Malala Yousafzai is not a normal teenager, why expect her to be?

Published: October 8, 2013
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PHOTO: AFP

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

These were the poignant words spoken with such simplicity by Malala Yousufzai at the special Youth Assembly held by the United Nations on July 12, 2013 – Malala’s 16th birthday – to pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of the young Pakistani girl.

Malala, as we all know, is that special Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in Swat, Pakistan last year on October 9, 2012. Already the world is enthusiastic to celebrate the anniversary of the fight that she put up against all odds of not only surviving bullet wounds to the head, but using her utmost will power in regaining her vocal skills and continuing to make her mark on the world.

There are those who are waiting for the launch of her book, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban, marking the anniversary of her shooting; and there are also those who are hoping and praying that she will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday October 11, 2013; if she does, this will make her the youngest ever winner of the award.

And then there are those, like Rob Crilly, who hope that Malala doesn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Why, you wonder?

Simply because Rob Crilly believes that Malala has been through too much at the tender age of sixteen and she deserves to lead life like a normal teenager. He writes that she should be allowed to give her GCSEs and A-levels in peace, and pursue her dream to be a doctor.

If this was any other child, I would agree with Crilly.

However, this is Malala – the girl who blogged anonymously for BBC Urdu – chronicling life under the Taliban, the changing socio-political landscape in Swat and her hopes for education in Pakistan, especially for girls. This is Malala who appeared in Hamid Mir’s program broadcast from Swat in 2009, in which she spoke about the public right to education. This is Malala who was shot by grown men just for being a girl pursuing her education and this is Malala who not only survived, but went on to speak at the Youth Assembly just months after her shooting. This is Malala who was able to communicate in writing upon gaining consciousness, almost a week after the shooting; and her communication was in English – her third language. This is Malala, for whom hundreds of schoolchildren, especially girls, are praying that she wins the prestigious prize.

This is Malala who has never really cared about just herself but has always worked towards a bigger goal.

Malala’s struggle for education has never been only personal. She realised the importance of education at a very early age, under her father’s tutelage and encouragement. Her home town of Swat, in its pre-Taliban days, was the centre of tourism and education in Pakistan. Although always a less-developed area, the valley became known across Pakistan for its engineers and teachers, and Swatis were proud of carrying a pen in their pocket as an indicator of being well-read and literate.

Malala’s dream has been to revive that Swat and improve upon it. Moreover, she is a proponent of education for girls because she realised that in her society it is easy for boys to become whatever they choose to, while girls and their dreams are always suppressed. Her dream is to empower the women of her country with education so that they never have to give up on their dreams and she has been absolutely undeterred in achieving this.

Malala’s first thought upon regaining consciousness speaks volumes for her cause. She opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was that she was in a hospital surrounded by nurses and doctors. She said,

“O Allah (SWT), I thank you because you have given me a new life and I am alive.”

Right now she is adjusting to a completely different life in Birmingham, England. Apart from co-authoring her book and being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala is living away from her home and family, trying to make new friends in a very different environment; not to mention the criticism that she is receiving from the conspiracy theorists for ‘switching sides and becoming a puppet’.

Just a move away from the comfort of one’s home can be traumatic for a sixteen-year-old and this transition has been so much more drastic for Malala given that she has always been a target. However, Malala has looked all these challenges in the eye. In fact, the ever-optimistic and the always visionary says in her book,

“I was spared for a reason – to use my life for helping people.”

The issue right now is not about winning the Nobel Peace Prize, although it may just add more credibility to her name and her cause in the long-run. Questioned about her nomination for the prize, she said,

“If I win Nobel Peace Prize, it would be a great opportunity for me, but if I don’t get it, it’s not important because my goal is not to get Nobel Peace Prize, my goal is to get peace and my goal is to see the education of every child.”

Hence, we, the by-standers and speculators need to understand that her book, her current residence in England and her nomination are not the core issues at hand. There is more to her cause and perhaps, her destiny, than all of that put together.

Although I truly believe that every individual comes into this world with a purpose, there are some whose cause is more exceptional and has far-reaching consequences. Malala, I believe, is one of those people and she understood this at a very young age.

She is not a normal teenager; so why expect her to be?

Ayesha Amin

Ayesha Amin

The author is a lover of the written word, the beating heart and the many blessings of life! She tweets as @AminAyesha (twitter.com/AminAyesha)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.