Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan: Does Islam give you a right to education?

AFP/GETTY IMAGES Pakistani civil society activists carry placards with a photograph of the gunshot victim Malala Yousafzai as they shout … Continued


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.

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.

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,
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
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
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
in the Muslim history would never have allowed such a travesty of Islamic values. That
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
will win. That
who enshrined the right of a girl’s education in the Muslim faith. That
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.

Dr. Faheem Younus
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  • Retired_and_glad

    What a bunch of cowards. If there was EVER a reason for the Taliban to be eliminated, this is it. They are such COWARDS that they are afraid of a 14 year old girl.

  • qrashid

    Great argument, powerful reasoning, and a clear message. Our common enemy is terrorism and the Taliban. Well said.


    I hope this young girl does well and recovers. As an atheist I think that religion is the problem, but as a friendly atheist I hope Malala and other such heroes continue to stand up for what believe is right in the face of barbarism. Change only comes when people are brave enough to stand against what they believe is wrong. The enemy here is poverty, not religion, and as Americans we should support any person who stands up to defend their liberty.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    Dr. Faheem Younus,
    you’re not quoting meccan verses are you?

    i keep hearing about these “moderate muslims”. i hope there are many many many out there proactive enough to “rebel” against the taliban you say have perverted or misinterpreted or whatever the great religion of peace. it really shouldn’t be hard if most muslims are moderate, as i keep hearing. from what i can tell, people like malala yousafzai are the “extremists” in they are in the minority.

    also, can you estimate the % of muslim who are “literalists”? (by that i mean those who believe in a literal adam and eve, noah’s flood, etc….

  • Bob S.

    Well, you’re on the path to knowledge, but have taken a detour. I wish you well on your journey to enlightenment, and away from glib thumbnail philosophy.

    Poverty brings stress, but most people don’t react to that particular stress with acts of monstrous violence against innocent victims. Give it a little more thought, and you’ll figure out what the enemy is. (Hint: FDR has a famous line which encapsulates the problem.)

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    walk softly and carry a big ak-47?

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    “As an atheist I think that religion is the problem…..The enemy here is poverty, not religion…”


  • walter-in-fallschurch

    dr younus,
    i’m very disappointed in “moderate” muslims.

    so much so that i’m starting to question whether they even exist. there should be world wide, continuing, growing MUSLIM outrage about malala and the near-daily islamic bombings, murders, stonings etc… yet, the only time we see the kind of “outrage” and activism i’d like to see from the invisible moderates is when there’s a silly cartoon depicting muhammad as violent…. disappointing.

  • Fatima Riaz

    MFI not only promotes Sufi doctrine and Goharian philosophy of divine love and global peace but at the same time we also point out atrocities, social atrocities and religious atrocities that our society is filled with today. Currently the entire world is focusing in what’s going on in Pakistan. All sorts of oppression and dishonesty and anti-human campaign and anti divine love campaign are being carried out by different fanatic’s extremist groups and militants groups in Pakistan, although there are many groups who fall into the category of fanatics extremist but on top of all other groups is the most notorious fanatic’s extremist’s Islamic group of Taliban. Taliban as the world know comes from Afghanistan but I want you to know that Taliban were trained by Moulana Fazal-ur-Rehman the leader of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam of Pakistan and his guy is the member of parliament in Pakistan he is the mastermind. There are two different versions of Taliban, Taliban of Afghanistan but there is a mother organisation of Taliban, Taliban of Pakistan. We have been raising awareness of this very delicate matter of recognising the Anti Christ which has appeared in the guise of the Taliban leader one eyed python Mullah Umar and his deceased right hand Osama bin laden. I am deeply saddened by what I heard about the 14 year old girl been shot in the head Malala Yousafzai she was a peace activist, after she protested against atrocities done by Pakistani Taliban in her hometown swat valley. In the valley of Swat Taliban by force didn’t allow girls to go to school and they banned closed all girls school but she agitated and protested and she became famous. She is a wonderful child. I saw her interview last night on the television, geo news the way she was explaining her agenda and what she wants to do in her country depicted a grate amount of political potential in her character she seems to be a very intelligent person though is she only 14 years of age. You see Taliban are now crossing all

  • Citizenshmitizen

    Gee. I never hear of “moderate Muslims” taking up arms to protect the innocent.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    i’m not advocating taking up arms. i’m advocating peaceful protests a la 60s civil rights movements. IF these moderate muslims i hear about (but never see) really are “mainstream” then there should be a billion of them or more. where the hell are they?

