I Am Malala
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
Malala is a girl from Pakistan who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban. In this book, you will learn her story. The Taliban believed that women should stay at home. Girls should not be given an education. Their role in life is to bear children and do household chores.
But Malala Yousafzai said no. You will learn how a young girl awakened the world about the true situation. You will learn how a young girl challenged nations and gave power to every child. Malala is an inspiration. She is an example of bravery, strong will, and passion.
A Daughter is Born
In our culture, it is a sad day when a girl is born. Rifles are fired to celebrate a baby boy. But baby girls are hidden behind covers. My father is poor. He could not afford to bring my mother to the hospital or pay a midwife. The neighbor next door helped my mother give birth to me.
My uncle was one of the few people who came to visit. He gave some money to his father as a gift. But he also brought our family tree. There written are the names of my ancestors, all traced back to the head of our clan. Not a single woman was listed there.
The Yousafzai clan belonged to the Pashtun community. It is part of our belief and tradition that a woman’s role in life is to give birth and do household chores. But my father was different. He took a pen. Below his name in the family tree, he drew a line and wrote the name that he gave me.
“Malala”. My father said that the moment he laid his eyes on me, he fell in love. He named me after Malalai, who was the greatest heroine of Afghanistan. In 1880, there was a war between the British and the Afghans. England wanted to invade Afghanistan.
Malalai, like the other women in her village, had to take care of the wounded soldiers and give them water. The young heroine saw that the Afghans were losing. She saw her father and betrothed fighting so hard.
She was only a teenager, but she was very brave. Malalai ran into the battlefield. She climbed up to a cliff. She saw that the flag bearer had fallen. Malalai took off her white veil and held it up high. She shouted encouraging words that strengthened the Afghan men.
Malalai was killed by a gunshot but she succeeded. The Afghan men were inspired by her bravery and they fought even harder. That battle was one of the biggest losses of the British army. My father was very proud of the name he had given me. He told Malalai’s story to me quite often.
Our family lived in the Swat valley located in the northeastern part of Pakistan. Our village Minor is surrounded by green mountains, high waterfalls, and clear lakes. To me, it is the most beautiful place in the world.
Growing Up in a School
My father strongly believed in education. It was his life’s dream to open a school. He had worked hard for his own. None of his sisters went to school. My grandfather told him that he could not afford to send my father to college, so my father found his way.
He got involved in student activism. Father is a good speaker and a good debater. He gained his master’s degree in English. After graduating, my father started working as a teacher. Then he found one college friend who agreed to open a school with him.
They called it Khushal School. It is in our hometown Minor. Father had many debts, but he was very determined to push through. He invested all his savings in the school. Father and his friend could not even afford to buy sugar or tea. They started with only three students.
It was around this time that my father and mother got married. He was very devoted to my mother. Father was very driven to provide for his family and to keep running the school. There was even a typhoon and a flash flood which destroyed both our house and the school. Father made the difficult decision of selling their mother’s wedding bangles.
Mother was afraid for him to know that their firstborn was a girl. But father was very happy when he saw me. He told his friend that I’m a lucky girl. He said that good fortune came when I was born.
Our small family moved into one vacant room in the school. At the time, there were already 100 students and five teachers. Each student paid 100 rupees monthly. My father had many roles. He was a teacher. But he was also the accountant and the principal. He even cleaned the walls, the floors, and all the bathrooms.
There was little money left for food. Father had to pay the teacher’s salary and the school building’s rent. But after several months, the school started to break even. Father loved education so much. I share that passion with him.
I’m very happy to grow up in a school. When I was three years old, I was included in classes of older children. I listened to the teachers and enjoyed the lectures. Sometimes, I pretended to be a teacher. I would go to the front and say the words that I could to the empty chairs.
When I learned to read, I became very fond of books. I just love learning so much and I always study hard. I was fortunate to be able to. My mother had never learned to read. My grandfather brought her to school when she was 6 years old. She was the only girl in her class.
Mother became jealous of her girl cousins who could stay at home and play. One day, my mother sold all her books and bought some candies. No one asked her about what she did. She grew up illiterate like many women in our village.
The Mufti Who Tried to Close Our School
A mufti is a man who is an expert on Islamic law. He is an Islamic scholar. Khushal School was doing great. Father accepted both boys and girls. For the first time, my mother could afford to buy clothes and give some food to our poorer neighbors. But a rich man was living in front of our school who strongly disagreed about education for girls.
