“They will always be with us.”
Those were the words echoed by the Western University community in a virtual memorial Thursday to honour the Afzaal family who were targeted and killed for their faith in London, Ont.
The university provided a space for family members, faculty, student leaders and community members to share their grief and commemorate the lives of two cherished Western members.
Salman Afzaal and Madiha Salman were both members of Western University. Afzaal earned a master’s degree in health sciences from Western in 2010 and Madiha Salman completed her master’s in engineering and was working toward her PhD in environmental engineering, which she was awarded posthumously in June.
Western faculty, student leaders and Muslim community members wore purple and green ribbons on their chests that have become symbols of support and hope to honour the family after the attack.
“She had such a brilliant career ahead of her and so much to look forward to,” said Western president Alan Shepard. “The Western community mourns, and mourns deeply, the deaths of Madiha and Salman and their loved ones.”
Four members of the Afzaal family were killed in what police called a faith-targeted attack on June 6; Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and Salman’s mother, Talat Afzaal, 74 and daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15. The man charged in the attack made a brief court appearance via video link on Thursday and remains in custody.
Christy Bressette, vice-provost and associate vice-president of Indigenous Initiatives at Western, opened up the memorial with a land acknowledgement and expressed solidarity with the Muslim community.
“As we reflect on the need for this memorial today, we’ve got a long way to go before arriving at a place of harmony with one another,” Bressette said.
“However, I remain optimistic as healing through education is always the first step toward reconciliation.”
Members of their family in London and Pakistan took part in the memorial, sharing a few words to remember Afzaal and Salman, and also express gratitude to Western for its efforts to honour them.
Dr. Ayesha Shaukat, Afzaal’s sister, spoke at the memorial to express gratitude for the support her family has received and encourage the community to “continue to work hard and give back.”
“Presenting this tribute is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Shaukat said. “Our lives changed forever on June 6 and these past few weeks have been the hardest I’ve lived.”
She remembers her brother as a “humble” man, who always looked at the brighter side and had a “heart of gold.”
“He was always there, in all the ways possible, to support his mother, his brothers and me. His love for cooking, passion for cricket and gardening, care for young and old, willingness to help and his ability to always look at the light at the end of the tunnel are some of the things I continue to miss about him,” Shaukat said. “[Madiha] was a beautiful soul, a dedicated wife, a wonderful mother.”
“Salman and Madiha left behind their legacy as a benchmark for all immigrants who come to Canada for a better future.”
Western University created two scholarships in the name of the two alumni.
“[They] cannot be returned to us, but their lives can be honoured and celebrated as we will do today,” Shepard said.
“We hope that these scholarships will help future graduate students to pursue their own education in academic fields that mattered deeply to Salman and Madiha. And in the years to come, that these scholarships will serve as lasting tributes to these cherished members of Western’s family,” he said.
The Madiha Salman Memorial Scholarship in civil and environmental engineering will be distributed each year to a full-time female graduate student enrolled in a doctoral or a masters program within that department.
The Salman Afzaal Memorial Scholarship in physical therapy will also be awarded each year to a full-time graduate student enrolled in a doctoral or masters program in health and rehabilitation sciences.
“It is our hope that by creating these scholarships, we can continue to honour Madiha and Salman’s incredible legacies here at Western,” said Jayne Garland, dean of the faculty of health sciences.