Near Malala’s school, there lived a tall, handsome mufti (scholar of Islam) named Ghulamullah. Malala’s father sensed that Ghulamullah didn’t approve of the notion of a school for women. “He was right,” Malala notes. Ghulamullah eventually accused Ziauddin of running a haram (blasphemous) school, and of corrupting women against Allah.
Thus far in the book, Islam has been very important in Malala’s life, but there haven’t been any true representatives of the religion itself. Here Ghulamullah acts that part, raising all sorts of questions about what, precisely, it means to be a “representative” of a religion that should be available to everyone.
Malala makes a few comments on Islam in Pakistan. While she’s proud to be a member of the Muslim community, she rejects the notion that Islam involves women being submissive to men. The Quran (Islam’s holy book), she argues, teaches Muslims to be patient, but Muslims in Pakistan often resort to violence to get their way. In the 70s and 80s, millions of Hindus were chased out of Pakistan, and many of them were murdered. In retaliation, Hindus attacked Muslims fleeing India—this created a cycle of violence that continues in Malala’s lifetime. Even within Islam, Malala continues, there is a historic split between the Sunnis and Shias. These two religious sects have always disagreed about who the proper successor to Muhammed was. The vast majority of Pakistan—about 80 percent—is Sunni. But even within this group, there many subgroups. There are the Barelvis, the Salafists, the Deobandi, etc. Each of these subgroups celebrates the Quran in a slightly different way.
In direct contrast to Ghulamullah, Malala offers her own interpretation of the Quran, the holy book of Islam. This is in itself a radical act, as women aren’t usually allowed to interpret holy scripture in the fundamentalist Muslim world—they’re supposed to rely on the interpretations of people like Ghulamullah. While Malala doesn’t offer a great amount of detail about her interpretation of Islam (she doesn’t offer exact passages from the Quran, for instance), she does use this section to argue for her right to interpret the Quran in the first place. By emphasizing the many sects of Islam, she also suggests that people get lost in unimportant, external details and lose sight of the larger lessons of the religion: like patience and compassion.
Ghulamullah held a public meeting to discuss the virtues of Ziauddin’s school. He invited Ziauddin to this meeting, where he accused Ziauddin of perverting the Quran. Ziauddin calmly argued that the Quran encouraged women to improve their minds and souls, citing passages from the book to back up his argument. Eventually, he and Ghulamullah agreed to a compromise: Ziauddin would build a new, private gate through which the girls would enter the school. This way, men wouldn’t see women entering the school. Ghulamullah didn’t like this compromise, however, since he was aiming to shut down Ziauddin’s school altogether.
Although Ziauddin is an idealist who’s passionately loyal to the principle of women’s rights and equal education, he’s also perfectly willingly to compromise—he is, in short, a realist when he needs to be. Here he clearly gets the better of his argument with Ghulamullah. He allows minor modifications to his school, and in return is allowed to keep his school open. Ghulamullah, however, is clearly of the extremist mindset that doesn’t accept compromise.
In the early 2000s, Malala’s community grew noticeably more conservative than the rest of Pakistan. Malala’s neighbors embraced the doctrine of jihad and openly criticized the United States. Jihadists walked through the streets openly. Malala was terrified of these people, because they despised the notion of women’s rights. In 2003, Ziauddin opened a high school in Swat. At first the school was coed, but this quickly changed—the climate in Pakistan was too controversial, and Ziauddin was forced to separate the boys and girls. Once again the mufti tried to shut down the school, but failed. Ziauddin was still too popular and respected.
Many times, Malala suggests that the conservatism and fundamentalism rampant in her community isn’t truly a product of Islam itself—rather, it’s a reflection of the instability in Pakistan in recent decades. General Zia’s violence, US support of radical Muslim fighters (like bin Laden) against the USSR, and the new “War on Terror” have set a dangerous precedent that the jihadists have taken up. For the time being, however, Ziauddin’s charisma and popularity win out over the demands of the extremists.
In 2004, Malala reports, General Musharraf sent troops to the area between Afghanistan and Pakistan as a part of his alliance with the United States. This area was rumored to be a safe haven for members of al-Qaeda, the group that claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. Many people in Malala’s community went to fight, but later refused to attack al-Qaeda due to their personal sympathies with the movement. Shortly afterwards, Malala reports, the United States sent drones to attack Pakistani villages, supposedly to eliminate Osama bin Laden.
Malala captures the sense of confusion and betrayal common in Pakistan at the time. The government of the country, headed by General Musharraf, has aligned itself with the US, but millions of its people also continue to support organizations that openly oppose the US. Essentially Pakistan is being torn apart by its contradictory relationship to the West.
In 2006, an American drone killed 82 people in the town of Khar, very close to where Malala lived. America claimed that the drone was targeting an al-Qaeda training camp, despite the fact that most of the 82 dead were children. In response, the elders in Mingora held a meeting, in which they proposed that all loyal Muslims take up arms against the United States. Malala’s father was one of the only people who opposed this plan—he argued that opposing America would only bring further violence and death to Mingora. Much to his frustration, few people agreed with him.
Ziauddin has used a similar argument before when Salman Rushdie was running from Islamic fatwas. Here he tries to argue against violently attacking the West, but his arguments find little support in his community. Clearly the country is shifting towards fundamentalism. Malala’s account here also emphasizes a point often suppressed or ignored in America: that America’s “War on Terror” killed thousands of civilians and children—people who had nothing to do with 9/11. Many Pakistanis’ hatred of the US is thus not so different from Americans’ hatred of terrorists. As of 2015, American drones still patrol parts of Pakistan.