December 20, 2017 10:41 am
Updated: January 29, 2018 3:00 pm

‘He’s a Canadian hero’: Muslim community raises money for paralyzed mosque shooting victim

WATCH ABOVE: Aymen Derbali was left paralyzed after a shooter opened fire at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec in Quebec City on Jan. 29. Now, the community is gathering together to buy him an adapted home.

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Aymen Derbali took seven bullets — two in his spinal cord — as a gunman opened fire at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec in Quebec City on the evening of Jan. 29.

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READ MORE: Quebec City mosque left with blood stains, bullet holes after deadly shooting

After waking up from a two-month-long coma, the 47-year-old father of three was paralyzed from the chest down.

“What a hero. He’s a hero and he’s a Canadian hero. One that we should be celebrating and supporting,” said Amira Elghawaby, a member of the Ottawa Muslim community who recently travelled to Quebec City.

“He basically wanted to do that for them [for the community]. He even said he would rather be paralyzed for life than run away and left unscathed.”

READ MORE: Hate crimes spike in Montreal after Quebec City mosque shooting

The hope is that Derbali will soon be able to leave rehab, but the worry is that he won’t have a place to go home to as his fourth-storey apartment is not adapted for his wheelchair.

“He’s doing better than he was earlier this year,” Shaykh Daood Butt, an imam who has spent time with Derbali, told Newsler.

“He’s trying to move his hands a little more. He can move the fingers on one hand, except one finger. He can move his arm.”

READ MORE: Canadian CEO offers to cover funeral costs for Quebec City mosque shooting victims

There are still several bullets lodged in him that doctors have not been able to remove.

Aymen Derbali is attended to in hospital after being shot seven times during the Quebec City mosque shooting.

DawaNet

DawaNet, a Toronto-based non-profit community organization that had previously raised over $400,000 for the families of the mosque shooting victims, is now working to help Derbali.

READ MORE: Anti-Muslim incidents in Quebec: a timeline

“Finding a home for Aymen is a high priority, if not the highest priority now,” explained Elghawaby, a volunteer with the DawaNet team.

“He really sacrificed himself, he really was ready to take all the bullets for the congregation.”

The group has also provided counsellors to speak to younger members of the community to make sure they’re doing all right.

Aymen Derbali is confined to a wheelchair after being shot seven times during the Quebec City mosque shooting.

DawaNet

“This has been such an overwhelming tragedy — even more so when it’s a small community,” Elghawaby told Newsler.

“It’s still what a lot of people are talking about it’s still fresh in people’s minds. When you walk through [the mosque], you still see some of the bullet holes in the walls.”

READ MORE: Quebec City accepts Muslim community’s bid for land to build cemetery

An online fundraising campaign was started Sunday, Dec. 17 and has since raised over $185,000 to pay for a new, adapted home for Derbali and his family.

Ongoing terror

Elghawaby points out the community has faced continued backlash since the shooting.

READ MORE: Quebec religious neutrality bill suspended by Superior Court judge

Most recently, there was controversy over a request to have a Muslim cemetery, the mosque president’s car being set on fire and Quebec’s religious neutrality law, which Elghawaby notes, specifically targets veiled women.

“There’s this constant feeling of fear and concern, yet the community does its best to be resilient,” she said.

“They still go and pray and use the mosque. They’ve really been carrying quite a heavy burden.”

Butt points out the family was hesitant to ask for help.

Aymen Derbali still goes to the mosque every Friday, despite being left paralyzed after the Quebec City mosque shooting.

DawaNet

“It’s been a challenge for his family. His wife, she doesn’t work, she has kids to look after and a husband to look after. She’s strong, but it’s been extremely hard on her,” Butt told Newsler, noting that one of the couple’s children lives with autism.

“She’s mentally and emotionally drained, but she’s still going, she’s still pushing hard.”

Derbali still goes to the mosque every Friday, transported in a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

READ MORE: Quebec City mosque previously target of hate crimes

“He requested it because he said it’s prayer, it’s therapeutic for him,” Butt explained.

“The psychiatrist asked, ‘you’re going back to the same place where you were shot? How does that help you?’ and he said, ‘I was there praying for God, I’m going to pray for God, that’s why it’s a place of worship.'”

READ MORE: Quebec City terrorist attack on mosque kills 6, injures 8

It’s not yet known when he will be able to go home, but the family hopes to be able to stay close to the mosque and their community.

READ MORE: Thousands attend Montreal funeral for 3 of Quebec City mosque shooting victims

“From what we understand, there have been very limited offers of support from government agencies,” Elghawaby said.

“The family really feels that they have been looking for support and really haven’t found it.”

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© 2017 Newsler, a division of Newsler.

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