illustrated portrait of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai

I Am Malala

by Malala Yousafzai

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I Am Malala is a memoir by Malala Yousafzai about Malala’s upbringing in Pakistan and survival of an assassination attempt by the Taliban.

  • Malala grew up in a Pashtun family in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, where her father ran a school and fought for education for girls.
  • After the Taliban took control of the valley, Malala starred in a documentary about life under Taliban rule and was awarded the National Peace Prize. At fifteen, she was shot by a Taliban gunman but survived.
  • Malala and her family now live in Birmingham, England. Malala was nominated for (and later won) the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Part One

Malala Yousafzai and her family belong to a proud Pashtun community in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Though the birth of female children isn’t often celebrated in Malala’s culture, Malala's father, Ziauddin, is a staunch defender of women's rights and was delighted. Malala tells us that he named her after an Afghan heroine, Malalai of Maiwand, who was crucial to the Afghan victory against the British in the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Ziauddin is also the owner and principal of the school Malala attends. The Khushal School is rare in its focus on science, women's rights, and literature, all subjects forbidden by the Taliban. After a devastating earthquake in the Swat Valley, mullahs from the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Sharia-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), or Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, warned that the Swat Valley was under God's judgment. The mullahs called for the implementation of Sharia Law, claiming that "women's freedom and obscenity" had insulted Allah.

Part Two

Malala was ten when the Taliban took over the Swat Valley. Members of the TNSM ingratiated themselves with Malala's Pashtun community by portraying themselves as saviors dedicated to rooting out government corruption. The TNSM openly advocated Sharia law and eventually outlawed dancing, music, CDs, TVs, and movies. Members of the TNSM began intimidating unaccompanied women or girls in public places. They also made death threats against Ziauddin for educating girls. Eventually, the TNSM united with other Taliban groups and declared war on the Pakistani government. The group set up public flogging sessions and assassinated government officials. The Taliban destroyed school buildings and demanded that girls stop attending classes. Meanwhile, Malala was asked to write about life under the Taliban for the BBC and star in a New York Times documentary about Islamic extremism. Under continued threat from the Taliban, Ziauddin realized how dire the situation had become and proceeded to move his family out of the Swat Valley.

Part Three

When Malala and her family returned home three months later, the prime minister assured everyone that the Taliban had been cleared out of the Swat Valley. However, Malala notes that kidnappings and murders continued to occur. Both Muslims and Christians were targeted by Taliban members. Malala recalls that a Christian woman named Asia Bibi was sentenced to death under the Blasphemy Law. Meanwhile, Malala's father spoke out against Taliban atrocities and became a target himself. In the midst of this, news came that US Navy SEALs had killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda and the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks. Like many of her fellow Pakistanis, Malala was elated until she learned that bin Laden had been hiding in plain sight in Abbottabad. It was humiliating that the Americans had detected his location without the Pakistani Army's knowledge. Despite the national upheaval, the Pakistani government awarded Malala the country's first National Peace Prize. Her prominence soon made her a target, and she was shot by a Taliban gunman.

Part Four

Malala relates that, in the aftermath of the shooting, she was flown to the Combined Military Hospital in Peshawar. There, Colonel Junaid, the Pakistani Army's most decorated surgeon, took charge of her care. Malala theorizes that the colonel likely saved her life when he chose to operate. According to Colonel Junaid, the bullet had missed Malala's brain, but a splintered bone had lodged itself within her brain instead. The resulting swelling endangered Malala's life, but the operation gave her brain the space to expand. Eventually, Malala was moved to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology. There, Dr. Javid Kayani and Dr. Fiona Reynolds, two visiting British physicians, tended to her. Despite their care, Malala's kidneys began to fail, and her blood stopped clotting. In order to save her life, the two doctors facilitated Malala’s transfer to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England.

Part Five

At the hospital in Birmingham, Malala was operated on and eventually regained consciousness. Her recovery was brutal. Malala discovered that she experienced difficulties with her speech and that the left side of her face was partially paralyzed. She also struggled to remember events in the right order. Malala eventually underwent an operation to repair a damaged nerve on the left side of her face. Later, a surgeon fitted Malala with a cochlear implant to restore hearing in her left ear, and another surgeon used titanium plates to replace a portion of her removed skull. Malala reports that she was thankful just to be alive.


Today, Malala and her family are thriving in Birmingham. Malala reports that she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (an honor she won in 2014). On her sixteenth birthday, she addressed the United Nations in New York City. Although she is sad that the Taliban continues to target children, particularly girls, Malala states that she is determined to fight for every child's right to an education. Despite her trials, she is undaunted and determined to work for world peace.

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