It’s a privilege to introduce you to today’s guest poster, Chrysula. She is sharing the story of Malala Yousafzai, a defender of educational and women’s rights, as well as her faith.
It’s not often you hear the name of God invoked in a packed hall at the United Nations (UN). But when sixteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani school girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban, addressed a special youth assembly in July of this year, the first words she spoke captured my heart. “In the name of God, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful.”
These beautiful words are of course an appropriate and traditional way for a devout Muslim to begin an address. However I listen to a great number of speeches on the world stage, and I cannot recall too many such comfortable and open greetings of acknowledgement to the Almighty.
The remainder of her powerful speech was peppered with references to her faith and commitment to God as she called upon world leaders to intensify efforts to ensure the world’s 57 million children who should be in elementary school (and aren’t) get access to education. More than 32 million of those children are girls. And Malala Yousafzai has become the voice of them all.
I had the privilege of meeting Malala and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai in September when they were in New York again for UN week. We had only a few minutes together in small ‘green room’ where they were waiting to go on stage at the Social Good Summit
. The first thing that struck me was a palpable sense of goodness in the room.
I felt a whisper in my heart that here was a very special daughter of God. A daughter who had been given a work to do on behalf of many hundreds and thousands of other very special daughters of God. Because of course, every single one of these 32 million girls could be Malala, in their own ways, if given the right opportunities, support systems and miracles.
There is a global awakening, a change in the zeitgeist, about the potential of girls to be a lightning rod in the fight to end poverty. When girls are educated, they are healthier, stronger, marry later, their children are more likely to survive past the critical age of five, and they dramatically increase their earning capacity for every additional year of schooling. They also live longer — a large percentage of mothers who die in childbirth or from pregnancy complications are girls aged fifteen or younger. They plough their earnings back into their communities and families. In short, they are at the nexus of solving many of the world’s big problems.
Malala Yousafzai understands all of this. But she’s also bringing her whole self to these global conversations. She counts UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and UN Special Envoy for Global Education (and former British Prime Minister) Gordon Brown as friends. She associates with Bill and Melinda Gates, Angelina Jolie and the full leadership of Pakistan (she wore a shawl belonging to Benazir Bhutto for her UN speech). She’s had audiences with President Barack Obama and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Yet at sixteen, she is unabashed about her devotion to God and the fact that He comes first. In her just released book, I Am Malala, her faith comes shining through in the way she shares her prayers and her very comfortable, yet always respectful, relationship with the divine. She does not know how long her momentous time on the global stage will last. Personally I hope for a long while. But the world is fickle and turns easily.
Even so, it seems that Malala is moving forward in the most authentic way she knows how. And holding hands with her God every step of the way.
If you had the whole world listening to you, would your devotion to God be the first thing that people notice?
I’m quite sure it’s not the first thing people notice about me, and I don’t have world leaders paying attention to my words.
I don’t know why Malala has survived and so many other girls simply trying to get an education have not. But I do know she’s using her voice and her miraculous survival to change the world for the better in any way she can. And she’s doing it through the lens of sharing, in authentic ways, her spiritual commitment.
From the closing page of I Am Malala, “I love my God. I thank my Allah. I talk to him all day. He is the greatest.”
Jesus always told us to listen to the children. Indeed.
- For the full text of the full text of Malala Yousafzai’s address to the UN, go here or to watch her speech go here.
- To learn more about Malala’s education foundation, go to the Malala Fund.
- To read more about the day I met Malala and her father, go here.
- Why girls? Watch the Girl Effect here.