I Am Malala

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
    • Religion, Freedom, and Religious Extremism : Islam, the Talibanand Sharia Law
    • The power of education
    • Girl’s Rights
    • Courage
  • Quote List
  • Essay 1 : ’Malala demonstrates that there is power in unity and persistence.’ Discuss.
  • Essay 2 : ’Although Malala is an inspirational example to others, she cannot achieve change on her own.’ Discuss.
  • Essay 3 : In the memoir ‘I Am Malala’ religious extremism is to blame for the restrictions that are forced upon Malala’s life. Discuss.
  • Essay 4 : Discuss the ways that relationship is shown to have a significant impact on Malala and her fight for justice in I am Malala.
  • Essay 5 : How does the author of I am Malala explore the role of sacrifice when campaigning for a cause? Discuss.
  • Essay 6 : ’The memoir I Am Malala illustrates that it is our moral responsibility to speak up against injustice, regardless of personal risk.’ Discuss.
  • Essay 7 : ’I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters.’ How does the memoir I Am Malala demonstrate that words can be more powerful than any other weapon? Discuss.
  • Essay 8 : “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” The memoir I Am Malala demonstrates that education is powerful. Discuss.


Brief Historical background

In her memoir ‘I Am Malala’, Malala Yousafzai relays the story of her experiences as a young girl in Pakistan, which lead to her being targeted and shot by the Taliban. Malala, who describes herself as a devout Muslim, talks at length in her memoir about the disconnection between the Taliban and their activities, and the true meaning of Islam. Malala states that she is “proud that our country was created as the world’s first Muslim homeland.” (75) However, she also observes that the people of Pakistan do not agree on what this actually means. Her sense that the true meaning of Islam has been lost or distorted appears frequently in the text. It is especially prominent when Malala reflects upon the impact of religious extremism on both the outside and inside perceptions of what Islam is. She blames the influence of the extremist views enforced on the people of Pakistan by the Taliban as the cause of this distortion. Malala quotes the speech that the founding father of Pakistan, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, gave when Pakistan was created, using his words to express that Pakistan was not created as a safe haven for religious extremism. “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed- that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” (75)


Religion, Freedom, and Religious Extremism : Islam, the Talibanand Sharia Law

Religion and Freedom

Malala is aware early in her life that religion shapes her existence in almost every way. As a Muslim living in an Islamic country, Malala knows that there are religious laws which are imposed upon both men and women. These laws reflect Malala’s Sunni Muslim heritage. As a small child these laws do not seem important, however as she becomes older Malala is more aware of the restrictive and unfair ways in which her religion seeks to control over her as an individual, but also as a female. In Chapter 4 Malala becomes aware that women were obligated to cover their faces whenever they went away from their house, or ‘purdah quarters’. Further, women were not allowed to talk to meet or talk to men who were not their close relatives (54). For Malala this was just another part of her cultural landscape, however, as a young teenager exploring her identity she was determined not to cover her face. She recalls a time when a male relative angrily asked her father “Why isn’t she covered?” Malala’s father’s response was to defend her. “She’s my daughter. Look after your own affairs.” (54) Malala states that “I am very proud to be a Pashtun but sometimes I think our code of conduct has a lot to answer for, particularly where the treatment of women is concerned.” (54) Malala’s growing awareness of the inequality that exists in her society causes her to question her own place in it, and as such she is very privileged to have a father who is determined to protect her freedom. Malala’s father talks to her about the difficulty of life for women in Afghanistan under the Taliban, and of the ways in which the Taliban sought to control and restrict their personal rights and freedoms of women. Malala shudders when her father tells her “…the Taliban had even banned women from laughing out loud or wearing white shoes as white was a ‘colour that belonged to men.’ Women were being locked up and beaten just for wearing nail varnish.” For Malala, freedom is very important, and she has been raised by her father to believe in her own freedom, regardless of their religious traditions. “I read my books…and trusted in my father’s words: ‘Malala is free as a bird.’” (55) Without Malala’s father value of his daughter’s freedom, Malala’s life would have been quite different. He reassures her that “I will protect your freedom, Malala. Carry on with your dreams.” (55) Malala is not forced to confront the idea of a life without her freedom until the Taliban move in to Swat and impose their own brand of Islam upon them. “When I heard the stories of the atrocities in Afghanistan I felt proud to be in Swat. ‘Here a girl can go to school’, I used to say…For me the valley was a sunny place and I couldn’t see the clouds gathering behind the mountains.” (55)

