[dropcaps]T[/dropcaps]his past year, 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai would have been the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Although she didn’t win, she garnered another nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize by South African activist Desmond Tutu and continues to work for girls’ rights to education and peace in her hometown community.
Call to Action
Yousafzai was eleven years old when she started writing for BBC’s blog about life under Taliban rule. It was a difficult time for all the people living the Swat Valley during 2008.
The Swat Valley, located on the northwestern border of Pakistan, first experienced the Taliban in 2007. Though harmless at first, the group grew increasingly violent and eventually paraded the streets causing havoc and destruction. The Taliban expressed a great distaste for women’s rights and shut down several all-girls schools, decimating over 400 educational institutions in total. Slowly, the rights of women and girls are seized. They were not allowed out at night, it was forbidden to shop, and girls were not to receive education of any sort.
Despite the growing hostility of the Swat’s social climate, Yousafzai had a special privilege. She and her family—including her father Ziauddin, mother Toor Pekkai and two younger brothers—lived in the town of Mingora. Her father owned a school and shared a great interest in politics with his only daughter. While Yousafzai could not attend school and had great frustrations for a denied right, she and her father shared discourse on why these situations were allowed, how the people of Mingora were affected, how the future would change and what she could do about it.
Though the Yousafzai family and the Mingora community lived under silenced oppression, the rest of the world had little to no idea of what was happening in Pakistan. That is when the BBC team tried to find ways to have students write blogs anonymously about their life under Taliban rule.
No one would do it. The risks were too high. But when Yousafzai’s father discovered the opportunity, he volunteered his own daughter. The year was 2009 when Yousafzai sent hand-written entries that were later faxed and published on BBC’s blog. It wasn’t long before the Taliban discovered her pseudonym and promptly sent death threats to her and her father. Yousafzai was more worried for her father than for herself; the Taliban were not yet so ruthless as to assassinate a child of fourteen years. Unfortunately, soon thereafter, that proved to be untrue.
In 2012, during a bus ride home from school, a gunman stopped the vehicle and asked for Malala by name. He shot her three times near the head and injured some of her nearby classmates. Fatally wounded and unconscious, Yousafzai finally awoke to find herself in Birmingham, England, under the care of the staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
One year later, several agencies, international diplomats and like-minded humanitarian activists work to support Yousafzai’s cause for girls’ education rights and peace. Since her assassination attempt she has won several awards, nominations and topped lists for citizenship and service. Most recently, she has been nominated for the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize and 2014 International Children’s Peace Prize.
On her 16th birthday, Yousafzai delivered a speech to the United Nations Youth Assembly, where over a thousand youths from all over the world gathered to hear her speak. She stressed the importance of fighting against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism. Yousafzai also stated that in order to achieve peace, education was imperative.
Islam Teachings for Peace and Equality
At first glance, Yousafzai’s activism may seem purely political. Some viewers may even go so far as to say that given Pakistan’s Muslim status, Islam’s teachings deny women’s rights of any kind. None of these claims are true.
In fact, according to an article in the Huffington Post, the three most Muslim countries in the world—Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh—have all elected female prime ministers and presidents in recent years. Muslim women continue to make progressive strides towards establishing a more stable community and surpass qualifications to hold office.
For Yousafzai, Muslim faith is a part of her understanding for peace and equality. Last October, in an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, she expressed her strict adherence to nonviolence when facing the Taliban, a practice inherent to the Muslim faith in dealing with conflict of any kind.
In the same address to the UN Youth Assembly, Yousafzai referred to the teachings of multiple religions including Christianity, Buddhism and Islam that inspired her nonviolence. She believes that terrorists such as the Taliban misuse and misrepresent the religion of Islam for personal gain and stated that teachings of Islam encourage the pursuit of education as a child’s duty and responsibility.
Yousafzai Raises Her Voice
Within a matter of years and one incredible tale of survival, Yousafzai has captured the attention of the world. Now that she has the resources to achieve the peace and equality she desires for her country, she employs every news station and media platform to speak out about her cause.
Speaking not only to raise awareness of a problem but to call attention to the need of education for all cultures and peoples, Yousafzai pleads for a change and for help within every community—that education and nonviolence are the only ways to achieve a lasting peace among us.
As a country densely populated with Muslims and founded on Islam thought, the achievements of one of their youngest and brightest girls are sure to provide insight, strength and encouragement. The road to peace is in sight—perhaps far, but nonetheless achievable. With the great sense of responsibility and mutual respect that stems from Islam’s teachings, the people of Mingora and the Swat Valley are sure to mend past wounds and grow stronger—just as Yousafzai was able to do two years ago.
Continuing in her address to the Youth Assembly, she recounts of the Taliban attack, “They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed…The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.”