I Am Malala

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Themes and Colors
Women’s Rights Theme Icon
The Power of Education Theme Icon
Islam and Its Interpretations Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Fame, Power, and the Importance of Role Models Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in I Am Malala, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Power of Education Theme Icon

From the first scene—in which Malala is shot by the Taliban for riding a bus to school—to the final chapter—in which Malala lobbies for a UN resolution in favor of universal education—I Am Malala celebrates the importance of education. It could be said that education determines the way Malala comes of age: the more she learns, the more she recognizes the value of learning, and the more mature she becomes.

Education empowers people, not only by giving them knowledge that they can use to gain power, but by encouraging them to have confidence in themselves. Ziauddin, Malala’s father, knows this first-hand. As a child, he struggles to overcome a stammer and assert himself before his proud, intimidating father, Rohul Amin. Ziauddin studies literature and rhetoric, eventually winning a series of prestigious speaking competitions. In this way, he overcomes his stammer, and develops the drive and work ethic that continue to make him a successful political figure for years afterwards. From an early age, Malala is aware of Ziauddin’s self-education. One of the earliest parts of her education, one might say, is her realization that she can do anything with the proper studying and preparation.

As Malala grows up, her respect for education grows. While she does well on her exams (usually ranking at the top of her class), her most important moments of learning come when she sees the impact of education on others. This is particularly clear in the chapter where Malala goes to Islamabad with her father’s friend, Shiza Shahid. In the large, cosmopolitan city, Malala is overjoyed to see women with professional careers and strong, forceful personalities. Each of these women tells Malala the same thing: pursue your education at all costs. It’s no coincidence that when Malala returns to her native town of Mingora, she throws herself into her political projects: condemning the Taliban for their opposition to universal education, making radio broadcasts, and reaching out to struggling women around her country. Malala’s coming-of-age largely consists of her increasing recognition of the value of learning.

There’s never a moment in I Am Malala where Malala has serious doubts about the value of education—indeed, the only change in her attitude toward education is that she comes to value it more and more. As the book ends, Malala is stronger and more mature than ever, and thus, more confident about the value of education. In the final chapter, she embarks on her most ambitious project yet: a United Nations resolution designed to ensure an education for every child on the planet.

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The Power of Education ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Power of Education appears in each chapter of I Am Malala. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Power of Education Quotes in I Am Malala

Below you will find the important quotes in I Am Malala related to the theme of The Power of Education.
Chapter 3 Quotes

[My father] believes strongly in freedom of speech. “First, let’s read the book and then why not respond with our own book,” he suggested. He ended by asking in a thundering voice my grandfather would have been proud of, “Is Islam such a weak religion that it cannot tolerate a book written against it? Not my Islam!”

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker), Ziauddin Yousafzai (speaker), Rohul Amin
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Malala describes her father's actions during the 1980s, with regard to one of the most infamous events of the decade: the fatwah placed on the life of Salman Rushdie. Rushdie, a celebrated English-language Indian author, wrote a book called The Satanic Verses, in which he wrote about the prophet Muhammed and satirized elements of Islam. Since "depicting" Muhammed in any way was strictly taboo in Islam, there were some fundamentalist Muslims who wanted Rushdie to be punished or even killed for his book.

Yet here, Malala clarifies that while there were many Muslims who wanted to hurt Rushdie, not all did. Some, like Malala's father, Ziauddin, argued that Muslims shouldn't attack Rushdie simply because they disagreed with him. Ziauddin made it clear that he was a proper, righteous Muslim--and yet he also argued for the freedom of speech: Rushdie must be allowed to say whatever he wanted, even if many people found it offensive or heretical. The Salman Rushdie affair is still an acid test for intellectuals throughout the world: some treat the incident as proof that Islam is a fundamentally violent religion, one that can't handle any criticism of its principles. There are even some who've used the Rushdie affair to suggest that Mulsims themselves are dangerous. Yet Malala makes it clear that such assumptions are just offensive stereotypes. There were many more Muslims, such as Zaiuddin, who respected Rushdie's right to write whatever he wanted.


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Chapter 6 Quotes

Some of our religious people saw Osama bin Laden as a hero. In the bazaar you could buy posters of him on a white horse and boxes of sweets with his picture on them. These clerics said 9/11 was revenge on the Americans for what they had been doing to other people round the world, but they ignored the fact that the people in the World Trade Center were innocent and had nothing to do with American policy and that the Holy Quran clearly says it is wrong to kill. Our people see conspiracies behind everything, and many argued that the attack was actually carried out by Jews as an excuse for America to launch a war on the Muslim world. Some of our newspapers printed stories that no Jews went to work at the World Trade Center that day. My father said this was rubbish.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker), Ziauddin Yousafzai
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

Malala discusses the aftermath of September 11, 2011, when Osama Bin Laden engineered the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. While bin Laden's actions were regarded as war crimes throughout much of the world, Malala explains that bin Laden was regarded as a hero by some in her own country. Bin Laden was praised for getting "revenge" on the United States, a country that, it was widely agreed, caused violence and death throughout the Middle East.