Sharia Law

The word Sharia means “a well-trodden path to water,” and therefore represents the path to Allahi. In Islam, Sharia is Islamic law which should not be confused with civil law. This means that it sets out the elements and principles of the Islamic religion based on the teachings in the Quran, dictating what each individual Muslim must perform and abide by in order to reach Allah (God). Sharia law also sets out the patterns that believers must follow in worshipping Allah: prayers, charity, fasting and pilgrimageii. All religions use organising principles to guide and instruct. In this sense Sharia is no different. Within Sharia, there are five tenants that must be preserved: life, learning, family, property and honouriii. There are also five categories to organise the actions of the congregation of Islam: obligatory, recommended, permitted, disliked or forbiddeniv. Malala uses the word haram to describe things that are forbidden by Sharia law. The word halal is used to describe the things that are permitted. Interestingly Sharia law does not state that women should be completely covered from head to toe (including the face). The choice of cover is specific to certain areas in the world and dictated by cultural and political influences rather than stipulated by Sharia law, which requests only modest dress. Sharia law also commands specific punishments for specific crimes.

Unlike the form of Sharia law enforced by the Taliban, women and men are described as equals in original Sharia and are seen as partners in promoting the common goodv. Western politicians and media have interpreted Sharia law as presented by the Taliban to be its true meaning, something that has caused a significant increase in Islamophobia and a general misunderstanding of the principles and intentions of Islam. Many of the extreme reactions to Sharia law around the world stem from a misinterpretation of Islam because of the actions of a

minor few: namely, the Taliban and its supporters.

The Taliban and Religious Extremism

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York, the Taliban eventually comes to Swat Valley. In the memoir I Am Malala, the Taliban arrive in Swat in Chapter 9 when Malala is ten years old, bringing with them their special brand of religious extremism. Malala describes them as “strange-looking men with long straggly hair and beards and camouflage vests over their shalwar kamiz…” (91) The name Taliban describes a movement of religious students (or, talibs) from the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan. Malala’s father Ziauddin was himself a talib when he was a young man. He received instruction from a senior talib and was only able to eventually see through the religious zeal because of his questioning mind, however this was not the case for many other young men in his situation.

In 1994, five years after the withdrawal of Russia from Afghanistan, the Taliban (which is Pashto for ‘seekers of knowledge’vi) emerged in Afghanistan as a small, clerical movement which sought to provide protection to residents from opportunistic criminals that were capitalizing on the chaos occurring at the timevii. They formed a government in Afghanistan in 1996, ruling as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan until 2001. Over time, the Taliban magnetically attracted other like- minded talibs; generally co-ethnic Pashtuns who had been educated in traditional, Islamic schools or madrassas along the western frontier of Pakistan. The madrassas schooled their students in the tradition of the Deobandi movement, originally created by Indian Muslim scholars who felt that British colonialism in India was corrupting Islamviii. One of the hallmarks of the Taliban was its extreme interpretation and enforcement of Sharia Law, which saw women in Afghanistan and then Pakistan deprived of basic human rights, such as an education. When the Taliban perverts the religious laws of Islam in this way, they do so as a way of exerting power and control over people.

In Chapter Nine the political climate in Pakistan merges with a national disaster in the shape of a severe earthquake to create the perfect entry point for the Taliban to enter the Swat Valley. The earthquake measured 7.6 on the Richter Scale and was felt as far away as Delhi and Kabul. Malala notes that “When the TV news began to show the devastation we saw that entire villages had been turned to dust.” (85) The remote location of the Swat Valley, along with the destruction of the roads around meant that officials were not able to enter to give much needed aid. Although the Pakistan army set up a task force to assist, Malala states that the majority of volunteers that made it through to the valley were from Islamic charities or organisations. In Chapter Eight Malala observes, “Earthquake victims praised the activists who had trudged up and down mountains and through shattered valleys carrying medical help to remote regions no one else had bothered with. They helped clear and rebuild destroyed villages as well as leading prayers and burying bodies.” (87/88) This is how the Taliban comes to the Swat Valley, initially presenting themselves as helpful allies, devout but peaceful.

