The man was wearing a peaked cap and had a handkerchief over his nose and mouth as if he had the flu. He looked like a college student. Then he swung himself onto the tailboard at the back and leaned in right over us.
“Who is Malala?” he demanded.
No one said anything, but several of the girls looked at me. I was the only girl with my face not covered.
For most Pashtuns it’s a gloomy day when a daughter is born.
School wasn’t the only thing my aunts missed out on. In the morning when my father was given a bowl of cream with his tea, his sisters were given only tea. If there were eggs, they would only be for the boys. When a chicken was slaughtered for dinner, the girls would get the wings and the neck while the luscious breast meat was enjoyed by my father, his brother, and my grandfather. “From early on I could feel I was different from my sisters,” my father says.
Under Zia’s regime life for women in Pakistan became much more restricted. Jinnah said, “No struggle can succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.”
[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!”
Though I felt bad, I was also relieved it was over. Since that day I have never lied or stolen. Not a single lie nor a single penny, not even those coins my father leaves around the house, which we’re allowed to buy snacks with.
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.
I am proud that our country was created as the world’s first Muslim homeland, but we still don’t agree on what this means. The Quran teaches us sabar—patience—but often it feels that we have forgotten the word and think Islam means women sitting at home in purdah or wearing burqas while men do jihad.
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.
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.
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.”
It was school that kept me going in those dark days.
“They are abusing our religion,” I said in interviews. “How will you accept Islam if I put a gun to your head and say Islam is the true religion? If they want every person in the world to be Muslim why don’t they show themselves to be good Muslims first?”
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.
Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow. Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.
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.
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.”
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.
Aunt Najma was in tears. She had never seen the sea before.
“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.”
The first two questions my pen wrote were, “Why have I no father?” and “My father has no money. Who will pay for all this?”
“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.
We humans don’t realize how great God is. He has given us an extraordinary brain and a sensitive loving heart. He has blessed us with two lips to talk and express our feelings, two eyes which see a world of colors and beauty, two feet which walk on the road of life, two hands to work for us, a nose which smells the beauty of fragrance, and two ears to hear the words of love.
I was a good girl. In my heart I had only the desire to help people. It wasn’t about the awards or the money. I always prayed to God, “I want to help people and please help me do that.”