Malala Yousafzai in Nigeria, Lessons for Muslims

Malala Yousafzai was born into a Sunni Muslim family of Pashtun ethnicity in Mingora, North-West frontier province of Pakistan. She was named after a Malalai in Maiwand, a famous Pashtun poet and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan meaning ‘grief-stricken. Well known for her activism on right to education and women especially in the swat valley, where the Talibans had banned girls from attending school. At the age of 11-12 in early 2009, Malala wrote a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC detailing her life under the Taliban rule and their attempts to take over the valley and her views on promoting education for 22 girls.

As the Pakistani military intervened in the region culminating in the second battle of swat, a documentary was filmed about her life by a journalist Adam B. Ellick from New York Times the following summer. As she rose in prominence, being interviewed on television and prints, she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by South African activist Desmond Tutu. Malala was shot on her way to school by a gunman with colt 45 pointed to her forehead and fired three shots which travelled from her left side of the forehead to her shoulder. She remained unconscious but later transferred to Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham England for intensive rehabilitation after her condition was improved. A group of Islamic clerics in Pakistan issued a fatwa against those who tried to kill her but Taliban reiterated its intent to kill her and her father. The assassination sparked both national and international outpouring support for Yousafzai. She may have become the most famous teenager as the United Nations Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown launched a petition in her name using the slogan ‘I am Malala’ and demanding that all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015—a petition which helped lead to the ratification of Pakistan’s right to Education Bill.

Malala was featured as one of the top 100 most influential in the world on Time magazine and the winner of Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize in April 2013. She officially opened the library of Birmingham in September 2013 after she called for worldwide access to education in July same year. She was also the recipient of the Sakharov prize for last year and in October 2013. The Government of Canada announced its intention that the parliament of Canada has conferred Honorary Canadian citizenship upon Yousafzai. In February 2014, she was nominated for the World Children’s prize in Sweden. She was granted an honorary degree on May 15, 2014 by the University of King’s College in Halifax. The famous girl-child activist  was recently in Nigeria to lend a voice to the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. She campaigned for the release of the Chibok girls in her statement when she met with President Goodluck Jonathan on the day she clocked 17 which is being set aside by the UN as “Malala day”. Malala’s visit has awakened some reactions as the President promised to meet with the parents of the victims and provide scholarship for them. He has equally promised to launch a support fund for the victims of the terror, all courtesy of Malala. Nonetheless, Malala herself has pledged a sum of $200,000 to the education of the Chibok girls. Contrary to the pessimistic and cynical views expressed by some Nigerians on the practical relevance and functional usefulness of the very historic visit to Nigeria by Malala Yousafzai, the home truth is that the struggle for the release of the over 200 Chibok girls from the excruciating captivity of Boko Haram has taken a new dimension.

Of all the celebrities and notable figures who associated themselves with the abduction of Chibok girls, Malala is the only one that has given a practical sympathy by visiting Nigeria. This is solidarity of fellow humans and what Islam truly preaches. Malala has represented women and Muslims all around the world in a manner that incurs peace and solidarity for equality. More Muslims should learn how to speak up and help others. What she has done is a form of Dawah and everyone of us can do that too. She has made Pakistanis proud, the entire Muslim Ummah and the world at large. Brothers and Sisters in Islam; let us emulate good deeds and be our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper. The Hadith of Rosullulahi (pbuh) said "None of you is a believer, until you have wished for your brother what you wished for yourself". "Knowledge is compulsory for all Muslims and we must seek for knowledge even to the edge of the world (India)" (at-Tirmidhi, Hadith 74). This includes seeking knowledge by the girl child.

In Islam, education is not only a right but a responsibility for all males and females. Hence, every Muslim must instil in their minds a desire to seek knowledge. Allah (s.w.t) instructes His Prophet -- and thus all Muslims -- to ask Allah to increase him in knowledge. He said: "And say: My Lord, increase me in knowledge."(Q20:114) Therefore, education should be for both males and females as it is part of seeking knowledge. Mother is the first teacher of the child. It is through women that the next generations of Muslims learn about Islam and our duties towards our creator. Encourage women to search for knowledge as knowledge is indeed light. For Malala’s worldwide activism and clamour on right and access to education for the girl child, for representing women and Muslims all around the world, and for speaking up and advocating for basic human rights of individuals, Malala Yousafzai is a 1one4 Icon. Ma Salam.

Ganiyah Kareem is a scientist and a make-up artist.

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