Disillusioned by the corruption rampant within the Pakistani government, the earthquake of 2005 was a turning point for the people of Swat. Caught in a difficult position, the people of Swat welcomed the Maulana Fazlullah and his people. “People thought he was a good interpreter of the Holy Quran and admired his charisma. They liked his talk of bringing back Islamic law as everyone was frustrated with the Pakistani justice system which had replaced ours when we were merged into the country.” (93) However, these groups used the frustration of the people against them and wasted no time in preaching that the earthquake was “a warning from God…caused by women’s freedom and obscenity.” (88) The people of Swat were warned: “If we did not mend our ways and introduce sharia or Islamic law…more severe punishment would come.” (88) Within six months after the earthquake, Fazlullah was exerting his power over the people of Swat and exploiting their ignorance of the Qur’an (which must be interpreted by a special scholar because it is written in Arabic) with warnings that “if the people didn’t stop, they would again invite the wrath of God.” (92)

Malala and the people of Swat were rapidly engulfed by the regime of the Taliban. In Chapter 10 Malala states “First the Taliban took our music, then our Buddhas, then our history.” (102) Aside from forbidding citizens to listen to foreign music or watch television, the Taliban also destroyed any object or edifice that was not a part of the Islamic culture. This included the precious Buddhist statues and stupas that were over 1000 years old and stemmed from the time of the Kushan kings. The Taliban “believed that any statue or painting was haram, sinful and therefore prohibited.” (102) Malala states “The Taliban became the enemy of fine arts, culture and our history. They destroyed everything old and brought nothing new.” (103) Malala is rightly angry and upset by what she sees as the Taliban’s attempts to control them like “little dolls” (103). What upsets both Malala and her father the most is the fact that nobody speaks out or tries to stop the Taliban. People were either too afraid or in agreement with them. Malala’s father tries to speak against them but is warned not to. “Someone came up to him and whispered, “Don’t speak any more in this way-it’s risky.” (104) Malala is also dejected that the authorities do nothing to intervene. The lives of the people of Swat, already devout Muslims, are negatively changed by the religious extremism enforced by the Taliban.

The power of education

Another major theme of I Am Malala is her conviction regarding the importance and power of education. Throughout the text Malala makes many references to her love of learning, and also of her father’s passion for education. The two are intertwined as Malala is very influenced by her father and his views. The struggle that they share when Malala is forced to stop going to school and is then shot by the Taliban for being outspoken against them, highlights the way in which father and daughter are connected by their love of learning. Further, the eventual forced closure of Ziauddin’s school, along with the bombing and closure of most of the schools around them, brings into focus the importance of education within society, and what it represents symbolically. Malala and Ziauddin are united in their mission to fight for what is important, not only to them but also for the sake of their country and the other women and girls within it.

From a very early age Malala looked up to her father, Ziauddin, as an example of someone who had worked hard to attain his goals in life. Despite the fact that Ziauddin’s father had wanted him to become a doctor, he desired most to become a teacher. This was a point of conflict in his life because in his early years Ziauddin struggled with a stutter, something that his domineering and brusque father berated him for. “‘Spit it out, son!’ he’d roar whenever my father got stuck in the middle of a sentence.” (21) Despite this, Ziauddin loved words and poetry and was determined to master his stutter and gain his father’s respect. His strength of character is shown in his effort to become a confident orator, something that his father was already well known for. He also demonstrates immense strength of character in the way he overcomes the harshness of his father’s treatment of him and is determined to be a different kind of father to his own children. Regardless of his struggles with his father, as an adult Ziauddin remembers him most for the love of learning that he instilled in him. “Baba also gave him a deep love of learning and knowledge as well as a keen awareness of people’s rights, which my father has passed on to me.” (30) Although it is Malala’s story, Ziauddin’s character and passionate belief in education is central to the memoir and its message.

