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Book Review: I Am Malala

“Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.” Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.” Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenage girl, publicly spoke up in favor of female education and was shot in the head by the Taliban, in an apparent attempt to silence her. She survived. The near-fatal attack gave her a global voice that she has been using to continue her fight for female education, on a global scale. Her fight earned her a Nobel Prize when she was 17; this makes her the youngest Nobel Prize winner of all times. In her gripping book I Am Malala, Yousafzai tells a story of bravery, strength, and conviction.  

The circumstances that brought Malala to the front of the international scene on women’s education are tragic; they involved the takeover of Pakistan by the Taliban, being forbidden to attend school because of her gender and being shot in the head in 2012, at the age of 15, for voicing her opinion. These are circumstances that many would not be able to deal with; most would abandon the fight long before being shot. But Malala did not budge. She kept advocating for education for women and girls, and after having gone through hell, she is still determined to fight for what she believes in.

Malala was born and raised in Pakistan. Her father founded the local school she attended growing up. From a young age, Malala demonstrated strong character and soon began asking her father why women were being treated so poorly in Pakistan. In response, he told her about Afghanistan, where the Taliban burned schools for girls and forced women to wear full burkas. His goal was to make her realize that the poor treatment of women in Pakistan was actually not so bad, when compared to the way women are treated in Afghanistan.  

On October 8th 2005, Pakistan was hit by one of the worst earthquakes the country had ever dealt with; Malala’s town was mostly spared. Some conservative religious associations quickly reacted and went to help the survivors in North Pakistan, where the impact had been the most violent. These religious groups began preaching that the earthquake was a warning from God and that Pakistan needed to change its ways. They warned that if it did not, the country would suffer from even worse earthquakes in the future. This message had a very strong effect on the shell-shocked population of Pakistan, who had been left vulnerable after the earthquake.

To spread their message to a wider audience, some imans began producing their own radio shows on illegal local waves. One of them, named Fazlullah, begged listeners to stop listening to music, stop going to the movies and stop dancing. He said that if they did not, God would send stronger earthquakes. Having been to school, Malala knew this was not true; she knew that earthquakes were a geological event and scientifically explainable. Yet, most of the women who listened to the program had not had the benefit of education and viewed this radio as a reliable source of information. Fazlullah’s radio sermons gained popularity and his show became known as Radio mullah. A few months later, the doorbell rang at Malala’s; someone claiming to be an Islamic scholar wanted to talk to her father. He told Malala’s father that the girls high school that he ran was blasphemous and that it should be closed.

Fazlullah then began saying that listening to any radio station other than his was haram, which means forbidden by Islam. He also declared that women should stay at home and only go out in case of emergency and ONLY IF they were wearing a burqa. Since his position evolved gradually, many of his listeners accepted his words as the truth without realizing how extreme he was becoming. As time passed, Fazlullah grew more and more assertive; he began naming people who had spoken out against him and declaring they were sinful. Over the two years that followed the earthquake, Fazlullah became very powerful. Malala was horrified when, one day, he announced on his radio show that schools for girls were haram. As Malala says in the book: “How could a place where I learned so much and laughed so much be so bad?”

One of the most transformational moments in the book and in Malala’s life was the assassination of Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Benazir Bhutto was the first female prime minister of a Muslim nation and she served between 1988 and 1990 and from 1993 to 1996. She went on self exile in 1998 to Dubai and the United Kingdom. She came back in October 2007 to help fight Fazlullah and the Taliban. Two months after her return, she was killed in an explosion at one of her events on live television. This is when Malala realized that no one was safe in Pakistan. From this point on, Malala, who was then 10 years old, began displaying her courage; at first by continuing to go to school and later by speaking out against the Taliban. At 11, she began writing a diary for the BBC to be read by people outside of Pakistan in order to tell them about the situation in her country. She volunteered to do this and actually had to write under a false name, as she would otherwise face terrible consequences. In addition, she also began doing interviews for national television, speaking out in support of girls’ education. In 2012, one of her speeches led to a group of Taliban militants stopping her school bus on the way home and shooting her in the head. Thankfully, she survived although she has since had to flee her country and now lives in the UK, continuing her fight for women’s right to education.

The book is a fast read and is written in a very accessible way. Malala uses humour in the book that helps relieve the tension of the situation she is living through. As I was reading it, I was horrified by what she lived through and impressed that she kept going despite the circumstances. She does a great job of showing the daily life in Pakistan under Taliban rule, pointing out issues and talking about her fight for women’s right.

Although I had heard about Malala before reading the book, I was not familiar with her story. Now that I have read it, I believe that her story is one everyone should know and that she is a voice everyone should listen to. Her book should be used in classes around the world. It is extremely powerful, and Malala is someone we can all learn from. When reading the book, you easily forget that Malala was just a child when most of these events happened. Most of us will not show one hundredth of her courage in our lifetime. She used her grief and her tragic past to build a cause and help solve the problems she sees as the most pressing. The fight is still going on and needs our attention, and Malala’s book is a testament to the power each and every one of us has to make the world a more equal place.

Check my review of “Let Her Fly” by Ziauddin Yousafzai (Malala’s father) here!