The man called himself a mufti. But father said that not everyone who wears a turban can claim to be a mufti. This mufti was very angry with their father. He was very mad about seeing girls going in and out of the school.
One day, the mufti told the woman who owned the school building that her father was bringing shame to our community. That he was running a haram school. The mufti offered to rent the building for a madrasa instead. But the landlady shoved it off. She even warned her father about mufti.
The old man became frustrated about this. The mufti talked to some influential people and gathered the elders of the village. One night, they all came to our house. There were seven of them.
The mufti began by saying “I am here to represent all the good Muslims.” He said that the Khushal School was a haram. It was blasphemy. Mufti ordered their father to immediately close it. The old man also said that all girls should be wearing purdah. They should be always kept in private.
Mufti argued that even God didn’t name any single woman in the Quran. But father was ready to defend our school. He said that Maryam, the mother of Isa or Jesus is mentioned several times in the Quran. She is a good woman and a good example.
But the mufti would not give up. He said that many men pass by our school. It was not good for them to see the girls going about. So, the father gave a solution. He proposed to the elders that the Khushal School have a gate at the back. The girls can enter from there.
The mufti was furious, but the elders were satisfied with the father’s proposal. They left in peace. What mufti did not know was his niece was a student in our school.
The Taliban came to our village when I was ten years old. In the early days, they didn’t even label themselves as Taliban. They also did not dress like the usual Taliban we see in pictures. They don’t wear turbans and they don’t shade their eyes with black. Instead, the men wore camouflage vests. They had long beards, and they don’t cut their hair.
The leader of the group was Maulana Fazlullah. He was 28 years old. He was a militant leader who married his daughter. The first thing that Fazlullah did in Minor was set up his illegal radio station. It was called the Mullah FM.
At first, Fazlullah spread wise words in his station. He introduced himself as an interpreter of the Quran and an Islamic reformer. My mother used to like Radio Mullah. He taught people to change bad habits and to continue good habits. He told the men to stop smoking tobacco and to avoid using hashish.
Radio Mullah often cried when he talked about his love for Islam. He warned people about sinful acts like dancing, watching movies, and listening to music. He said that these bad activities were the reason why we have earthquakes. Radio Mullah said that dancing makes God angry.
Mullah FM became the talk of the town. Many people admired Fazlullah. They listened to his teachings and followed his advice. Months after, people threw away all their CDs, DVDs, and even television sets. Fazlullah’s men gathered all these items on the streets and burned them there.
I and my siblings were worried that my father would throw at our TV too. But he reassured us. Father did not believe in Fazlullah. He said that the man was not a true scholar. He misinterpreted the Quran because he knew that the villagers did not know Arabic. Father said that Fazlullah was spreading ignorance and not wisdom.
We hide our TV inside the cupboard. We kept it at a low volume whenever we watched. People told their fathers that Fazlullah was an intelligent scholar. That he should come to meet the mullah. But father said no. Fazlullah was a high school drop-out. The name he uses was not even his real name.
There was a part of the radio show where Fazlullah dictated the names of sinful men. He said, “Mr. X has stopped smoking tobacco. I congratulate him.” “Mr. Y has kept his long beard. He is a good example.” “Mr. Z has closed down his CD shop. He would be rewarded.” The people liked this part the most because they could gossip with their neighbors.
Father’s friend, the one who started the school with him, warned us. He said that this was how militants work. First, they win the hearts of the people. They gain their trust. The militants blame the government and pose themselves as a hero. They take time to get the support of the majority.
It was often that Fazlullah addressed the women in his shows. He would say, “Men please go out. I would like to talk only to the women.” He knew that most men were at work and most women were at home. Fazlullah said that women were meant to stay at home and do the chores. It was their responsibility.
Fazlullah also said that women should not go outside. They should only go out when there’s an emergency. And they should always wear the veil. Fazlullah’s men confiscate fancy clothes from women they saw and displayed the clothes in the street so that the others would not follow.
Many of my friends’ mothers listened to Fazlullah. They praised him and they admired his long hair. They admired the manly way he rode his horse. They also said that he behaved like Muhammad. My father was horrified.