Malala directly benefits from her father’s education and beliefs while growing up, as aside from being a well-educated man, Ziauddin also demonstrates a healthy perspective and sense of fairness in his thinking, which is informed by his open- mindedness and belief in the power and importance of knowledge. A good example of this can be found in the chapter where a local mufti tries to close her father’s school. When someone warns Ziauddin that this is happening, he responds with: ‘Just as we say, “Nim hakim khatrai jan” – “Half a doctor is a danger to one’s life,” so, “Nim mullah khatrai iman” – “A mullah who is not fully learned is a danger to faith”,’ he said.” Through his response to the Taliban, and his approach to his own daughter, Ziauddin expresses ideas that are clearly progressive and more balanced than those of the extremists around him. This is interesting as Malala explains that during his teen years, when Russia was stuck in Afghanistan, Ziauddin wanted to become a jihadi. “It was, he says, a kind of brainwashing. He believes he might even have thought of becoming a suicide bomber had there been such a thing in those days.” Despite this, Ziauddin’s natural intelligence and tendency to question things meant that he was able to steer away from this path. Ziauddin’s own views are shaped by the tension he experienced while existing between extremes: secularism and socialism on one side, and militant Islam on the other side. “I guess he ended up somewhere in the middle.”

Malala’s own appreciation and passion for education, while shaped and encouraged by her father, is very much a part of who she innately is. Through her father’s connections and political figures such as Benazir Bhutto, she finds examples of strong and well-educated women who become her role models. Even as a young girl Malala is aware that she must study hard if she wants to fulfil her future dreams of becoming a politician like Benazir Bhutto and help the people of Pakistan. She is competitive with her friends at school and works hard to remain the top student in her class. Her anecdotes about school and her rivalry with Malka e-Noor and her best friend, Moniba for top marks are entertaining as well as revealing of the happiness and joy she felt in this environment. “It was school that kept me going in those dark days.” (112) School is a haven for Malala, somewhere that she is able to dream about her bright future despite the violent attempts of the Taliban to take that away from her and all the other girls in Pakistan. “Our school was a haven from the horrors outside.” (114) Malala’s love of learning and love of her school life forms a large aspect of her belief in the power of her education to make a difference in her life, and Ziauddin uses the example of Nazi Germany to encourage her to use her knowledge of history to speak out against what was happening. “I knew he was right. If people were silent nothing would change.” (117)

Malala’s self-worth as an individual is innately connected to her worth as a young, intelligent woman who, among many other things, wants to fulfil her academic potential. This is something that cannot be split up or compartmentalised and is also something that makes her outspokenness so threatening to the Taliban. At the end of her memoir, Malala again asserts that in her culture, education is the basic right of every girl and boy. “Islam says every girl and every boy should go to school. In the Quran it is written, God wants us to have knowledge.” (263) Although Malala’s passion for education was ignited by her father, by the end of her memoir it is clear that she has found her own voice, along with her life-long vocation. “I don’t want to be thought of as ‘the girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but ‘the girl who fought for education.’ This is the cause to which I want to devote my life.” (261) By the end of her story it is clear that despite the trauma of her near-death experience, or maybe even because of it, Malala’s belief in the power of education and a child’s right to receive it grows stronger and extends further than her own country to encompass the whole world. When Malala deliver’s her speech to the United Nations in New York on her sixteenth birthday, her message powerfully reflects the strength of this belief. “I wore one of Benazir Bhutto’s white shawls…and I called on the world leaders to provide free education ‘Let us pick our books and our pens,’ I said. ‘They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.’” (262)

Girl’s Rights

Girl’s rights, or the rights of girls and women within a society, is a central theme of the text. It overlaps with the theme ‘The Power of Education’ because Malala as a girl cannot separate the two issues, and because the Taliban tries to stop her and all other girls in Pakistan from attending school. Consequently, it also intersects with the theme ‘Religion, Freedom, and Religious Extremism: Islam, the Taliban and Sharia Law’ because of the Taliban’s extreme religious agenda. Malala’s story represents one of the most discussed human rights issues of the 21st Century: that of a girl’s and a woman’s right to be treated as equal to a boy or a man. While many would say that girls and boys or men and women around the world in the 21st Century enjoy equal rights the truth is that this is not the case.

