I Am Malala

Burqa Symbol Icon

Because I Am Malala is a memoir— a work of nonfiction—it doesn’t contain many symbols. Malala’s goal is to tell us, plainly and straightforwardly, where she comes from and what she plans to do with her future. Nevertheless, the burqa—the female veil, a required garb in many parts of the Muslim world—functions on a symbolic as well as a literal level in the book. Malala notes that as a child, she finds wearing a burqa fun, since doing so involves “dressing up.” But as she grows older, Malala begins to see the burqa as an impediment to women’s rights. All around her, she sees women who are forbidden from educating themselves or opening themselves to new experiences. One of the most poignant examples of this phenomenon comes in the form of Malala’s aunt, Babo—a woman who has lived in a large coastal city for her entire life, but who has always been forbidden to travel to see the ocean. As Malala sees it, the burqa is a symbol of women’s cultural inferiority in Pakistan: they are covered from view, and taught to be ashamed of their identities. As a result, women are restricted in their ability to express themselves freely, travel where they want to travel, and, most importantly of all, seek an education. On the day that Malala is shot, her would-be assassin has no trouble identifying her, as she is the only girl on the bus with her face uncovered. Without her burqa, Malala is the only one who can “see” the world clearly, but also, tragically, the only one who can be seen.

While the Taliban criticize and ultimately try to kill Malala for “defaming Islam,” Malala insists that there’s nothing sacrilegious about a Muslim refusing to wear a burqa. Encouraged by her father, Malala studies the Quran herself and derives great inspiration and comfort from its verses. In the end, the burqa may be a symbol of the repression forced upon women in the largely Muslim society of Pakistan, but this doesn’t mean that Malala’s refusal to wear a burqa symbolizes her rejection of Islam. On the contrary, Malala’s bare face (shown on the cover of I Am Malala) symbolizes her refusal to submit to sexism and repression: she will educate and empower herself, studying the Quran and other books.

Burqa Quotes in I Am Malala

The I Am Malala quotes below all refer to the symbol of Burqa. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Women’s Rights Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Back Bay Books edition of I Am Malala published in 2015.
Prologue Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker), Ataullah Khan
Related Symbols: Burqa
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Malala Yousafzai (speaker)
Related Symbols: Burqa
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Exce

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Burqa Symbol Timeline in I Am Malala

The timeline below shows where the symbol Burqa appears in I Am Malala. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue: The Day My World Changed
The Power of Education Theme Icon
Islam and Its Interpretations Theme Icon
...runs to her bus. The other girls in her community, all of them wearing headscarves (burqas) to cover their faces, run to catch the bus as well. Malala reports that her... (full context)
Islam and Its Interpretations Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Fame, Power, and the Importance of Role Models Theme Icon
...one speaks. However, the speaker realizes that she is the only girl not wearing her burqa. Without warning, the man points a gun at Malala and fires three times. One bullet... (full context)
Chapter 9: Radio Mullah
Women’s Rights Theme Icon
The Power of Education Theme Icon
Islam and Its Interpretations Theme Icon
...conspiracy to make Pakistanis infertile. Fazlullah also called for all women to wear their headscarves (burqas) at all times. At his schools, Ziauddin didn’t enforce this rule. His friends encouraged him... (full context)
Chapter 10: Toffees, Tennis Balls, and the Buddhas of Swat
Women’s Rights Theme Icon
Islam and Its Interpretations Theme Icon
...be going mad in the early 2000s. The Taliban ordered all women to wear their burqas at all times. Groups of women covered with burqas would break into Western restaurants and... (full context)
Chapter 13: The Diary of Gul Makai
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
...about a great number of topics. She criticizes the requirement that all women wear a burqa, arguing that women should be allowed to choose their own clothing. Students at Malala’s school... (full context)
Chapter 14: A Funny Kind of Peace
Women’s Rights Theme Icon
The Power of Education Theme Icon
Islam and Its Interpretations Theme Icon
Fame, Power, and the Importance of Role Models Theme Icon
...a permanent ceasefire has been announced. Schools will reopen with all girls properly covered by burqas, the government will pay reparations to the families of war victims, and there will be... (full context)
Women’s Rights Theme Icon
The Power of Education Theme Icon
Islam and Its Interpretations Theme Icon
...and one day a soldier threatens to hurt Malala’s mother if she doesn’t wear her burqa. Malala’s mother reluctantly agrees to wear the burqa in the future. One of Ziauddin’s friends... (full context)
Chapter 15: Leaving the Valley
The Power of Education Theme Icon
Islam and Its Interpretations Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
...are crowded, and Taliban soldiers push between the cars, searching for women not wearing their burqas. After hours of driving, the family leaves the town and heads for Mardan, the nearest... (full context)
Chapter 18: The Woman and the Sea
Women’s Rights Theme Icon
The Power of Education Theme Icon
...the ocean, since she’s required to be accompanied by a man and to wear a burqa at all times. As Malala watches her aunt weep, she wonders to herself how it’s... (full context)
Chapter 20: Who is Malala?
Women’s Rights Theme Icon
The Power of Education Theme Icon
Islam and Its Interpretations Theme Icon
...know “who is Malala,” but then he easily identifies her since she isn’t wearing a burqa. Strangely, the last thing Malala remembers before she’s shot in the head is the list... (full context)
Epilogue: One Child, One Teacher, One Book, One Pen
The Power of Education Theme Icon
Islam and Its Interpretations Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
...(a requirement for all loyal Muslims). As she walked through a mall, looking for a burqa to buy, she sensed that one of the hundreds of men around her was preparing... (full context)
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
...the Taliban will surely forgive Malala, provided that she returns to Pakistan and wears a burqa. Although many advise Malala to write an open letter back to Rashid, she refuses to... (full context)
Women’s Rights Theme Icon
Goodness Theme Icon
Fame, Power, and the Importance of Role Models Theme Icon
...continues to deteriorate. Schools are blown up and women are murdered for throwing away their burqas. There are other problems as well, as US drone attacks continue to kill Pakistanis. But... (full context)