I was confused by what Fazlullah said. I didn’t read anywhere in the Quran that women should stay at home all day to do household chores while the men are out to work. I learned in school that Muhammad’s first wife was a business woman. Her name was Khadijah.
Fazlullah also said that girls should not be allowed to go to school. He congratulated girls who stopped their education. He said “Miss A has stopped going to school today. She will go to heaven.” “Miss B has stopped her education. We congratulate her.” Girls who go to school like me were called buffaloes and sheep.
I asked my father one day. Why does Fazlullah tell girls not to go to school? Father said that it’s because men like him were afraid of education and of the power that it gives.
The Bloody Square
Shabana was a graceful dancer. We liked seeing her perform in Mingor. She lived in Banr Bazaar. It is a street famous for musicians and dancers. One night, a group of men knocked on Shabana’s door. They asked her to dance. Shabana went to her room to change into dancing clothes. When she returned to the men, she saw their guns aimed at her.
They said that they would slit her throat. Shabana begged for her life. “Please don’t kill me. I promise I won’t ever sing or dance again. For God’s sake, I am a woman, A Muslim woman. Please spare my life.” the neighbors heard her scream. They also heard many gunshots.
Shabana’s dead body was dragged to Green Chowk Square. Other dead bodies were dumped there in the following days. That’s why the place came to be known as the Bloody Square.
Fazlullah talked about Shabana’s death the next morning. He said that she deserved to die. Fazlullah said that Shabana was immoral. He also said that the other girls like Shabana who perform in Banr Bazaar would die one after another. We used to be proud of our musicians and artists in our valley. But most of them are gone.
The situation had gone from bad to worse. We heard the news of houses being bombed. We heard of schools being blown up. Every day there were public whippings in the Bloody Square. There was a male teacher who refused to wear his shalwar the way the Taliban did. He argued with them. Fazlullah’s men hung the teacher and shot his father dead.
I could not understand what the Taliban were trying to do. They abused Islam. They forced people to accept Islam by putting a gun to their heads. Wouldn’t it be better if they instead show good examples of being a Muslim, if they really want people to believe in Islam?
Father and his friends began to organize. But most of them were scared to talk. Father was outspoken about his views. For him, it’s better to die than to keep silent. In one press conference, Father demanded the Pakistani army fight the Taliban and arrest the commanders. The following day, Father’s name was announced on Mullah FM. He received many death threats after that. But Father wasn’t scared.
The Diary of Gul Makai
There was a radio respondent from BBC who was looking for a schoolgirl or a female teacher to write a diary about the Taliban. He wanted people to know about what was really happening in our valley. My school mate Ayesha agreed but her father found out and kept her from doing it.
I heard my father talk about this. I immediately thought, “Why not me?” I told father that I wanted the people to know. Education was a right. It is written in the Quran that all people should seek knowledge. Everyone should study hard and strive to learn the mysteries of the world. Every child, boy or girl, should go to school.
I never had a diary. I didn’t know how to begin. We owned a computer but there were often power failures, and we didn’t have Internet. Hai Kakar, the BBC radio respondent, called me at night through my mother’s cell phone. He used his wife’s cell phone because the one he owned was bugged by intelligence groups.
Hai Kakar helped me organize my thoughts. He first asked me how my day went. He asked me to tell some stories and to talk about my dreams. Our calls usually lasted 30-45 minutes. Hai Kakar transcribed my words, and he published them once a week on the BBC website.
He told me that I couldn’t use my real name. It was too dangerous. Hai Kakar suggested the pseudonym “Gul Makai.” It was taken from the heroine of one folk story. Gul Makai’s story resembles that of Romeo and Juliet.
Gul Makai fell in love with someone she shouldn’t. She and Musa Khan went to the same school. They fell deeply in love with each other. However, they came from warring families. When Gul Makai and Musa Khan’s relationship was found, it caused a war.
Their love story didn’t end in tragedy though. Gul Makai talked to her elders. She told them that war is bad. She said that the fighting should end at once. Gul Makai asked the elders to permit her and Musa Khan to continue their love.
My story was first published on the website in January 2009. The first entry was entitled “I am afraid.” I wrote about the dreams I was having. I dreamed about the Taliban surrounding our house. I dreamed about military helicopters above our roof.
That afternoon, when I was walking home from school, I heard a man behind me say “I will kill you.” I walked fast. After a while, I looked behind. I was relieved to see that the man was talking on his phone.
It felt different to see my words there on the website. I was very shy at first but later, I gained more confidence. Hai Kakar told me that he liked that my sentences were raw. That they were a mix of my school life, my family story, and the things we experienced from the Taliban.
My classmates saw the BBC website and started talking about Gul Makai’s diary. One of them printed out one story and showed it to my father. “It’s very good” was all that Father said. He smiled. He was proud of what I had been doing.
There were some newspapers that took parts from the website and published them. BBC made a recording of my words with another girl’s voice. That was the time I realized that words are more powerful than guns, tanks, and helicopters.
The Taliban gave a deadline for girls to stop going to school. They ordered our school to stop operating altogether. On our last day, I and my friends lingered at school for a few more hours. I really didn’t want to stop my education. When I arrived home, I cried so hard. I was only 11 years old. But I felt that I had lost everything.
A Funny Kind of Peace
12,000 Pakistani soldiers were sent by the government in our region. They came to pacify the Taliban. They had tanks, helicopters, and big guns. One night in February 2009, we woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of gunfire.
It was a celebration. News spread that the government and the Taliban had created a peace deal. The government agreed to put our province under sharia law. In exchange, the Taliban should stop their violent activities.
It started with a 10-day truce. Then it was announced that the peace deal would be passed into law. There would be an indefinite ceasefire.
It was a funny kind of peace though. Months had passed and still, the Taliban patrolled our streets. They carried their guns and hoisted their flags around. The situation did not change. The Taliban even became more barbaric.
My mother and her cousin went shopping at Cheena Bazaar. They wanted to buy some stuff for our cousin’s wedding. The Taliban blocked their way and threatened them. The mother and her cousin had their scarf, but they were not wearing burqas. The Taliban said that if they were seen again without burqas, they would be whipped in public.
There was also a shopkeeper who was beaten because a woman came into his shop unaccompanied by her husband. Many people saw the shopkeeper suffering but nobody came to help him.
There was a teenage girl flogged on the ground. She screamed very loud. She pleaded for her life. The teenage girl was seen wearing a black burqa with red trousers. Because of that, she was publicly beaten. Whenever her burqa fell off, the Taliban stopped to arrange it, and then they continued beating her again. The girl was whipped 34 times.
The prime minister announced in July 2009 that the Taliban had finally been cleared out. He promised that our lives would go back to normal. In August, our school was reopened again. My classmates knew that I was Gul Makai.
I heard my father and his friends talk at our home. The Taliban was not an organized group they said. It was a mentality. And this Taliban mentality had spread everywhere in our country. Private Talibanisation refers to our own countrymen who strongly disagree with the government, with English Law, and with anything American.
These extremists were among us forcing people to follow and using violent measures to make people live as they do. One night, my father received very bad news. One of his friends and co-activist had been shot in the face. Zahid Khan was on his way to the mosque when he was attacked.
When he heard about this, his father felt as if the earth fell below his feet. He felt that he had also been shot. Father was sure that the next one would be him.
Mother begged him not to go to the hospital, but he was determined to see Zahid Khan. When he arrived, few of his fellow assemblymen were there. They told the father that he shouldn’t be there. It was very dangerous for him. They told him to go home and not to put himself at risk.
Zahid Khan was lucky. The man shot him 3 times. Zahid Khan was able to grab the hand of his attacker. Only one bullet reached his body. It went through his neck and came out from his nose.
Father’s best friend said that it could have been him. Father was the spokesperson of their group. It was not possible that he would be spared. Still, Father continued with his duties. Aside from being the spokesperson of Swat Quami Jirga, he was also the president of the Global Peace Council and the president of the Swat Association of Private Schools.
The only precaution that Father did was to change his routine. Every day, he changed his schedule. Whenever he was out on the street, he looked around him several times. Father was very brave. He kept on holding press conferences and he kept on expressing his protest against the Taliban.
Who is Malala?
Our school bus suddenly stopped that afternoon. We couldn’t see it from the inside but a young man with a beard came in front of our van. He asked our driver “Is this the Khushal School bus? I need information about some children.”
I was sitting beside my friend Moniba at the back. Our favorite spot was beside the door. That way we could see everything as we passed through. It was the day of our exams. I was worried about the papers that I had to submit the next day.