Women and girls in the 21st Century are still fighting for their basic human rights in many countries around the globe. In Pakistan alone, women and girls still face alarming conditions. Aside from the Taliban’s attempts in Swat, Pakistan, to ban girls like Malala from getting an education, women and girls in Pakistan also suffered and still suffer from the injustice of honour killings, arranged child marriages, illiteracy and confinement to the family home under the Sharia law of purdah (conduct and seclusion from the world for the purpose of modesty). Malala was very fortunate to have a father like Ziauddin. He treated her with balance, respect and equality, encouraging her to reach her full intellectual potential through her education. Sadly, this is not the case with most women in Pakistan, as under Sharia law a female’s entire life is controlled by her male relatives. Examples of this can be found in the

text where Malala’s friends are pulled out of school by their fathers or brothers once they reach puberty (the age girls enter the state of purdah), and under direct

pressure from the Taliban. Malala’s own mother never went to school. “My mother started school when she was six and stopped the same term.” (32) She is illiterate, having considered education as something she would not need as a wife and mother. She later tries to learn to read and write and is at her first lesson when Malala is shot. Malala reflects upon how her mother felt that there was no point in getting an education. “There seemed no point in going to school just to end up cooking, cleaning and bringing up children.” (32) Unfortunately, Malala’s mother is one of many in this position in Pakistan, and in many under developed countries around the world today.

Malala’s own story of being shot because she believed she had the right to receive an education is not only generally tied to the issue of women’s and girl’s rights, it is specifically tied to the rights of women and girls in Islamic countries ruled by Sharia law. Ziauddin talks to her about the women in Afghanistan, and of how their rights under the Taliban are affected. “He said that the Taliban had even banned women from laughing out loud or wearing white shoes as white was ‘a colour that belonged to men.’ Women were being locked up and beaten just for wearing nail varnish. I shivered when he told me such things.” (55) Malala is aware that when the Taliban took over Afghanistan a year before she was born, they burnt down girl’s schools. Their sinister agenda was aimed at restricting women in their everyday life to the point where they no longer had the ability to make any choices for themselves. Malala is blunt in her assessment of this. “We felt like the Taliban saw us as little dolls to control, telling us what to do and how to dress. I thought if God wanted us to be like that He wouldn’t have made us all different.” (103) When the girls of the Red Mosque madrasa begin terrorising the streets of Islamabad, Malala makes note of the Taliban’s hypocrisy. “When it suits the Taliban, women can be vocal and visible.” (105)

For Malala, a young girl brimming with ambition and potential, the opportunity to broadcast the struggles of girls in Pakistan under the Taliban to the rest of the world is something that very quickly becomes her mission. She becomes aware when she gives an interview on television with a group of girls in her school that she has the ability to speak out where so many girls in Pakistan did not. “Afterwards I thought, ‘The media needs interviews. They want to interview a small girl, but the girls are scared, and even if they’re not, their parents won’t allow it. I have a father who isn’t scared, who stands by me. He said, ‘You are a child and it’s your right to speak.’” (117) Malala refuses to be defined by the Taliban and has the courage and the ability to speak out. Her story is as much about her rights as a girl as it is a story about the power of education, the impact of religious extremism, and of her courage

as an individual.


Both Malala and her father Ziauddin show incredible courage in the way they are prepared to speak out against the Taliban regardless of the danger. Ziauddin is Malala’s role model for many things, but he is especially inspiring in the way he encourages her to find the courage she needs to defend her right to go to school. In the memoir, the majority of did as they were told by the Taliban out of fear for their own safety. “It seemed that people had decided the Taliban were here to stay and they had better get along with them. ‘When you are in the Taliban you have 100 percent life security,’ people would say.” (125) Ziauddin, however, refuses to be intimidated. Despite the fact that he receives threats for speaking out against the Taliban, he does not waiver in his courage. He uses the example of Nazi Germany to illustrate to Malala the grievous outcome when people are too afraid to speak out against what is wrong. “He hated the fact that most people would not speak up. In his pocket he kept a poem written by Martin Niemoller, who had lived in Nazi Germany…I knew he was right. If people were silent nothing would change.” (116/117) Ziauddin demonstrates the kind of moral courage that is rarely seen in difficult and life-threatening situations, and Malala is inspired by him. “My father said we common people were like chaff caught between the two stones of a water mill. But he still wasn’t afraid. He said we should continue to speak out.” (128)

