Malala Yousafzai has exploded the headlines again. This time, it’s the Nobel Peace Prize.
It’s clear to see why she is being celebrated, why people the world over consider her a hero, and why the locals from her own country feel she has brought them hope and pride. But what escapes many people is why she happens to have so many haters and critics, too.
So let’s fix that. Let’s see why the critics are saying what they are. Note that this post is written especially for Muslims who are taken by Malala and her brave struggle for education. If you’re not a Muslim, you might just want to see the interview below only, because you may not be able to relate to a lot of this post. But if you are a Muslim, and you are inspired by Malala, then I do hope you’ll take the time to read on. Because in a world where the divide between the secular-minded and the religious-minded Muslims is turning into a dangerous, gaping hole, it really is important to understand clearly what each party feels. And it just so happens that most people who believe in a secular worldview appear to be supporting Malala, and those who don’t, are not.
Let’s make two things clear.
Firstly, many of the people in the Anti-Malala camp don’t necessarily hate Malala, per se. Many in fact might feel very warmly towards her. She is only a teenager, after all! And at the beginning of this story, she was just a young child. Yes she may be a brave girl, and intelligent, and have all the right ingredients to make her a wonderful human being. That is beside the point.
Secondly, when people have an issue with something that is pounced upon like this by the global media, it would do to give them a bit of credit too, and understand that perhaps they’re simply aware of certain on-the-ground facts that others might have missed. And that it is not necessary that their conclusions about the issue must only be based on psychological or personal deficiencies, but that they could quite possibly be a simple, logical deduction from those facts that you missed out. To judge those who criticize the issue as extremist, jealous, or suffering from a chronic condition of fatalistic, conspiratorial paranoia would be to adopt the same kind of judgmental attitude that they are being accused of.
The people who are not celebrating Malala recognize that real-life stories in the world are not one-dimensional. They usually have more than one side to them. Here is the other side of this particular story.
Let’s hear out the thoughts of a woman who belongs to Swat, and who was there when Malala was shot.
Take a look at this video, it’s less than ten minutes:
In summary, the video shows a woman who grew up and studied in Swat, under the Taliban rule, asserting that she has no idea why Malala should be struggling against the Taliban for the sake of an education, because in her experience, the Taliban happen to not be the barbaric extremist misogynistic savages that the media conglomerate would have us believe. They never opposed the education of girls to begin with.
Now there are a few issues in this video that might have some Muslims upset, so I’ll address them here.
But before I continue, let me first say that by none of the following do I intend any hard feelings towards any Muslims, or anyone reading this blog, at all. Whether they have a secular education, or an Islamic education, or no education. I love you all.
1. Why is the lady asking Malala to “come back to the deen”?
Is she implying that Malala is not a Muslim? Takfir! Astaghfirullah, how dare she! No?
The Arabic word Deen does not simply mean religion. It encompasses an entire way of life, a complete and comprehensive worldview that influences the way a person thinks, acts, talks and feels – from the bottom of their heart – about different issues. The simplest explanation for this would be to remember that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. In a secular worldview, giving religious advice about pleasing God is often considered a disparaging, superstitious, self-aggrandizing suppression of another person’s freedom and independence. In the Islamic worldview, it is actually encouraged to correct each other for the purpose of individual and collective benefit, and pleasing the Creator of the Universe – as opposed to His creation, including one’s own self – is considered the highest human ambition that one could ever pursue. So a Muslim exposed to authentic formal Islamic education would not be offended at all, but honored and grateful at being given such advice. And so the entire spectrum of ideals, concepts, lifestyles, values, and ideas about freedom versus responsibility, and about relationships and entertainment – when communicated via different worldviews, can be several worlds apart.
Today’s majority of educated Muslims have been brought up with a secular education, and on top of that we have had almost uncontrolled exposure to the Western worldview through the multi-billion dollar business that is secular media and entertainment, whether audio or visual, on screen, or in writing. Given the immigration trends to the lands of the colonial rulers of yesterday, the trend to seek employment in corporations that operate on Western philosophies, and the general deprivation of Arabic that has crippled the last few generations – what other choice do we have? Therefore the worldview, the concepts and the values that influence our perspectives are, for the large part, secular. Religion, for this type of Muslim, consists of believing in the existence of One Almighty Creator, avoiding the consumption of certain foods and drinks, participating in a few yearly festivals and rituals (and perhaps the daily ones too, if time permits), and coping with a God-knows-best attitude in times of trouble. And these are noble and dignified pursuits, no doubt. But the problem is that for this type of Muslim, religion is confined to these limited pursuits. The idea of religion is, as per secularism, “personal”, and is compartmentalized in a drawer that is usually not opened except when it’s time to engage in the necessary rituals. And any religious pursuit beyond them (because social trends and media and university professors said so) is Mullah-type extremism. And so apart from a handful of pursuits, this type of Muslim holds the worldview that has been communicated via almost the entire secular, English-speaking world.
Therefore it is completely natural that you, if you do happen to have had such exposure in your life, would find the woman in the video somewhat accusative, offensive, and possibly even oppressive. You may even feel an immediate distrust of her simply because of the way she’s dressed.
