Malala Yousufsai is a 14 year-old Pakistani girl who has raised her voice, loud and clear, for the right of women’s access to education. Her defiant activism openly challenged the narrow minds of the Swat Valley Taliban in Pakistan, which for many years have carried a distorted message of Islam marginalizing the voice of women.
With the passage of time, the discourse promoting access to education has grown to become profound and weighty. The subtle and delicate voice of Yousufsai, who aspires to be a doctor, has turned into a thunderous reverberation instilling fear in the hearts of the soulless criminals threatened by this petite girl’s aspirations. On October 9th, at the conclusion of a school day, a truly cowardly man boarded Yousufsai’s school bus, called her by her name and shot her in the face and neck. Today this new icon of women’s rights, a champion for both Muslim and non-Muslims, is in critical condition and receives medical treatment in Great Britain.
Undoubtedly, Yousufsai’s faith and activism have amplified the voices against misogynist terrorism, with more impact than thousands of troops and the bombs carried by drones. After the Pakistani Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in 2008, they ordered school closures as part of a tyrannical decree banning girls’ education. Since then, the dynamic and extroverted girl has gained international prominence as a regular contributor to “Diary under the Taliban,” a BBC blog in both English and Urdu.
This diary, an interfaith project produced by a team of Christians and Muslims, has advocated for the right of women to have access to education. Yousufsai has been openly critical of the Taliban regime and the obscurantism brought by their establishment.
Yousufsai is also the face of Muslim women that many international media outlets refuse to present as the true example of women in Islam. She represents young, emerging and true leadership that fights to reclaim her moral space not only in the academic world, but in the religious community and other spheres of society. She confirms that the right of access to education that Islam awards women is a historical reality not initiated in the 19th nor 20th Centuries: rather, it was instituted over 1,400 years ago.
The Prophet Muhammad declared that the pursuit of knowledge is incumbent on every Muslim male and female. Upon the Prophet Muhammad’s death, the first jurists of Islam sought advice and education from a woman, Aysha, the Prophet’s widow, an erudite scholar, teacher, and jurist. Since the time of Quranic revelation, women have had the same rights to education as men. As early as 859 AD, Fatima Al-Fihri, a Muslim woman, founded Al-Kairaouine University in the city of Fes, Morrocco. The Guinness World Records Book has recorded Al-Kairaouine as the oldest continuously-operating degree-granting university.
Yousufsai’s voice calls not only her Swat Valley community, but the rest of the Muslim World to recognize that Islam grants woman equal rights to contract, to engage in business and to earn and possess independently from men. Moreover, her life, property, and honor are as protected as those of man: if she is wronged or harmed, she gets due compensation equal to what a man in her position would get. All of these rights are unmistakably stated in the Scriptures and plainly oppose the distorted version of Islam touted by extremist elements that manipulate and contaminate a clear strong message for the sake of their political agendas.
In an interview with Syed Irfan Ashraf of the Pukhtoonistan Gazette last year,Yousufsai stated, “My strength does not lie in the sword. It lies in the pen.” The efforts of this new world heroine will certainly not go unnoticed. Most certainly her profound faith in our Lord will be rewarded in the same way the Lord provided sustenance to the widow who came to Elisha fearing the creditor who was coming to take her two sons to be his slaves for an unpaid debt of her deceased husband. Just her jar of oil and deep faith was enough for a miracle to be accomplished.”
“Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, “Go, sell the oil, and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.” (2 Kings 4:1-7).
Today, Yousufsai has our Creator’s assurance: “Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of one another. So those who emigrated or were evicted from their homes or were harmed in My cause or fought or were killed – I will surely remove from them their misdeeds, and I will surely admit them to gardens beneath which rivers flow as reward from Allah , and Allah has with Him the best reward.” (Qur’an 3:195)
Photo by Sherkashmiri via Wikimedia Commons.