Malala is determined to do what she can to protect her right to an education. Following her father’s lead, she uses an opportunity to give a group interview on television about girls dropping out of school due to militancy to speak out against what was happening in Swat. She is aware that as she gets older, the friends that she once did group interviews with are no longer permitted to do so by their fathers and brothers because they had reached the age where they were required to observe purdah. Malala is able to see that she is in the position to use her voice where her friends are not, and she leans on her devout faith in order to find the strength to be courageous. “In my heart was the belief that God would protect me. If I am speaking for my rights, for the rights of girls, I am not doing anything wrong. It’s my duty to do so. God wants to see how we behave in such situations. There is a

saying in the Quran, ‘The falsehood has to go and the truth will prevail.’” (117)

Both Malala and Ziauddin did everything they could to speak out against the increasingly violence tactics embarked upon by the Taliban in order to stop girls from going to school. As schools were targeted with more frequency, Ziauddin gave media interviews to renounce what was happening, all the while speaking out about the value and importance of girls. “Once he spoke at a big gathering and held up an audience member’s baby girl and said, ‘This girl is our future. Do we want her to be ignorant?’ The crowd agreed that they would sacrifice themselves before giving up their daughters’ education.” (119) At the end of 2008 the Taliban decreed that girls must stop going to school in January 2009, and Malala comes to realise the true value of education. “We hadn’t realised how important education was until the Taliban tried to stop us. Going to school, reading and doing our homework wasn’t just a way of passing time. It was our future.” (121/122)

Although those around her lose heart, Malala shows that she is determined to fight through her fear just as her father would. As the situation in Swat grows worse, Malala finds new ways to bring her story to the world. One of these opportunities is given to her through a friend of Ziauddin’s. Abdul Hai Kakur, a BBC correspondent comes to Ziauddin looking for a female teacher or schoolgirl to write a diary about life under the Taliban. Malala overhears them talking and offers herself as the writer. “Why not me? I wanted people to know what was happening.” (129) The parallels are drawn between Malala’s life and the life of Anne Frank, the 13-year-old Jewish girl who had hidden from the Nazi’s in World War Two and who kept a diary which survived and was published years after her death in a concentration camp. The sense of secrecy, danger and authentic experience, present in both, is expressed in their youthful words, and in the impact of their stories. The popularity of Malala’s diary entries demonstrates to her the power she holds in her own hands. “The BBC even made a recording of it using another girl’s voice, and I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters. We were learning how to struggle. And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak.” (131) The violence inflicted upon the people of Swat during the Taliban occupation was brutal, and Malala regularly speaks about how this affected her. When a suicide bombing occurs in a nearby high school in Mingora, killing more than 55 people, 10 of whom were relatives of Malala’s friend Moniba, Malala asks her father if he is finally scared. “‘At night our fear is strong, Jani,’ he told me, ‘but in the morning, in the light, we find our courage again.’ And this is true for my family. We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.” This courage, which enables Malala and her family to confront the danger of speaking out against the tyranny of the Taliban, stemmed from their strong belief in the idea that it was their responsibility to do so. Regardless of the danger, Ziauddin and Malala both feel passionately about standing up not only for their own rights, but also for the rights of those around them. Ziauddin receives many death threats, but it is not until later when Malala’s life is also threatened that her father responds with fear, taking the threat seriously. Even when he is suggests to Malala that they should stop campaigning she displays courage, reminding him of the reasons why they must continue. “‘How can we do that?’ I replied. ‘You were the one who said if we believe in something greater than our lives, then our voices will only multiply even if we are dead. We can’t disown our campaign!’” Regardless of the threat to her own life, Malala shows the strength and courage to continue campaigning against the Taliban.


Malala Yousafzai

Malala is the central figure of the memoir. She is named after a Pashtun poet named Malalai of Maiwand, a great heroine of the Pashtun culture who Malala describes as being their very own Joan of Arc. However, Malala’s grandfather tells her that her name means ‘grief-stricken’ and is considered unlucky. The memoir is told through Malala’s eyes, using her voice, and spans across her childhood and into her teenage years. Malala grows up in Pakistan, surrounded by her family and friends. As a member of the tribal Pashtun culture, Malala’s heritage is one of great pride and close kinship as well as poverty and archaic customs. As a Muslim, Malala is raised with a strong sense of religious and spiritual purpose. However, she is also very influenced by her educated father who teaches her to think for herself and to believe in her right to be educated. This is in strong contrast to the general population where girls are controlled and restricted by their male relatives and must observe the rule of purdah at the age of puberty. Malala was only 10 when the Taliban comes to Swat Valley and was 15 when an assassination attempt was made on her life for being outspoken against them. Malala survived the shooting, but was airlifted to Birmingham, England, where she remained with her family. In October 2017 she became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17 for her efforts in standing up to the Taliban and for and raising awareness of girl’s rights in Pakistan.

