‘[..] they told me about the call from home and that they were taking the threats seriously. I don’t know why, but hearing I was being targeted did not worry me. It seemed to me that everyone knows they will die one day. My feeling was nobody can stop death; it doesn’t matter if it comes from a Talib or cancer. So I should do whatever I want to do’.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Pg.209
I have always been meaning to read Malala Yousafzai’s fearless and inspiring memoir, co-written with journalist Christina Lamb, since its publication in 2013 – just a year after the shocking events that resounded throughout the entire world. Her story is one of survival; survival in the face of violent hostility against the simple, human right to an education. And yet, it still amazes me just how young Malala Yousafzai is to have achieved so much already. Co-founder of the Malala Fund and the world’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate, she is unrelenting in her efforts to fight for and raise awareness for girls’ education in developing countries who are usually sent to work at an early age, married off or forced to look after younger siblings. According to The Malala Fund, 31 million primary-aged girls are still out of school around the world and, in total, over 60 million girls are out of school today!
Beginning with the near-fatal events of 9th October, 2012, where Malala and two other school friends are shot in the back of a school bus, her story rewinds back to life in pre-Taliban Swat, a northern district of present-day Pakistan. Like Pakistan’s frought and fractured path to independence, Swat also has a unique history of its own; a history which is so beautifully simplified by the writing in this memoir and so infused with the awe Malala has for her native land. I Am Malala is almost a homage to a home that can’t be returned too – at least in the foreseeable future.
‘There seemed to be so many things about which people were fighting. If Christians, Hindus or Jews are really our enemies, as so many say, why are we Muslims fighting with each other? Our people have become misguided. They think their greatest concern is defending Islam and are being led astray by those like the Taliban who deliberately misinterpret the Quran. We should focus on practical issues. We have so many people in our country who are illiterate. And many women have no education at all. We live in a place where schools are blown up. We have no reliable electricity supply. Not a single day passes without the killing of at least one Pakistani’.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Pg.208
Malala’s parents both came from humble beginnings. Although there is much admiration given to her father – and rightly so; he was, and continues to be, a stringent supporter of female education and wholeheartedly opposed the Taliban despite numerous threats to his life – what touched me the most was Malala’s relationship with her mother. Despite her illiteracy, Malala’s mother supported her and her father in all of their endeavours without questioning why. She always knew this was a cause worth fighting for and instead opted to protect her family in the only way she knew how – through prayer. Coming from a very traditional Pashtun background where women were expected to observe purdah (a practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies where women are screened from strangers and men), one of the most touching moments in the memoir was when Malala’s mother allowed herself to be photographed alongside her daughter after her recovery in Birmingham hospital. To me this showed a huge sacrifice of her mother’s traditional values and, instead, represented the solidarity and bravery of a family that refused to be silenced by the most shocking violence of all – that committed against a child.
‘Deep in my heart I hoped to reach every child who could take courage from my words and stand up for his or her rights’.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Pg.289
There isn’t much to say about Malala Yousafzai’s story that hasn’t already been pasted on the news worldwide over the last few years, but that still doesn’t diminish the significance of reading I Am Malala. Although co-written with journalist Christina Lamb, Malala’s message is overtly clear. It is a heart-warming, inspiring and courageous belief that education should be an unwarranted human right for everyone; that education is the ‘strongest weapon’ we have against violence and inequality.
I will leave this post with a video of Malala Yousafzai’s talk at the WOW Festival in 2014: