Among the names of the champions of civil rights are Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, and now Malala Yousafzai. Malala Yousafzai, the ebullient and precocious 14 year old from the idyllic Swat valley in northern Pakistan, has been an outspoken advocate for the right of girls to education for many years. Malala was first discovered when she began blogging on BBC in what was entitled a Diary of A Pakistani Schoolgirl, in which she detailed the angst, fear, and hope of an 11 year old young girl living in Peshawar in 2009 during the Taliban takeover of the city. Since that time, Malala has been been a voice of courage against the oppression of the Taliban, and her voice has been carried throughout the world by news agencies in interviews such as the one by CNN below:
In the above interview, when CNN’s Reza Sayah asks Malala what she would tell a young girl who is scared and just wants to stay in her room, she responded with a maturity beyond her years, stating:
“I would tell her don’t stay in your room because God will ask you on the Day of Judgment, ‘Where were you when your people were asking you, when your schoolfellows were asking you [for help]? You should come up… you should stand up for their rights.'”
Malala’s courage in speaking out against the injustice and misrepresentation of Islam that is carried out by the Taliban is a shining beacon of light for people everywhere, but most acutely in Pakistan, to pay heed to.
With regard to speaking out against injustice, Allah (the arabic term for God) instructs mankind to speak out against injustice. In The Holy Quran, Surah [Chapter] Al- Maidah [The Table], verse 8, Allah states:
“O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to Piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.”
Furthermore, in Surah Al-Nisa [The Women], verse 35, Allah states:
“O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.”
Islam stands for enlightenment, not ignorance; upliftment, not abasement; liberation, not oppression and enslavement. The very first words of revelation to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) were “Iqra!” [Read!]. Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him instructed: Acquire knowledge even if you may have to go to China for it. [Narrated by al-Bazzar in al-Musnad, 1:175 §95.] This instruction is gender neutral. The idea that only males have a right to be educated is anathema to true Islam, and it is the duty of Muslims to take ownership of their religion and stand against such backward cultural baggage that is being cloaked in religious authority.
One of the first and most celebrated scholars of Islam was a woman. Aisha Al-Siddiqa, referred to as one of the Mothers of the Believers, was a scholar, jurist, narrator of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and an intellectual. She was outspoken and is reported to have narrated over 2,000 traditions. Later, there were the likes of Zainab bint Kamal, who taught more than 400 books of hadith, Fatimah bint Muhammad al Samarqandi and Umm al-Darda, respectively, who counted the caliph of the time as among her students. It should also not be forgotten that one of the wonders of the world and a symbol of everlasting love to this day, the Taj Mahal, was built by the Muslim ruler of India, Shah Jahan, out of honor and love for his late wife, Mumtaz.
Under Islam, women are not to be treated as chattel, but as independent individuals with rights that are to be enshrined in and protected by the laws of the land. In the last sermon of the Prophet Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), he stated:
O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you… Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and comitted helpers.
Later in the final sermon, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) unequivocally stated:
YOU ARE ALL EQUAL. NOBODY HAS SUPERIORITY OVER ANOTHER EXCEPT BY PIETY AND GOOD ACTION.
The right to seek education, to marry and divorce freely, to move about freely, to earn a livelihood and to inherit property are just a few of the basic rights every person, regardless of sex, race, or religious affiliation, possesses. Malala Yousafzai stood up for her right to education, a right that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) secured when he stated: “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim man and woman.” At the time of the writing of this post, Malala’s life is in critical condition and her future is unknown… and the response that the world, and in particular, Muslims, make to this blatant attack on the values of equality and justice in Islam today will dictate who speaks for Islam tomorrow.