Another man came to the door. He was wearing a cap. His mouth was covered with a handkerchief. “Who is Malala?” he shouted. All of us were shocked. No one answered. But then the girls couldn’t help but look my way. I was the only one without the cover on my face.
Right then, the man held up the gun. Three shots were fired. The first one went to my left eye and exited on my left shoulder. I tumbled down on Moniba’s lap. Blood dripped out of my left ear. The second and third bullets hit my classmates Shazia and Kainat in their arms.
I didn’t hear the gunshots. What I heard was the sound of chicken heads being chopped one by one. Chop, chop, chop. All the other girls cried. Our bus driver immediately rushed to the hospital.
They have snatched her smile.
My father was in a meeting when he heard the news. He was about to give a speech. Journalists were already gathered outside when he arrived. Father’s heart was broken seeing me lying like that.
“My beautiful daughter, my brave daughter” he kept saying to me. Father kissed my nose, my cheeks, and my forehead. He spoke in English. Somehow, he knew that I could hear him.
Father never thought that the Taliban would come for me. He thought that he was the target. But Father realized and he felt like he was hit by thunder. The attack was like killing two birds with one stone. If I die, Father will surely lose all his strength to protest and fight.
I was taken to a military hospital where an army doctor operated on me. My brain was swollen. Colonel Junaid took part of my skull so that my brain would have space to expand. He took out the bullet and the bone splinters that he found.
Many people came to the hospital. Ministers, government officials, and reporters were outside. Even the governor of our province came to visit. A British doctor named Dr. Fiona took care of my recovery. The hospitals in Pakistan were inadequate. I was put into a coma. But eventually, I developed an infection because of a lack of sanitation and necessary equipment.
The royal family of the United Arab Emirates offered to fly me on their private plane to a hospital in the UK. The whole world was outraged about what had happened to me. The good thing was that by shooting me, the Taliban made my campaign heard internationally.
I had been joining Father in his activities. Sometimes, I gave speeches at his press conferences. All children, boys, and girls should be given an education. They should not be kept ignorant and they should be given equal opportunities in life.
The secretary general of the UN Ban-Ki-Moon said that my shooting was a cowardly and heinous act. US President Barack Obama said that it was disgusting, reprehensible, and tragic.
I woke up a week later alone in the ICU. I knew that I was not in Pakistan anymore. All the equipment and the surroundings were very modern. I could not speak. There was a tube in my throat. I could not move my left arm. I could not hear out of my left ear. My left eye was covered in a bandage.
The nurses and the doctors kept me company. They reassured me that my family would come, and that all my expenses would be covered. Meanwhile, more people came to see me. I received 8,000 letters from everywhere around the world. I received gifts, chocolates, clothes, and even teddy bears.
As I regained my strength, the UN envoy for education Gordon Brown began a petition entitled “I am Malala.” He said that not a single child should be denied education by the year 2015. I received a message from my favorite actress Angelina Jolie. Beyonce wrote me a card. Madonna dedicated a song to me.
I cried and cried when I finally saw my family. Father and mother were sad though because I couldn’t smile. Half of my hair was gone. The left side of my face has changed a lot. I told my parents that it doesn’t matter if I can’t smile or blink. What matters is that I’m still alive.
I underwent a few more operations. My facial nerve was fixed by an expert neurosurgeon. I got a cochlear implant in my ears and the doctors also put a titanium plate to fix my skull. Eventually, I was able to smile again. My family and I moved to Birmingham, UK. We were glad to be together, but we longed for the mountains and valleys of Pakistan.
On my 16th birthday, I flew to New York. I was invited to speak in front of the United Nations assembly. I took the opportunity to say what was truly in my heart. 400 delegates were present, but I knew that I was speaking to the whole world.
I knew that my words could make a difference. I wanted to reach all people living in poverty. I want to reach all the children who experience forced labor, terrorism, and lack of education. I wanted to stand up for their rights.
Most importantly, I pleaded to the world leaders to give free education to every boy and girl. I said that the book and the pen are our most powerful weapons in life. “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.”
Malala is the youngest receiver of the Nobel Peace Prize. She started the Malala Fund foundation with her father. She studies in the UK and continues her campaign for education. She has been helping school children in Africa, Pakistan, and other parts of the world. Malala is now 22 years old. She lives in Birmingham with her father, mother, and two younger brothers.