illustrated portrait of Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai

I Am Malala

by Malala Yousafzai

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“Let us pick up our books and our pens,” I said. “They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

In this quote, Malala reinforces the importance of words. To her, ideas may be forbidden or suppressed, but they can never be destroyed. Powerful ideas can inspire widespread change and transform whole communities. Thus, the power of words lies in their ability to motivate. Ziauddin’s and Malala's ideas about education are controversial to their fellow Pashtuns. Yet their work continues to inspire changes to Pakistan's education policies and to motivate the creation of global initiatives that alleviate poverty and extremism.

“My mother always told me, ‘hide your face people are looking at you.’ I would reply, ‘it does not matter; I am also looking at them.’ ”

Malala's answer to her mother is significant. Militants like Fazlullah maintain that a woman's piety is judged by how well she covers her face. Here, Malala proclaims that she has equal right to judge those who condemn her. In the book, Ziauddin reiterates to Toor Pekai that purdah is as much a matter of the heart as it is a matter of tradition. The Taliban's opinion of a woman is dictated by how well she submits to its rigid rules; after all, its power depends on the willing subjection of a subdued populace. However, true piety is a different matter altogether. It is not dictated by man-made rules and cannot be judged by outward appearances alone.

“Is Islam such a weak religion that it cannot tolerate a book written against it? Not my Islam!”

In this quote, the book in question is Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Some of Ziauddin's peers at Jehanzeb College supported the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Rushdie, but Ziauddin disapproved. He maintained that freedom of speech was crucial to a self-governing society and that Rushdie had the right to his opinions. Ziauddin's stance indicates his belief in ijtihad, the spirit of inquiry that characterized classical Islamic intellectual discourse in the 10th and 11th centuries. Ziauddin deeply believes that Islam is strong enough to accommodate such a tradition and that ijtihad should be part of a free, modern society.

"Though we loved school, we hadn't realized how important education was until the Taliban tried to stop us. Going to school, reading and doing our homework wasn't just a way of passing time, it was our future.”

In this quote, Malala recognizes the role education plays: in a healthy, vibrant society, freedom of expression is a recognized right. In the Taliban's efforts to suppress dissent, it failed to take into account the resolve to protect this right. Young girls like Malala were determined to rebel against the unfair new rules regarding girls' education. At the Khushal School, the girls enjoyed a broad-based education that offered them infinite possibilities in life; under the Taliban's new rules, they would be denied these possibilities. In light of the threat, the act of completing homework assignments became a tool of self-expression and a vehicle for protest.

“Don’t accept good things from bad people.”

In this quote, Ziauddin advised Dr. Afzal against accepting offers of protection from the Taliban. This was appropriate advice, since the Taliban always had ulterior motives in helping anyone. The Taliban's modus operandi is very simple: upon entering a new region, it first works to earn the trust of the people. After it has secured the people's confidence, it launches an indoctrination campaign to "educate" the people. Next, it begins to implement a new system of government that is purportedly fairer and better than the one before. Meanwhile, the people are lulled into a false sense of security, and they do not realize their danger until it is too late. Thus, accepting "good things" from "bad people" is a practice best avoided.

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