Malala makes it crystal-clear that she doesn't agree with this opinion. She takes pains to show that the people in her country who supported 9/11 weren't thinking clearly at all--they just used 9/11 to air their grievances against Jews, American imperialists, etc. Malala shows that the Pakistani response to 9/11 was rooted in ignorance more than anything else. She also stresses that there is absolutely no Islamic justification for Bin Laden's terrorism: the Quran is explicitly against murder. In short, the people who use Islam as a justification for terrorism are simply bad Muslims.

Chapter 8 Quotes

Mullah from the TNSM preached that the earthquake was a warning from God. If we did not mend our ways and introduce shariat or Islamic law, they shouted in their thundering voices, more severe punishment would come.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker)
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

Shortly after September 11, 2001, there is an earthquake in Pakistan. Many Pakistani people--supported by their mullahs, or religious leaders--believed that the earthquake was a sign from Allah, telling Muslims to fight America by any means necessary. The earthquake was also used to justify the imposition of strict "Muslim" law: women were forbidden to go to school, for example.

As Malala makes clear, the earthquake is a classic confusion of causation and correlation. Certain leaders can use earthquakes and other natural disasters to justify their radical interpretations of Islam--but things could just as easily go the opposite way (i.e., the earthquake is punishment for those who use Islam to oppress and kill others, etc.). Malala implies that education could dispel confusion about the causes of earthquakes and encourage the people of Pakistan to think more rationally about the world and about their religion.

Chapter 9 Quotes

In the beginning Fazlullah was very wise. He introduced himself as an Islamic reformer and an interpreter of the Quran. My mother is very devout, and to start with she liked Fazlullah. He used his station to encourage people to adopt good habits and abandon practices he said were bad.

Related Characters: Malauna Fazlullah
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

Malala describes an important Taliban leader, Malauna Fazlullah. Fazlullah first became prominent in the early 2000s. He painted himself as a moderate: instead of advocating for women wearing burqas and jihadists killing American soldiers, he talked about smaller, more reasonable-sounding reforms. Only later did Fazlullah begin saying what was really on his mind.

As Malala suggests, Fazlullah was a cynical manipulator. He knew that what he believed would come across as barbaric to many, so he tried to slowly "adjust" people to his point of view little by little. Like the proverbial frog in a pot of water, Fazlullah's Muslim listeners slowly became more and more used to radical points of view. Malala implies that the interpretation of Islam advocated by the Taliban (as Fazlullah) is irrational and counterintuitive--people have to be "tricked" into believing it. By contrast, Malala argues that her own pacifist interpretation of Islam is reasonable and based on education and knowledge.

Chapter 10 Quotes

We don’t have any option. We are dependent on these mullahs to learn the Quran,” he said. “But you just use him to learn the literal meanings of the words; don’t follow his explanations and interpretations. Only learn what God says. His words are divine messages, which you are free to interpret.”

Related Characters: Ziauddin Yousafzai (speaker), Malala Yousafzai
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Malala's father gives her instructions about how to relate to Islam. The Pakistani people rely on mullahs, holy men, to interpret Islam: mullahs are trained to read the Quran accurately and carefully and offer a logical reading of the text. But Zaiuddin (Malala's father) has come to see that many of the mullahs in Pakistan can't be trusted any more: they're too political, and too willing to throw in their lot with the Taliban, encouraging ordinary people to subjugate women and hurt the innocent.

Because the mullahs of Pakistan can't be trusted, Zaiuddin encourages Malala to adopt an unusual approach to Islam: instead of believing in the teachings of an appointed religious leader, she should use them to learn the Quran herself and develop her own interpretations of the text. While there are many Muslims who would find Ziauddin's approach simply incorrect (or even heretical), it has some notable advantages. For instance, by reading the Quran herself, Malala moves past the sexism of her society. Mullahs in Pakistan give sexist, biased interpretations of the Quran, in no small part because they're men themselves. Malala, as a woman, is more likely to read the Quran in terms of equality between the sexes. In short, Ziauddin doesn't want Malala to "rebel" against Islam: he wants his daughter to be less biased, and therefore more truly Islamic, then the mullahs themselves.

