attack by holding Monday’s vigil and memorial plaza at the same spot where it happened.

Before the vigil, Sallam says she and a number of Yumnah’s other friends visited the space for the first time since the attack took place and found themselves overcome with emotion.

“We sat here and we just cried it all out … I don’t want that anymore, obviously it’s extremely emotional for all of us, but I think it’s so, so important to have something like this here that’s positive that we can look forward to,” Sallam said.

“I really want people — regardless of whether they’re Muslim or non-Muslim or any person who knew (Yumnah) or didn’t know her — I think it’s really important that they can be able to drive by here, walk by here and just be proud to be who they are and hopefully take inspiration from the family.”‘

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Click to play video: 'London, Ont., marks 1 year since attack on Muslim family'

London, Ont., marks 1 year since attack on Muslim family

London, Ont., marks 1 year since attack on Muslim family

Monday’s vigil ended early due to an oncoming storm, but not before the crowd heard from a young pair of Yumnah’s cousins, who were identified as Areeb and Maham. The two spoke of their longing for the late members of the Afzaal family.

“The pain of not being able to see them again will forever linger, but as long as we can cherish the time we did have together, we can wipe our tears and it almost feels as if they’re still standing by us,” Maham said.

“So we stand here today, celebrating them, changing this spot to now be remembered for the beautiful lives that our Afzaal family led, rather than the heinous act that took them away,” Areeb added.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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