LONDON, Ont. - Noor Al-Henedy’s first reaction was to call her family when she heard that a Muslim family in London, Ont., was targeted in a deadly vehicle attack.
Al-Henedy, a member of the Canadian Islamic Center in Edmonton, grew up in the southwestern Ontario city and wanted to make sure her family was safe and being vigilant.
“Going to high school and college in London, Ont., I never really had to face racism,” said Al-Henedy, who came to Canada at age 14 from Saudi Arabia.
“I had amazing friends from every culture, every background and they even helped me transition into Canadian society and learn Canadian values.”
She said people at her mosque have been shaken by the news that a Muslim family of five out for an evening stroll was mowed down by a driver. Police have said they were targeted because of their faith.
The attack Sunday evening left four of them dead and a boy with serious injuries, police said.
“We’re shocked, we’re disturbed and we’re grieving,” Al-Henedy said in an interview Monday.
“Something as simple as going for a walk did not only put them at risk, it has taken the lives of three generations of one family.”
She added that Muslim people in Alberta are no strangers to attacks that are motivated by hate.
Five Somali-Canadian women, all wearing hijabs, had been attacked or threatened in Edmonton earlier this year. And Calgary police said they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020.
“I wouldn’t say it relates directly to the incident in London, Ont., but they are all driven by the same hate and fear against Muslims in Canada," said Al-Henedy.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who in 2010 became the first Muslim mayor of a big North American city, tweeted to London's mayor late Monday that "our hearts and our love are with you and your community."
"I hope this spurs all of us to think about how we fight racism and religious bigotry in our own communities. All of us. Every day. Against terrorism like this. Against the smaller things too," Nenshi wrote.
"Stand up to racism and all bigotry, including Islamophobia, wherever and whenever you see it. Don't support politicians who sow division for their own benefit."
The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it is was “beyond horrified” by the London attack.
“This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil and should be treated as such,” the organization’s CEO, Mustafa Farooq, said in a statement.
“We call on the government to prosecute the attacker to the fullest extent of the law, including considering terrorist charges.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims also pointed to the attacks on Muslim women in Alberta, as well as the killing of a man outside an Ontario mosque last year and the Quebec City mosque massacre in 2017.
Shaukat Khan, the director of the Pakistan Canada Association, called the family mowed down Sunday beautiful and said it was a loss for all Canadians.
"Clearly this act was intentional — mass murder — which has shaken all of us to the core."
But Muslims need to remain calm, true to their faith and spread the message of love over fear, he said.
Samya Hasan, executive director of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians, said losing children to Islamophobia and hate is "just very, very difficult."
She said this is the second time a tragedy has hit home for the organization. A relative of a board member was killed in the New Zealand mosque attack two years ago.
One of the staff members is also related to the family that was attacked in London, she said.
"So, it's just been very difficult and challenging for our organization," Hasan said.
"And we're doing whatever we can."
The community is "shocked and fearful," especially knowing that there are people out there who have hateful thoughts about Muslims for no justifiable reason, she said.
"It's just scary for Muslim families out there today as they listen to this news.
"They have been working with community leaders to bring policy and legislative changes, but it's not enough," she said.
The organization, Hasan said, has data showing that more than 50 per cent of Canadians hold Islamophobic views.
"We often don't think it's a serious enough issue until lives are lost."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2021.
— By Daniela Germano in Edmonton and Hina Alam in Vancouver