Chapter 11 Quotes

It was school that kept me going in those dark days.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker)
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

In the mid to late 2000s, life is rough in Pakistan. The country has been torn apart by war between American soldiers and Taliban fighters. Entire communities have been destroyed in the crossfire. In these dark times, Malala always turns back to education. School is more than a place for learning--for Malala, school is a place where she can be optimistic about her future; confident that her lessons in math, writing, and history will help her become a more successful, happy adult. Malala also shows readers that school is a place of fun and laughter: she and her classmates have a great time putting on plays and pageants that distract everyone from the hardships of Pakistani life. In all, Malala uses this chapter to paint a picture of education as a force for good--not just a luxury, but a necessity for all human beings.

Chapter 13 Quotes

The Taliban’s deadline was drawing closer: girls had to stop going to school. How could they stop more than 50,000 girls from going to school in the twenty-first century? I kept hoping something would happen and the schools would remain open. But finally the deadline was upon us.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker)
Page Number: 158
Explanation and Analysis:

As the first decade of the 2000s comes to an end, the Taliban issue a threat: all girls must stop going to school or be punished for their supposed defiance of Islamic law. On some level, Malala wants to believe that the girls of her country will defy the Taliban's pompous threat--there are more than 50,000 of them, after all. But then again, Malala knows the truth: the Taliban is powerful and intimidating enough that the young women of Pakistan will withdraw from their schools to save their own lives.

In one way, the fact that the Taliban succeed in banning women from school is a massive victory for their ideology. The Taliban maintain that good Muslim women must be docile and subservient to men: they should spend most of their time in the home, and certainly not bother with education. By threatening the young women of their country, the Taliban have "succeeded" in enacting their dubious interpretation of the religion. But on another level, the Taliban's threat is a sign of weakness. The Taliban, we can tell, are genuinely scared of women: like Muhammed Ali Jinnah, they recognize that there's nothing more powerful than educated, ambitious women. That the Taliban, with all their guns and bombs, could be so intimidated by the prospect of girls learning math shows how weak they really are, and how bankrupt their interpretation of Islam ultimately is.

Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow. Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker)
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Malala offers one of her most powerful arguments foe the importance of education. There are some Muslims--the Taliban leaders, for example--who maintain that education is dangerous for women. Education, it's argued, teaches women to be ambitious, competitive, and generally disobey men--therefore, it's best for women to stay out of schools and serve their husbands.

Malala, by contrast, argues that education is a basic human right, not an affront to religious faith. Whether the student is Muslim, Christian, or atheist, it's morally wrong to deny her the freedom to attend school. The crux of Malala's point is that only with education can a woman (or a man) become a good Muslim: only when a student learns about all the religions and ideas in the world can she truly choose to become a Muslim. In general, then, Malala supports the notion of a "marketplace of ideas." Instead of threatening or intimidating people into accepting Islam, Malala wants Islam to be an available option for the people of the world, open to study and analysis. Ironically, Malala is much more confident in the power of Islam than the Taliban are: where the Taliban think it's necessary to bully people into embracing the faith, Malala is sure that people will choose it freely, simply because it's right.

Chapter 14 Quotes

A few days later the video was everywhere. A woman filmmaker in Islamabad got hold of it and it was shown on Pakistan TV over and over, and then around the world. People were rightly outraged, but this reaction seemed odd to us as it showed they had no idea of the awful things going on in our valley. I wish their outrage extended to the Taliban’s banning of girls’ education.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker)
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

In the city of Islamabad, a woman is savagely beaten for "daring" to buy makeup from a store, and someone manages to capture the horrific incident on video. The video quickly becomes a sensation: for some, proof that Pakistan has become a violent, repressive country that doesn't tolerate freedom for women.

Malala's reaction to the notoriety of the video is interesting, both for what she says and what she leaves unsaid. Malala insists that the video, while important, distracts from an equally important human rights issue: the fact that women are deprived of their right to education. Put another way, Malala finds it strange that the international community is shocked by women being attacked, but curiously unconcerned when women are denied the right to go to school--it would seem that the rest of the world doesn't value education for women as strongly as Malala would have hoped.

It's also possible that Malala is irritated with the video because it depicts women as victims. While it's important to draw attention to the atrocities committed against women, Malala wants to prove to the world that women are strong and self-sufficient: that they can make speeches, conduct interviews, and advocate for human rights. By showing women in pain and danger, the video doesn't go far enough--it encourages other countries to think of women as passive victims who need to be protected, but not necessarily empowered.

Chapter 16 Quotes

It seemed like everyone knew I had written the BBC diary. Some thought my father had done it for me but Madam Maryam, our principal, told them, “No. Malala is not just a good speaker but also a good writer.”