  • Abdul Ahad

    This is one of the best articles in defense of Islam, that too by a non-muslim man. Thank you Faheem Younus, you have done a good job!

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    are you muslim? if not, maybe you know anyway. what % of muslims worldwide are scriptural literalists? (i.e., adam/eve, noah’s ark, winged horse, are real, actual historical events)

  • Abdul Ahad


    Your question is irrelevant to the subject of this article, thus, no answer. sorry to disappoint you…


  • Americana 33

    What do you mean Abdul? The author is not a Muslim? Really?

  • Americana 33

    At least one of them is here. The author of this article. But I agree, where are all the Americam Imams who were protesting in the Manhattan parks when the blasphemous movie was released?

  • aby

    The World Economic Forum last week distributed its annual Global Gender Gap Report, a review of how 134 countries have succeeded in closing gaps between women and men in four areas – economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment and health and survival.
    Seventeen of the 20 countries at the bottom of the gender gap scale are Islamic – Lebanon (placed at 116), Qatar (117), Nigeria (118), Algeria (119), Jordan (120), Oman (122), Iran (123), Syria (124), Egypt (125), Turkey (126), Morocco (127), Benin (128), Saudi Arabia (129), Mali (131), Pakistan (132), Chad (133) and Yemen (134).

    The common element among the above is Islam. Draw your own conclusions

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    the author is muslim.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    does anybody know what percentage of muslims are scriptural literalists? (6000 year-old earth, no evolution, etc….)

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    wow… pretty damning…. stupid facts…. but aby, you’re naive to think facts sway religious people.

  • AmmarD

    Author belongs to Ahmadiyya sect which is considered non Muslims by most Muslims. Not sure if abdul meant fact or sarcasm

  • Catken1

    I hope when some Christian extremist bombs an abortion clinic or murders a gay teenager, you all are out there protesting his actions.
    And do it loudly enough so I can hear you while I’ve got my fingers stuck in my ears screaming “LaLALA MODERATE CHRISTIANS DON’T EXIST!”

    After all, moderate Muslims DO exist, and DO protest, as the author is doing, and you all stick your fingers in your ears and claim they don’t exist, and that any moderate Muslim who doesn’t protest loudly enough to please you (and there is no “loud enough to please you”) is just as responsible for the actions of the fundamentalist extremists as the fundamentalist extremists are.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    when a christian nut job bombs an abortion clinic in america he is arrested. he goes to trial and gets convicted and goes to jail. are you really comparing the once-a-year, maybe, abortion clinic bombing to the daily school/bazaar/mosque islamic bombings?!?!

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    thanks ammar. just looked ahmadiyya up. the distinction(s) seem pretty trivial to me… but… whatever. i’m pretty sure mr. younus considers himself muslim, so…. i’m going with muslim too. if all muslims were like him i don’t think we’d have terrorist attacks….

  • AlibiFarmer

    Novels and cartoons Muslims object to cause riots and fatwas. Where are the riots and fatwas here? Where are the heavyweights of Islam calling this act a crime and perversion of Islam?

    It’s fine for a few Muslims over here to act appalled. But until this kind of act causes outrage in the entire Umma, Islam will continue to be regarded with suspicion and disdain.


    Please notice that the majority of the targets of radical Islamicists like the Taliban are YOUNG WOMEN. 12, 13, 14 year-old girls.

    First, it puts the lie to any claims that Islam does not hate women.

    Second, note that these Taliban are Pakistani, a nation the U.S. supports with vast quantities of money and diplomacy. The Taliban have always been Pakistani. When the U.S. fought the Taliban in Afghanistan those Taliban were Pakistani. The U.S. supports the Taliban.