Ziauddin Yousafzai

Ziauddin is Malala’s father, and one of the most positive influences in her life. Ziauddin’s father wanted him to become a doctor, which is the most respected profession in Pakistan. However, Ziauddin had a passion for education and wanted to become a teacher and one day open his own school. He realises his dream, although he is not the greatest business man, and things are not always financially easy for his family. Ziauddin had a stutter as a child and is bullied by his own father who was a respected teacher and orator. Ziauddin learns to give speeches in public in order to impress his father and overcome his speech impediment. Unlike many men in Pakistan and the Pashtun culture, Ziauddin values the opinions of his wife, Tor Pekai and is thrilled to have a daughter. He raises Malala to be courageous and to speak out when things are not right, and he supports her fight against the Taliban and their ban on girl’s education. Ziauddin’s values and ideals are a beacon of light in her memoir, and illustrate the importance of having positive role models to look up to.

Tor Pekai Yousafzai

Tor Pekai is Malala’s mother. She is described by Malala as a devoutly religious, practical and hard-working woman who loves her family and community. As a Pashtun Muslim woman, Tor Pekai strictly observes the religious law of purdah, or modesty. This means remaining secluded in the home unless accompanied outside by a male relative and staying covered from head to foot. Tor Pekai did not receive a formal education, although Malala states that she was unusal for her village as her father and brothers encouraged her to go to school. Tor Pekai was illiterate for most of Malala’s childhood, however Malala describes her as a strong and intelligent person. Tor Pekai has a very close relationship with her husband, Ziauddin who seeks her opinion on most matters, another thing that Malala describes as unusual in the Pashtun culture. At the time that Malala was shot by the Taliban, Tor Pekai was taking her first literacy class.

Khushal Yousafzai

Khushal, named after a famous Afghan poet, is Malala’s younger brother. Khushal and Malala fight like all siblings, and Malala makes frequent, dryly humorous references to their sibling rivalry. When they are both older, Khushal goes away to boarding school in another town. He complains about having to go to school when Malala is faced with not being able to go because of the ban the Taliban place on girl’s education, causing Malala to become angry with him. • Atal Yousafzai

Atal is the youngest of the three children, and another brother for Malala. He is also called Atal the Squirrel, because of his agility in jumping and climbing. As the youngest child he is 7 years younger than Malala, the eldest child. Atal is seen to be more interested in games than anything else.

Rohul Amin

Rohul Amin is Malala’s Grandfather and Ziauddin’s father. He is described as a brilliant orater, teacher and scholar, but also a difficult and impatient father. He bullies his son Ziauddin for having a stutter when he is a child and makes Ziauddin determined not to be like him when he has children of his own. Despite this, Ziauddin appreciates the fact that Rohul has given him a love of learning and sees that his influence has not been all bad.


Moniba is Malala’s best friend in Mingora, and they go to school together. Moniba traditionally comes second to Malala in their exam standing, and she regularly quarrels with Malala about her friendships with other girls. Moniba shares a passion for learning and politics with Moniba.

Malka e-Noor

When Malka e-Noor comes to Malala’s school, she quickly overtakes Malala as the top student. Because Malala has held the number one position for so long she is shocked and becomes very competitive, striving to win back her position as the best student in the school. Eventually, Malala and Malka also become friends.


Hidayatullah is the college friend with whom Ziauddin sets up his school. After much stress the friends part ways and Ziauddin keeps the school. • Malauna Fazlullah

Malauna Fazlullah is the leader of the Taliban in Pakistan. He married Maulana Sufi Mohammad’s daughter and became his successor when the latter was imprisoned after a round up of militant leaders. Fazlullah sets up an illegal radio station to begin transmitting the ideas of the Taliban, initially prefaced as the ideas of Islamic reform. HE is initially considered by the people of Swat to be wise and devout, however his mask soon slips, and his true agenda is revealed. They gain a foothold in Swat during the aftermath of a terrible earthquake as they are among the only organisations who come to deliver aid and assistance. One of the ways they put pressure on the people to support them was by telling them that natural disasters were punishment from God for not adhering to their strict interpretation of Sharia law. Fazlullah is responsible for ordering the assassination attempt on Malala, as well as the many violent deaths via suicide bombings and beheadings that occurred leading up to it.

Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto was born into a wealthy family, and her father was elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1973. She became the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, as well as the first democratically elected female leader in a Muslim country in 1988, and her political career endured many dramas and scandals. She was assassinated in 2007. Benazir Bhutto is one of Malala’s role models.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah

Mohammed Ali Jinnah was the first Prime Minister of the newly created Islamic state of Pakistan, which split off from India in 1947. Jinnah is one of Malala’s role models, and she talks about his original hope for Pakistan that it be a place where people of all religions could be free. Jinnah’s ideological example has a strong influence for Malala, and she reflects on it frequently when talking about Pakistan and its corruption and strife.

Madam Maryam

Madam Maryam is the principal of the Khushal school and another role model for Malala. She is the person who goes with Malala to hospital because her mother cannot go. She is very kind and caring and Malala describes her as a second


Dr Fiona Reynolds

Dr Fiona Reynolds is a British doctor specialising in intensive care for children. She was in Pakistan advising the army on how to set up the first liver transplant program when Malala is shot. She and fellow doctor Javid Kayani travel to Peshawar to report back to General Kayani before they leave Pakistan, who then asks them to see Malala. She is instrumental in saving Malala’s life from a post- surgery infection, and Malala is eventually transferred to Birmingham Childrens Hospital where Dr. Reynolds is a staff member.

Dr Javid Kayani

Dr Kayani is travelling in Pakistan with Dr Reynolds. He is an emergency care consultant at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the UK. He is asked by General Kayani to consult on Malala’s case, however as Dr Reynolds was a specialist in children’s intensive care he recommends that he talk to her first.

Colonel Junaid

Colonel Junaid is the young army surgeon who performs life-saving surgery on Malala.

Ataullah Khan

The Taliban soldier who claims responsibility on behalf of the Taliban for shooting Malala.

Usman Bai Jan

Usman Bai Jan is the driver of the school bus that Malala is on when she is shot.

Kainat Riaz and Shazia

The other girls shot and injured in the attack. Both girls survive.

Quote List

P6. “I was the only girl with my face not covered.”

P9.’When I was born, people in our village commiserated with my mother and nobody congratulated my father.’ (start of chapter 1)

P11. “my father told the story of malalai to anyone who came to our house.”

P17. ‘My mother is very pious and prays five times a day’ … ‘she disproves of dancing because she says God would not like it’

P20. ‘Malala will be free as a bird.’

P24. ‘No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.’

P33. ’Ziauddin believed schooling should be available for all, rich and poor, boys and girls’.

P57. “I felt a terrible sinking feeling in my stomach.” P58. “since that day I have never lied or stolen.”

P66. ’Though my mother was not educated, she was the practical one in the family, the doer while my father was the talker. She was always helping people.’

P72. “Rubbish-dump children” “we should help” & “God, give me strength and courage and make me perfect because I want to make this world perfect”

P91. “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.”

P92. “[Fazlullah] warned people to stop listening to music, watching movies and dancing. Sinful acts like these had caused the earthquake, Fazlullah thundered, and if people didn’t stop they would again invite the wrath of God.”

P95. “Pashtun women are very powerful and strong”. Malala

P100. “Ziauddin, you have charisma, you can speak up and organise against them. Hidayatullah.”

P103. “My father said people had been seduced by Fazlullah.” Malala P117. “I have a father who isn’t scared, who stands by me.” Malala.

P117. “If one man, Fazlullah can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it? I wondered.” Malala.

P117. “If people were silent nothing would change.” Ziauddin.

P117. “In My hearts was the belief that God would protect me…” Malala

P122. (Malala) “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.”

P128. “Sometimes I was very afraid but I said nothing, and it didn’t mean I would stop going to school.” Malala.

P131. “ I began to see that the pen and words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters.” Malala

Essay 1 : ’Malala demonstrates that there is power in unity and persistence.’ Discuss.

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