Her point however, is not to be takfiri at Malala, but simply to ask that Malala not be taken hostage by the the secular worldview that is parading and idolizing her, and which, while sharing some common ideals, is fundamentally very different from that of Islam. It is of course very possible to be Muslim but simply to have had a lack of exposure to the Islamic worldview. And the people of Swat, traditionally, have held the Islamic worldview, not the secular one.
2. Why is the lady saying that the West can’t stand Islam?
Again, for the Muslim with a secular upbringing, this is sometimes difficult to comprehend.
Firstly, because – having confined the role of religion in their life to the personal pursuits I mentioned above, many of this type of Muslim find themselves completely at ease with the secular world. The idea that Muslims are victimized is sometimes alien to them, because they themselves are not facing any serious conflicts with the secular world. They feel that Muslims are their own worst enemy, and that all the terrible things in the world that are happening to them is their fault. This is fundamentally and historically true. Any failure is usually based on one’s own shortcomings. If one evil soul tries to bribe another person, then the one who offered the bribe is not the only one to blame, certainly the one who took the bribe is also blameworthy.
But what these Muslims fail to realize is that when in Rome, thinking and feeling and doing and acting and talking and carrying oneself as the Romans do, that would obviously not have the Romans frowning on you. Try something new – try practicing those aspects of Islam that make it very apparent that you are a Muslim. A beard, a Sunnah outfit that includes the turban, a face-veil, a series of vocal statements about how the Islamic system of governance is superior to and more inclusive than that of secular democracy. Try something like that. Then see how behaviors around you start changing. And how – because of no fault of your own – you find yourself positively being dragged into ruin. Of course this is because your fellow Muslim betrayed you and accepted a bribe against you, but it is also because someone saw you flourishing and disliked the competition and initiated the bribe to begin with. And when Muslims are given enough bad press anyway, it might occur to you then that there is no need to add to it, but rather to raise your voice against the ones who initiated the bribe in the first place.
The second reason that might have some Muslims doubting the issue of the “West versus Islam”, is that they simply don’t believe that wars today are fought on the grounds of religion. The problem with this approach is self-projection. We assume that because we are secular, then everyone else is, too. And all of the major game-players, the most influential politicians and military and intelligence agencies, they too – must not be religious at all. We don’t trust the “extremists” at all when they forcefully stuff Islam into everything. I mean come on – why does everything have to do with religion? Why can’t Western politicians just be money-hungry, or genuinely angelically concerned about their people, why do they have to be following some religion or ideology that is the antithesis of Islam?
This brings us to the next point. The issue of trust.
3. Why even believe the two women in the video?
What if these are just extremists, engaging in “Islamist” propaganda? (Ah, sweet conspiracy!) What if they’re just engaging in extremist propaganda in order to belittle the efforts of the U.S. and the Pakistani army’s noble War on Terror?
Do you see that? What it really comes down to, is trust.
The Muslims with a secular mindset or those who practice Islam in limited aspects of their life – they have a tendency to trust the media that projects the type of life that they are more comfortable with. Simply because they relate to it better.
On the other hand, the more practicing Muslims, or who may not practice much but ideologically conform to the Islamic worldview – they have a tendency to trust the side that opposes secularism. (And I use these terms intentionally, since there is no such thing as a “moderate” Muslim, because Islam is inherently moderate. There are however, Muslims with authentic exposure to Islam, who therefore practice it more, and those with limited exposure to it or who sometimes out of preference practice it somewhat less, or compartmentalize it more).
So it comes down to being a question of trust, based on who you’re more comfortable with it. Whose ideology you prefer.
It is no fault of the secularly-educated Muslim that they trust the secular media. They simply have limited relationships or connections with the education or the community of the more practicing types of Muslims, the ones who not only stay away from certain foods and drink, but dress differently, talk differently, and even have different pursuits in terms of entertainment and relationships. And of those secularly-educated Muslims who have had the company of more practicing Muslims – their experiences have unfortunately not been great. Because the reality is that even many practicing Muslims these days, even those who have an authentic Islamic education, often don’t have a comprehensive Islamic education, and therefore – while they implement practical Islam in their lives, and see the world through an Islamic lens, they often leave out the social or behavioral aspects of Islam. So many of them come across as simply unpleasant and unsociable.
And besides all that, on the face of it – secular media and Western ideals are in fact very rosy. Because that’s how they’re marketed. And having extracted an infinite amount of loans with massive amounts of interest from virtually all the poor in the world, they certainly have enough money to do their sales work well.
Now the question is – how do we know which version of the story to believe?
I see that there are only two ways to do this objectively.
1. Firstly, just hear the critics out! Don’t “be judgmental” about them. Maybe they’ve noticed things that others were too lost in the distractingly heroic aspect of the young girl’s media portrayal to notice.
There are many reasons why the Anti-Malala camp people don’t see what there is about Malala to celebrate about.
