At the age of 44, when Madiha Salman’s life – marked by migrations – was becoming stable and secure in a foreign land, a truck ran over her world in the most roughshod manner, dismantling the dream she had spent her whole life’s energies for.
Madiha was one of the ill-fated four members of a Pakistan-origin Canadian Muslim family who were brutally murdered in what seems to be attack motivated by hate. Madiha had set out on a stroll with her family on a warm weekend evening.
Among the dead were Madiha’s husband Syed Afzaal, 46, their 15-year-old daughter, Yumnah Afzaal. Syed Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother, whose name is not yet confirmed, also died. The only survivor and griever is the 9-year-old son, Faez Afzaal, who is currently in a hospital with serious injuries.
Immigrants from Peshawar, Madiha’s family had immigrated to Canada about 14 years ago. The family moved to Peshawar before partition, in British India.
The family patriarch, Major (retd) Dr Athar, who succumbed to Covid-19 just last month in Peshawar, was visiting his wife after returning from Canada to look after his property.
Recalling Madiha’s long journey leading up to that fateful day, Riaz Qadri, her close relative, told The Express Tribune that Madiha had been living in Lahore for some time with her husband before moving to Canada where her father had already been living. “Major Athar lived in Peshawar’s Saddar area,” Qadri recounted, adding the family was well-known and affluent in the vicinities.
“The family was known for wealth and education. They had a large haveli just opposite the famous Falak Sher Cinema. They owned large commercial land in the area.”
A graduate from Peshawar’s University of Engineering (UoE), Madiha was a civil engineer by profession.
“She graduated in 2001 and was a civil engineer by profession. Dr Athar, along with family, shifted to Canada in 2007,” Qadri said.
“They had migrated to find a better future for their family and home, not knowing that a brutal end awaited them”.
“A month ago she lost her father to Covid-19, and now she herself has been murdered along with her husband and a young daughter in a tragic attack,” he said.
Madhia had two brothers and two sisters who live in the US and Canada.
The attack was the worst against Canadian Muslims since a man gunned down six worshippers at a Quebec City mosque in 2017. London, Ontario Mayor Ed Holder said it was the worst mass murder his city had ever seen.
"We grieve for the family, three generations of whom are now deceased," Holder told reporters. "This was an act of mass murder, perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, and rooted in unspeakable hatred."
A national advocacy group, The National Council of Canadian Muslims, said it was “beyond horrified” by the deadly attack.
“This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, and should be treated as such. We call on the government to prosecute the attacker to the fullest extent of the law, including conconsidering terrorist charges,” the group’s CEO said in a statement on Monday.
“This loss of a family, the loss of a child in our community because of Islamophobia – this is a sorrow that will run deep for a long time. But let that sorrow be the ground where we stand for justice, and stand for change.”
Hate crimes against Muslims in Canada have grown 253 per cent between 2012 and 2015. Last year, a caretaker was stabbed and killed in mosque. The culprit was said to be influenced by neo-Nazi social media posts.
A poll from 2016 revealed that 41 per cent of Canadian adults harboured some level of bias against racial groups, with Muslims having the highest negative rating at 28 per cent.