Toronto Mourns Indo-Guyanese-Canadian Muslim Killed At Masjid

Daughter Bebe Zafis, left, and nephew Zameer offer a supplication for her father beside his simple coffin.

Funeral service for Mohammed Aslim Zafis was held on Wednesday, September 16 in the parking lot of the International Muslims Organization (IMO) mosque. Mohammed was killed while he sat outside the IMO mosque on Saturday 12, 2020. On Friday, September 18, 2020, Guilherme “William” Von Neutegem, 34, of Toronto, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.No details have been released about when he will appear in court.

In a press release issued on Friday, the IMO said it “thanks the Toronto Police Service, and calls for the murder to be treated as a potentially hate-motivated crime.”

Mohammed Aslim Zafis (r) with his elder brother Farouq

The IMO is hosting a vigil for Zafis on Saturday at 5 p.m. in the parking lot of the IMO mosque, at 65 Rexdale Boulevard.

Funeral attendance was limited to invitees due to restrictions for the spread of COVID-19. What was lost to the size of congregants was made up by the broad participation of Torontonians. Mohammed Aslim’s (hometown Skeldon, Berbice, Guyana) funeral was attended by: 

  • Religious leaders from different faith traditions,
  • Politicians of various stripes, 
  • Police officers of various ranks, 
  • Community activists and 
  • Ordinary folks of different races.

They all came together to support the family of Mohammed Aslim and the IMO Community.

Mustafa Farooq, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), chaired the funeral service. Speakers included Haji Omar Farouk, President of IMO; Pastor Keaton (Christian) Jeffrey Brown (Jewish), Pundit Vishnu (Hindu), Kristy Duncan MP (Liberal – Etobicoke North), Dr Rima Berns-McGown MPP (Beaches-East York, NDP), Michael Ford (City Councillor Ward 1, Etobicoke North), Superintendent Ron Taverner (Toronto Police 23 Division), Gerald Whyte (Consul at the Consulate General of Guyana in Toronto), Imam Hamid Slimi (Sayeeda Khadijah Centre), Imam Shabir Ally (Islamic Information & Dawah Centre International in Toronto), Habeeb Alli (Table of Mercy) and Imam Junaid Bhaiyat (IMO). John Tory (Mayor of Toronto) visited privately with Mohammed’s family and issued a statement later read by the program chair, Farooq. A wide representative cross section of Toronto was in attendance on-site, and thousands viewed the live stream of the service.

The murder of Mohammed, his funeral and police investigation are being keenly followed in local and foreign media.

Mohammed Aslim Zafis

CBC reports that “Mohamed-Aslim Zafis spent his last hours as he did countless ones before — volunteering at a northwest Toronto mosque and helping those in need. 

Zafis, 58, was remembered by friends and family at his funeral on Wednesday as a “kind, gentle soul” who, even on the day he was killed, handed out food to the hungry and worked to keep his fellow worshippers safe.”

Haji Omar addressing the funeral attendees

In his address Haji Omar, IMO’s President, said “Brother Mohammed was a dedicated member of the IMO and a volunteer caretaker for nearly five years. He touched the lives of many people. He would always ensure that visitors to IMO had something to eat before leaving. We could never possibly compensate nor thank him enough for his kindness and generosity. 

May Allah multiply his good and reward him for making IMO a welcoming and safe space, especially during these last six months of COVID-19 pandemic. Brother Mohammed had just finished praying the sunset prayer – Salatul Maghrib. We beseech God Almighty to accept his worship, his sacrifice, forgive him, grant him ease in his grave, resurrect him with God’s righteous servants and admit him into paradise.”

Mohammed’s nephew Zameer said “Mohammed Aslim Zafis was my loving uncle, who has been taken away from us way too soon. Aslim was a gentle, kind-hearted soul who loved to help others, who always had a big smile on his face and who never had any negative thoughts or words for anyone. He was an incredible man who was hard working at anything he was doing.

We have all heard this before, and I hadn’t realized it until now, that life is a lot shorter than any of us realize, and we just don’t know what we have until it’s gone.

Imam Hamid Slimi speaks at funeral service.

Mohamad Aslim Zafis was a man of many roles. He was a father, a brother, brothers-in-law, an uncle and a friend. I only have fond and happy memories of my loving uncle. I remember when he would come to visit my dad and me in Guyana, we would have the best of times. I always felt that I could get away with almost anything with him around.

Aslim had an amazing sense of humour and enjoyed life to the fullest. He had a unique personality that will never be forgotten. He will always be loved by so many, as there was nothing to not love about him.

Family and friends should always remember the good things about Aslim because he always saw the good in people. My deepest appreciation for all the expressions of sympathy.” 

Background to crime

He had just finished the sunset prayers (maghrib) before he returned to his usual post outside the mosque. Mohammed was controlling entry to the building to comply with public health protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Sanitization of the prayer hall takes place after each of the five congregational prayers. During this procedure, no one is allowed entry. Additionally, everyone who entered the mosque is mandated to wear a mask and respect COVID-19 physical distancing rules. 

Supt. Ron Taverner

Undercover of darkness, the murderer blinded sided Mohammed stabbing him to death. When emergency crews arrived, they located the victim suffering from a stab wound to his neck. He was pronounced dead at the scene. 

“It is a very vicious, gruesome attack,” Constable Alex Li said. “You have somebody here, that’s a caretaker at a mosque, and he was just out there doing his job. And the suspect, unfortunately, chose to end his life.”

Inspector Hank Idsinga, the head of the Toronto police homicide squad said Monday they have no evidence Zafis’s killing was motivated by hate but acknowledged it is a possibility. The police cannot discount the homicide could be the work of a serial killer. Police say there are many similarities between Zafis’s homicide and a nearby killing five days earlier.