In the first place, the Nobel Prize has lost its merit and it now props her up next to war criminals Obama and Kissinger, or the likes of Aung San Suu Kyi, who stand mute in the face of an ethnic cleansing that comprises one of the most oppressive violations of human rights in the world. Not to say that all Nobel Prize winners are now evil capitalists, but that the objectives of giving out the Prize have become questionable.
The Anti-Malala camp people also notice the way that she has been pampered and paraded with great blessings from the same politicians who are responsible for the murder and displacement of thousands of children in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Nigeria, and whose drone strikes on schools – ironically – are among the deadliest. And so if their concern for the lives and education of others is so questionable, why their love for Malala?
The people who are not celebrating Malala may not be angry at the young Malala herself, but they are not blind to the hypocrisy of those who are flaunting her. They simply recognize that the take-home message of the entire story that is projected globally is this:
People who fight in the name of Islam or want to implement Shariah are necessarily misogynistic extremists who deny girls the right to an education and must therefore be hunted down like rats wherever they are in the world, and pulverized.
The argument that Malala never said this, or that Obama never said that, or that you are personally too sensible and intelligent to jump to such a conclusion, and so on – such arguments are irrelevant. The take-home message to the world community remains the same, irrespective of the details.
Those who are not celebrating Malala recognize this message. If they have a problem with Malala, it is because they recognize this message and its immediate implications.
They recognize that every time this message is thrown out to the world, it is then used to justify further military aggression against innocents, in a world in which 50 civilians are murdered for every militant targeted. They recognize that there is something shady about the case of a girl who is thrust into the global limelight for an issue that conveniently conforms to the Western narrative of a villainous Islam, while another, younger girl, standing immediately next to her, in the same halls and in front of the same politicians – fighting for an arguably more noble cause – is virtually made invisible. They are not forgetful of the fact that an enemy is only pleased with someone from the opposing team when they can be used as a pawn for their own victory.
The people who do not celebrate the Malala story are deeply sensitive to the irony of her being invited on global stages to tell the girls of the world that the pen is mightier than the sword, while in the background – those who invited her to say these words are actively wielding their sword on those same little girls. Pens and books, my dear children, will not protect your little hearts when the drones come knocking at your schools.
There are many more issues that the Anti-Malala people bring up, which would only be quashed as “crazy conspiracy theories” by the same CNNs and the BBCs of the world that have historically sold lies in order to justify wars, and are not strangers to the idea of tugging at the the world’s hearts using little girls as tools.
For instance – why would the Pakistani government find someone’s blog on the topic so threatening that it would need to be censored: https://willyloman.wordpress.com/category/malala-yousafzai/
And what is the whole deal with the U.N. and Gordon Brown and Malala’s father all profiting from a for-profit education scheme? Could it possibly be that Western education is being pushed not only in Pakistan but in other countries like Nigeria, through the same for-profit educational causes? We’ve just discussed above that while there are many shared ideals of kindness and justice, there are actually vast differences between the secular worldview and the Islamic one. And imperialist powers do not exactly have the right to impose – by hook or crook – their worldviews on others. Muslims of secular education who find this uncomfortable really need to get an authentic education on Islam, and note for themselves which worldview holds promise of long term progress and which one does not, if they are truly concerned about the younger generation and the future of their nations. I am not imposing religion on you now – not at all! I am encouraging education. If it doesn’t suit your fancy and you wonder if you can practice it – that’s a separate issue. But understand it.
2. See who’s bringing you the news. Having heard out the criticisms, and considered that perhaps the critics aren’t really just crazy, but that in reality there are many sides to the story that are just not being publicized, there is still another problem. The issue is that these criticisms, too, rely on news reports, don’t they? Well – many of these reports can in fact be verified, if you would care to do so. For instance – the websites and documents published by corporations like Accenture and the U.N.’s Education First scheme can be checked to see if the whole Gordon-Brown-U.N-Malala’s-father-for-profit-agenda is true or not.
But ultimately, the question of “who do we trust” still remains.
The answer is simple. And certainly objective.
Secular or not secular, a Muslim does usually acknowledge that when the Creator of the Universe says something in the Quran, He knows what He’s talking about.
And this is what Allah the Exalted has to say:
Believers, when an ungodly person brings to you a piece of news, carefully ascertain its truth, lest you should hurt a people unwittingly and then be remorseful over what you did. (Quran: 49: 5)
Simply put – check the profile of those who bring you news. Are they righteous or not? Are they reliable? Have they manipulated any issues before? Do they have a clean record, or can you actually trace the money and conclude – objectively – that they are likely to have ulterior motives? Is professional journalism these days in the business of telling the truth? Have they always told you the truth, and nothing but the truth, so help them God?
And then look at the people telling the other side of the story. What likelihood is it that they are gaining some political, or financial, or other advantages by telling their story? And where are they getting their money from?
Remember what time it was on the clock of the War on Terror when Malala’s shooting took place and the global media had us foaming at the mouth against “Islamic” extremism. It happened at a time when military aggression was being planned in a particular region. According to not only the Swati witness up in the video, but many others that you may not have met, it was a time and a region where people were content and girls were going to school.