Members of a mosque in Toronto have launched a food drive in honor of a volunteer caretaker who was killed a year ago Sunday.
Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58, was fatally stabbed outside the doors of the International Muslim Organization’s mosque, 65 Rexdale Blvd., near Islington Avenue, in Etobicoke around 1 p.m. 20:40 on September 12, 2020. He died on the spot.
Mustafa Farooq, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said at a news conference Sunday that Zafis was killed while serving his community.
Zafis was attacked while sitting in a chair outside the mosque while checking access to the building to ensure worshipers complied with public health regulations. At the press conference, Zafis was described as a good man who handed out food stamps to needy people.
“Today we are here to talk about a legacy, and it is a legacy that we must all live up to,” Farooq told reporters at the mosque. “He was a man who insisted on bringing good to others.”
Farooq said he was in the mosque shortly after the killing.
“I personally will never forget the flashing sirens, the confusion, the terror of violence so close to home, the loss of a man I had just begun to get to know,” he said. “Today we are here because we do not allow hatred to win.”
Guilherme “William” Von Neutegem, 34, has been charged with first-degree murder in Zafis’ death. Von Neutegem appears to be following a hate group founded in the UK, according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, an organization that tracks online extremism.
‘It was the man he was’
Farooq said he met Zafis at the mosque in the summer of 2020 after a long day of travel. Farooq was tired, looked horrified and was wearing sweatpants when Zafis saw him.
“I think he thought I was one of the needy. And then he immediately took some food, he took everything he could and said, ‘Take it, make sure you can go and feed your family. tonight.’ That was the man he was. “
Farooq urged all residents of the Greater Toronto Area to honor the lives of the Zafis by attending participating neighborhood mosques on Sunday and Monday and donating non-perishable foods. The donations will be used to feed people across Canada.
“It means doing what he did when he was killed to try to make the lives of others better,” he said.
Bebi Zafis, daughter of Zafis, said she misses him every day. She said she last saw him on Thursday before he was killed on Saturday. She said it was “very hard” to lose her father, but she has support and is not alone in her grief.
“He was the father I always had and I will never have him again. He was greatly missed by everyone who was there for him, loved him and looked after him,” she said.
Zafis said the killing has left her traumatized.
“I’m afraid to go to the mosque, wear the hijab, go out there. I’m not the next victim, but sometimes I feel like I am,” she said.
“I just want the hate crimes to stop.”
NDP leader says governments need to take action
NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who also spoke at the press conference, said Zafis lost his life in a “cowardly act of Islamophobic terrorism”. She said such actions continue to happen in communities in Ontario.
“Here we are, hoping this hatred stops,” Horwath said.
Horwath said it has been a long time since the governments of Ontario have taken action against Islamophobia. The hate crimes create lasting trauma in communities, she said.
“There is no room for that kind of hatred and the rest of us have to talk about how we will not tolerate it. It is completely, completely unacceptable.”