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker), Madam Maryam (speaker), Ziauddin Yousafzai
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see Malala beginning to take on the role of a spokesperson--a well-known, even famous, figure, whose job is to advocate for her point of view to an audience of millions. Malala, encouraged by her father's friend at the BBC, writes a diary in which she describes what it's like to be a young woman in Pakistan. Although Malala doesn't sign her name to the diaries, everyone guesses that she wrote them, based on the experiences she documents. Some people even believe that Malala's father wrote the diaries--notably, Malala herself doesn't insist that she wrote them; her principal does so instead.

At this point in the memoir, Malala is a little reluctant being the center of attention. She doesn't sign her name to the diaries, and when people guess that she wrote them, she doesn't seem to acknowledge that she's the author. Malala is dealing with big, international issues, but she's also learning how to be famous--a major responsibility for anyone, let alone a teenager.

Islamabad was totally different from Swat. It was as different for us as Islamabad is to New York. Shiza introduced us to women who were lawyers and doctors and also activists, which showed us that women could do important jobs yet still keep their culture and traditions. We saw women in the streets without purdah, their heads completely uncovered. I stopped wearing my shawl over my head in some of the meetings, thinking I had become a modern girl.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker)
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section of the memoir, Malala travels to the city of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital. Islamabad is by far the largest city Malala has ever seen—it’s also one of the most thoroughly “Westernized.” Women in Islamabad seem confident and proud—a far cry from the submissive, docile ideal Malala sees in her own community. The sight of an entire city of empowered, educated women confirms beyond any reasonable doubt that educating both sexes is not—as the Taliban continue to claim—a death-knell for society; on the contrary, it’s one of the best ways for society to grow.

Malala’s experiences in Islamabad also demonstrate the importance of role models. Malala is inspired by the women she meets in the city, and aspires to be more like them in her own life—hence her decision to shed her veil. By the same token, Malala tries to be a role model for women around the world, acting brave in order to inspire other people to follow her distinguished example.

Chapter 19 Quotes

“Go and ask the manager of the White Palace Hotel and he will tell you what these girls did…”
He put down the paper. “It has no signature. Anonymous.”

Related Characters: Ziauddin Yousafzai (speaker)
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:

Malala begins to become a more public figure—she writes editorials in her own name instead of using a pseudonym, and appears across the Middle East to speak out in favor of women’s rights and the right to education. At the same time, Malala begins to attract widespread criticism for her supposed heresy—the more public she becomes, the more hated she becomes, too. In this quotation, an anonymous critic implies that Malala and the women who follow her are somehow sinful, and therefore their views are discredited. Without ever explaining what, exactly, Malala “did,” he creates the impression that she had sex or betrayed her Islamic faith. As Malala makes clear, the anonymous critic is just grasping at straws—he makes suggestions because he knows perfectly well that Malala has done nothing wrong. (And yet it's these vague suspicions that are most effective in attempting to discredit Malala, rather than direct accusations that could be easily refuted.)

The passage draws a clear contrast between Malala’s brave, lucid speeches on behalf of her cause and the anonymous critic’s vague, cowardly attacks on her character. Malala’s enemies are cowards, not even brave enough to admit their own names—their anonymity is a sign that Malala is beginning to gain the upper hand, while her opponents are beginning to cower and hide from public view.

Chapter 23 Quotes

“Too many people in the Muslim world can’t believe a Muslim can do such a thing,” she said. “My mother, for example, would say they can’t be Muslims. Some people call themselves Muslims but their actions are not Islamic.” We talked about how things happen for different reasons, this happened to me, and how education for females not just males is one of our Islamic rights. I was speaking up for my rights as a Muslim woman to be able to go to school.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker), Dr. Fiona Reynolds (speaker)
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:

In the hospital in England, Malala forms a fast friendship with her doctor, Fiona Reynolds. The two of them discuss Malala’s crusade for human rights and women’s rights, and Fiona is greatly impressed. Here, Fiona and Malala talk about the way Muslims are perceived. Many in the Muslim world, Malala explains, believe that no true Muslim can be in favor of equal rights for men and women, as Malala is. But Malala insists that the truest Muslims are those who celebrate peace, tolerance, and equality.

Malala’s conversation with Fiona reflects her growing presence on the international stage. For most of the novel, Malala was arguing for women’s rights within her own country. Here, she continues to stand up for what she believes in, but her audience is much greater. Since many of her greatest supporters live in the Western world, Malala changes the focus of her project somewhat--she’s not just fighting for education anymore. By talking about Islam with Western people like Fiona, she’s also acting as an ambassador for Islam itself—a religion that too many people in the Western world regard as violent and intolerant.