Since her rise to global fame in 2013, Malala Yousafzai has become almost universally renowned for her selfless devotion to helping the people of her country. She’s the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the world’s most prestigious award for helping other people. There are even those who think of her as a “living saint”—incapable of doing any wrong. In light of Malala’s reputation as a highly, or even perfectly, moral young woman, it’s almost impossible to read her memoir without wondering where her goodness “comes from.” Are living saints born or made?
In I Am Malala, Malala doesn’t try to pretend that she’s a saint, yet she claims to maintain a standard of good behavior that almost any other human being would find unbearable. She includes plenty of anecdotes about bickering with her siblings and parents, getting in fights with her friends—in essence, the things all teenagers do. When she was a small child, she explains, she stole a toy from her friend Safina. Afterwards, Malala began to develop a bad habit of stealing from others. When her parents found out, Malala was so ashamed of herself that she resolved to never steal anything, or commit any sin, again. Malala claims to have honored her resolution: she still prays to Allah for forgiveness for the theft she committed as a child, and keeps up her good behavior at all times. The overall effect of these chapters is disorienting. Malala seems impossibly “good,” and yet it’s made clear that she wasn’t born this way. Instead, she chooses to be moral—a choice of which, she implies, we’re all capable of.
As I Am Malala proceeds, Malala’s virtue continues to seem both unattainable and perfectly commonsensical. All of her broadcasts and brave crusades against the Taliban, she explains, are motivated by her recognition of a simple fact: it is wrong to exploit women, and thus, no moral person could sit back while women are exploited. There’s nothing incredibly uncommon or new about Malala’s thinking on the subject of women’s rights. But her sense of obligation to help those who are helpless, and her bravery in pursuing that obligation, is extraordinary.
The more Malala tries to explain her goodness, the more inexplicable it becomes. She wants to fight for the right to education and equality, she claims, because these rights are universal. Yet recognizing the universality of human rights isn’t a guarantee that someone will fight for these rights. Particularly in a country like Pakistan, doing so takes bravery, intelligence, and drive, in addition to the obvious sense of right and wrong. This is clear even when one looks at Malala’s own family: Malala’s two siblings have been exposed to the same moral education as their sister, and yet they don’t fight for women’s freedom with anywhere near the same intensity that Malala does. In the end, I Am Malala is a somewhat frustrating book as well as an inspiring one. Although the title promises to “explain” Malala to us, her bravery, her integrity, her drive—and thus, her goodness—remain a mystery.
Goodness Quotes in I Am Malala
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.
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.”