Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan: Does Islam give you a right to education? (The Washington Post)

By Faheem Younus

Pakistani civil society activists carry placards with a photograph of the gunshot victim Malala Yousafzai as they shout ant-Taliban slogans during a protest rally against the assassination attempt on Malala Yousafzai, in Islamabad on Oct. 10, 2012. (AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Someone is missing from this picture. Because just when I was wondering if extremists could do anymore damage to Islam’s image, they committed yet another despicable act.

As if flogging the adulterers, executing the civilians, and selling the women were not enough, on Oct. 8, the Taliban attempted to assassinate a 14-year-old girl, Malala Yousafzai. She was coming home from school in the battle-scarred valley of Swat, Pakistan, when Taliban shot her in the head and neck for her public advocacy for education. She is in critical condition.

It’s so heartening to see most media outlets applauding Malala’s courage. Yet, some commentators are using this cowardly act to attack my faith by casually suggesting: “Well, Islam does not give women the right to seek secular education.”

Pakistani Islamist activists carry photographs of the gunshot victim Malala Yousafzai during a protest rally against her assassination attempt, in Lahore on Oct. 10, 2012. (AFP/GETTY IMAGES) Excuse me? Why should we let a bunch of uneducated cowards and thugs be the press secretaries of Islam when the faith, much like Western secular values, is an illustrious enabler of women education? Please. Understand that we have a shared enemy here.

“Education is a fundamental right of women” – said Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. special representative for children in armed conflict. But 1,400 years ago in Islamic history, someone stated, “Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim man and woman.” Islam, therefore, presents education as a duty, not a mere right, for all.

“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world,” said novelist Jane Austen. But someone 1,400 years ago went a step further, “If a daughter is born to a person and he brings her up, gives her a good education and trains her in the arts of life, I shall myself stand between him and hell-fire.”

The word “rabbi” means a teacher. Going by this definition, Islam gave women the rabbinical status centuries before any other faith. The first female rabbi, Regina Jonas was ordained on Dec. 25, 1935 in Germany; an atypical practice, which even today is limited to the non-orthodox sects of Judaism. But 1,400 years ago someone elevated, Ayesha, the daughter of the Prophet’s companion, to the status of a teacher and jurist.

Where the first Western University in Bologna, Italy, spontaneously emerged due to the efforts of male foreign students groups in 1088 A.D., it was the singular effort of a Muslim woman, Fatima-al-Fihri in 859 A.D. that helped found the University of Karueein in Fez, Morocco. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the University of Karueein is the oldest existing, and continually operating university in the world.

Why would the Taliban shatter the dreams of young Malala to become a student, a teacher, or a scholar? It was fear, not faith, which drove them to attack this gallant girl. After all, she was writing a blog for BBC about her life under the Taliban and was the recipient of the national peace prize in 2011. You could see the leader in her. So the Taliban used the old ploy: hide your rotten fears and cultural dogmas in the shopping bag of Islam.

Malala wanted to be a doctor. But her father knew – Pakistan needed a change agent. So he inspired her to become a politician. What if she became Pakistan’s next president? Taliban have reasons to fear that thought; the three most populous Muslim countries (Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh) have all elected female presidents and prime ministers in the recent past.

In yet another shot across the bow to the ailing Malala – who must be considering whether to bow to Taliban pressure or pursue her dreams – the Taliban have threatened to fatally attack her again if she survives.

It would be galling to see the Pakistani government’s ineptness in protecting this young hero. That someone in the Muslim history would never have allowed such a travesty of Islamic values. That someone would have ensured that Malala gets her education and fulfills her dreams.

So here is my message to Malala: You are not alone. Millions of voices, including Americans, are with you. In this war of love and passion against hate and aggression, the Taliban will never win. That someone will win. That someone who enshrined the right of a girl’s education in the Muslim faith. That someone whose name is prophet Muhammad.

Dr. Faheem Younus is a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland. He is the founder of He can be reached at and follow him on Twitter at @FaheemYounus.

By Faheem Younus  |  06:10 PM ET, 10/11/2012

What Next?

Recent Articles

3 Responses to "Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan: Does Islam give you a right to education? (The Washington Post)"

  1. JB says:

    Sir, I do appreciate your feelings. But please be informed, not many of my Islamic acquaintances do not think this way. I’m surprised to see my fellow Pakistani PhD students support Islamic laws over democracy. I personally feel, democracy and secularism is the right way to go. Which is why I feel India has done better than Pakistan. Also other than the Middle East where oil is the source of income, secular countries with an Islamic majority like Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia have done better than their Islamic Republic counterparts. I was disappointed to see then feeble protests against the shooting of this flower Malala, as compared to the kind of uprising we saw from the Islamic community against the blasphemous film on The Prophet.

  2. Michael Stilwell says:

    In reply to JB, the protests against the attempted assassination of Malala Yousafzai are appropriately peaceful. The fact that they are not violent is not a reason to classify them as feeble.

  3. Appreciating the persistence you put into your website and detailed information you present.
    It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the
    same unwanted rehashed information. Wonderful read! I’ve saved your site and I’m
    including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

Leave a Reply

Submit Comment