Acknowledging Tragedy: Reflections on Solidarity
This heavy piece is a reflection of my identity as a Muslim and as an individual who tries to show-up as an ally for the many Indigenous communities of socalled Canada. As difficult and emotionally grim it has been for me to write this, I hope that in the least I will be able to honour the many lives that have passed as victims of White supremacy. I do recognize however that I have much to learn and unlearn. Thus, there may be parts of my writing that fall short in reaching my intentions.
Towards the end of May, unmarked graves of 215 Indigenous children were discovered at a former residential school. I was scrolling through my morning social media feed when I read this news. At first, all I could feel was a heavy tiring weight; another tragedy had come to light. It took a night’s sleep and my morning Fajr prayer to understand what it means to me now. Two hundred and fifteen children were murdered, buried, forgotten, and now finally remembered. It was at the end of my duas that this truth began to sink in. For a long moment, I continued to sit in my prayer grieving.
Remembering a loved one who has passed usually involves invoking their name, reminiscing over their old photos, and sharing stories of their life. It is quite unfortunate - and deliberate - that many were unable to observe much of this after learning of the two hundred and fifteen children of the Kamploops residential school, the one hundred and four potential graves of children at Brandon Indian Residential School in Manitoba, and the hundreds of lives that are slowly being found on residential school grounds.
Despite the cruelty of how much we do not know, we must remember them and actively seek out the truth of who each child was and what their story was. We, as in me and you and everyone else who is in one way or another connected to this land. We must seek to actively remember the lives of children still unaccounted for, the families and communities who had their children taken away from them never to see them again, the survivors who have passed and those who live today, and their descendants.
As a second-generation settler, I am in treaty with each descendent of Canada’s residential school survivors, who still face a racist child welfare system, brutality at the hands of police and the RCMP, and so many other injustices. I have a responsibility towards truth and walking the path of reconciliation. As a Muslim, I am called to act justly and there were treaties signed and words exchanged long ago that I must today seek to fulfill.
Not long after the upsetting news about residential school mass graves began to – justly – fill headlines, that the news of another tragedy reached my ears. More death, this time in London, ON, where a driver intentionally rammed his pickup truck into a Muslim family out for a walk, killing four members and leaving a sole survivor, a nine-year-old boy, now an orphan. A family murdered.
The driver has been charged with four counts of murder and one of attempted murder for the attack, which was motivated by hate and premeditated. This man got behind the wheel of that truck intending to kill other human beings because of their faith. It is a heavy concept to sit with for everyone, especially the Muslim community.
It is incredibly unsettling to me how quickly the world forgets these tragedies in pursuit of consuming the next one, while everyone impacted is left processing their pain for months, years, the rest of their lives. Thus, I will pause here briefly to remember once again the children whose names I do not know, in unmarked graves, and those whose names I do: Salman Afzaal, 46, Madiha Salman, 44, Yumna Afzaal, 15, Talat Afzaal, 74, Fayez Afzaal, 9.
As much as I want to lay out a way forward and tell you, reader, exactly how you can dismantle colonialism. For now, I cannot. I am still grieving. A lot.
Instead, I hope you will, now or in a few hours, check in on your Indigenous communities and friends. Send them a message of solidarity. I hope you will respectfully check in with your local Indigenous and Muslim communities. I hope you will search your heart and mind for ways you can stand against actions like these.
As someone who fervently tries to be an ally by rushing to support solidarity actions, writing letters condemning persistent inaction, or by finding a home-hitting tweet to share, I felt a deep need to sit with the lives that were murdered and deliberately forgotten. We cannot change the past, but I hope we can change the future.
I wrote this article while residing in the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg People.