Saturday, May 10, 2014

In Admiration of Malala

Last month Time magazine issued their new list of the 100 most influential people in the world. The youngest person on that list was Malala Yousafzai, who was born in July 1997.

You remember Malala: she is the Pakistani girl shot in the head by a Taliban terrorist in October 2012. The short 4/23 Time article about Malala was written by Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman from Arizona who, as you also remember, was shot in the head in January 2012.
Giffords begins her article, “Like millions around the world, I draw strength from brave Malala’s example.”
In addition to the recognition by Time, Malala has received many other notable accolades. Last year, for example, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest person ever to be nominated for that prestigious honor. She was nominated again in February of this year.
Also, last year on her sixteenth birthday she spoke at the United Nations, calling for worldwide access to education. The U.N. dubbed the event “Malala Day.” It was her first public speech since the attack on her in 10/12. It was a great speech, which you can listen to here.
Born in the Swat Valley of northwest Pakistan, Malala’s story is appealingly told in her book “I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.” It was published in October of last year and soon was near the top of the bestselling non-fiction books.
Next Wednesday is the monthly meeting of the local group known as Vital Conversations. June and I are looking forward to the discussion of “I am Malala.” It is a fascinating book, very well written with the help of Christiana Lamb, an award-winning British journalist.
Malala is an amazing young woman—and she has an amazing father. Reading the book not only greatly increased my appreciation for her, but for her father as well.
In 1996 Ziauddin Yousafzai (b. 1969), Malala’s father, founded the Khushal School (for both girls and boys). His progressive ideas, and wholehearted support of his daughter, influenced Malala significantly. Of course, he suffered greatly after the attempt on her life, thinking that he is the one who led her into harm’s way.
Malala in many ways seems to be a devout Muslim. However, she is also quite critical of not only Islamists (Muslim fundamentalists) but also of some traditional aspects of Islam—especially the traditional ways women were/are treated/mistreated.
Her criticism of Islamist treatment of women is similar to the way many Christian feminists, including yours truly, are critical of much of the traditional discounting of women in Christianity.
Malala’s main emphasis through the years—from the time she was eleven she was writing (speaking) a blog for BBC Urdu—has been education for girls. In her book, Malala writes, “I don't want to be thought of as the ‘girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but the ‘girl who fought for education.’ This is the cause to which I want to devote my life.”
This week Malala has made appeals for the release of the Nigerian schoolgirls who have been abducted by Boko Haram. That appeal was on Time’s website, found here. She speaks out against the militant Muslims and for the Christian girls.
In her book Malala also quotes the well-known words of the Christian pastor Martin Niemöller.
Traditionalists/fundamentalists will continue to oppose Malala, but her outspoken words/actions for gender equality and for interfaith respect are surely on the right side of history. And I greatly admire what she has said and done.


  1. Local Thinking Friend Eric Dollard has just sent the following comments:

    "Yesterday the Wall Street Journal carried an article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who writes, 'The Nigerian terror group reflects the general Islamist hatred of women's rights. When will the West wake up?'

    "Ayaan takes a more critical view of Islam than Malala, but they are still fighting the same fight for women--a fight not restricted to Islam, as you pointed out."

    1. According to Wikipedia, "Ayaan Hirsi Ali [b. 1969] is a Somali-born American women's rights and atheist activist, writer and politician who is known for her views critical of female genital mutilation and Islam."

    2. I just now saw this:

      "In April Brandeis University reversed its decision to give Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born women’s rights activist, an honorary degree at commencement after an online petition drew attention to her pejorative statements on Islam (e.g. 'Islam is the new fascism').

  2. Ayaan Hirsi Ali used the word "Islamist" in the quotation above. While this word can mean just an Islamic scholar, its current use usually reflects a specific spin on Islam, in the form of political fundamentalist Islam. In that sense, both Malala and Ali are opposed to Islamist theory and practice, as is Irshad Manji, on whom I commented recently. Malala and Manji are doing this within Islam, even as Ali has chosen to totally leave Islam. This is quite parallel to the situation in the Christian world, where Christian fundamentalism might cause on person to write "Fed Up With Fundamentalism" while another might become an atheist. Since Manji was born in Uganda, just on the other side of Kenya from Somalia, she might be an even better contrast to Ali than Malala.

    Personally, I have the highest respect for all three of these women. Perhaps a good subject for a future column would be the boundary line between thinking faith, whether Christian, Islamic, or other, and atheism. What if atheists are just prophets in disguise?

  3. In light of my 4/30 blog posting, I was interested in the following from "I Am Malala":

    "I was one of five nominees for the international peace prize of Kids Rights, a children's advocacy group based in Amsterdam. My name had been put forward by Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa" (p. 298, LPE).

    (On the following page, Malala notes that she was awarded Pakistan's first ever National Peace Prize.)

  4. Brian Terrell, an ardent anti-drone activist, posted the following comments on Facebook (after I posted the link to this blog article there):

    "Thank you, Leroy. The Taliban and Boko Harem are not the only warlords and killers of women and girls who need to be confronted. Malala showed great courage last fall when meeting with President Obama.

    "'I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people,' she told him.

    "Unfortunately, her plea fell on deaf ears and the carnage from drone assassinations mounts. We need Malala's influence here in the US as well, perhaps here most of all."

  5. Thinking Friend Temp Sparkman writes,

    "The thing I appreciate most about her response to the evil done her is that she wishes to be known for her passion for the education of girls. Remarkable!"