  • Peaceforall0001

    islam calls for a democracy. islam calls for equality. islam calls for peace.
    clearly more than half these countries are not following these BASICS of islam. instead of judging the text of a religion by the corrupted people, why don’t you look at what the religion actually says?
    And you want some facts clever-ones? there was a time in history (well, still occurs today) where popes and christian leaders were very corrupt. they wrote lies and told lies to people about what Christianity was. they caused people to go kill others and judge. does that mean christianity is a bad religion? no, the people were bad.
    christians killed COUNTLESS native americans and Africans (and many other minorities) and enslaved them as welll. does that mean christianity is bad? no, the people that do not know the TRUE edict of the religion, are bad; are corrupt.

    stop judging a religion on a few people. i know you hear a lot of comments about the middle east. however, the middle east is 20% of the muslims of the world, and a less than 1% are violent and corrupt. does that mean that that 1% of people (who have no brain or knowledge of islam) define islam?!
    Get your facts straight. Stop hating. All you do is sound ignorant and arrogant as well.

  • Peaceforall0001

    I agree. We moderate muslims do not speak out enough. I’m not going to make excuses for us. But slowly we are speaking out. Slowly though. However, there is a lot more extremism portrayed in the media. if you could, please advise me on how to be more effective in speaking out! I’m 19 years old and a university student and am still learning. i would greatly appreciate it if you have any suggestions

  • Masror

    First of all before you coment on it you need to know the real story. These black sheep of family who attacked this young incent girl Malala, are kicked out and now are in the shelter of some one you may know too. we must recognize the WOLF among these black sheep wearing skin of black sheep. Black sheep is Mulla Fazal Ulah (wo is said to bhe the person ordered to kill this little girl) and the Wolf is the power who is giving protection and feeding these sheep to use them against the flock (family). Do i need to spell out who is protecting and nurching these black sheep?

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    what % of muslims world wide do you think are “scriptural literalists”? by “literalist” i mean one who takes the text literally, at face value, when it says “eve was mad from adam’s rib”, or “noah was 600 years” etc…

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    oh… brother… it’s america’s fault?!?! the pakistan and afghan people have to OWN this violence. it’s afghans and pakistanis doing this. you can’t escape that responsibility.

  • dmfarooq

    The unconscionable , uncivilized and against all religious including Islamic beliefs Taliban attacks on public and private properties , innocent civilians including women and children , for last several several have been going on all over Pakistan . Nevertheless , the brutal and heinous criminal attack on a 14 year old girl , Malala Yousufzai hopefully would become a turning point for all civilized and peace loving Pakistanis . They need to look around in their neighborhoods , communities , schools , places of work and almost every where and spread a movement of social boycott , against both Taliban movement and their sympathizers . This would not be an easy task if they accept this challenge ! They need to work with family and friends . The War against horrible terrorism movement is win able only with popular public help and a huge focused campaign and movement all over Pakistan . The terrorism has been destroying Pakistan for years .


    The U.S. has always supported the Taliban. When the mujahadeen were fighting the Soviets, who do you think Ollie North funneled money and weapons to?

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    “over 155 other people have been KILLED in the name of the religion of violence…”

    155 killed since the failed assassination attempt.

  • A Humanist

    155? Well that is appalling although its an action done by a handful of corrupt self-righteous followers of a religion. By the way, speaking about casualty figures – do you know that for every drone strike 49 innocents die in average in Afghanistan & Pakistan? I am sure at the end result 155 is a very small number relative to the scale of violence your country does. Never thought about that, eh?

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    49 innocents per drone strike? baloney. source, please.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    i think your numbers are WAY off.

    nonetheless, you raise a valid point. anyone who ignored civilian casualties would be a pretty morally bankrupt. and of course anyone who targets civilians ON PURPOSE would just be absolutely indefensible.

    in service of trying to kill militant islamic theocrats for the protection of regular people, the U.S. has a very convoluted decision-making process about whether to strike. the idea, for american drone strikes, is to AVOID civilian casualties. often, targets are not struck, for fear of civilian casualties. sometimes, regrettably, civilians are killed. americans undertake studies to figure out how many civilians they killed and how to minimize it in the future.

    contrast that with the taliban’s tactics. they INTENTIONALLY go after 14 year old girls and shopping centers and downtown office building etc… t’s just awful. there is no moral equivalancy.

  • tony55398

    I hope Islam gives equality to all.

  • walter-in-fallschurch

    i hope nobody gets cancer.

  • aby2

    DMFarooq says:
    “The unconscionable , uncivilized and against ALL RELIGIONSincluding Islamic beliefs, Taliban attacks on public and private properties , innocent civilians including women and children”
    Taliban and other fundamentalist Muslims can quote you more than half a dozen quotes from their scriptures that “justifie” their actions. MEthink Sir that the problem lies in the scriptures first and foremost.