Today is Malala Day at the UN. Today is Malala Yousafzai’s 16th birthday. It’s not every girl who gets the United Nations to celebrate her sweet sixteen, to give her the ear of the world. Of course, Malala is not every girl — she is one who spends her 16th birthday speaking on behalf of every girl, every boy, all women seeking education.
So here I stand, one girl, among many. I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.
On October, 9, 2012, Malala and some of her friends were shot by members of the Taliban. Malala was shot in the head because she was outspoken and undeterred about seeking an education for herself and supporting other, normal girls like her, doing the same.
Dear friends, on 9 October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too.
After Malala was shot and her medical condition stabilized, she was brought to the United Kingdom for medical care. She has not only recovered, she has become stronger and more determined than ever before (which was already a pretty high bar, given that as early as 2009 she was blogging in her native Urdu for the BBC – at the age of 11!)
They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.
I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. And my dreams are the same. Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak for the right of education for every child.
When I was recently in the UK, I visited St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. We had a few hours in Glasgow before meeting up with family and after browsing the internet for things to do in Glasgow, this appealed the most. I had never heard of the museum, but came out thanking each and every staff person I encountered for what the museum offers the public. Here is how they modestly describe themselves on their web site:
The award-winning St Mungo Museum, named after Glasgow’s patron saint, is home to inspiring displays of artefacts and stunning works of art exploring the importance of religion in peoples’ lives across the world and across time.
The permanent collection is stunning, including an amazing calligraphy depiction of the 99 names of Allah, called, “The Attributes of Divine Perfection,” by artist, Ahmed Moustafa that really caught my attention.
What made me think of my visit to St. Mungo while listening to Malala was a photographic exhibit about Birmingham, the city where Malala has been temporarily living with her family since the shooting. It’s called “Under Gods,” by the photographer Liz Hingley. It’s a exhibition which explores the complexities of everyday religious life around Soho Road in Birmingham, which is home to people from more than 90 countries. Completely lovely photos, nearly every one of them, the exhibit Under Gods documents different religious communities, including Thai, Sri Lankan and Vietnamese Buddhists, Rastafarians, the Jesus Army evangelical Christians, Sikhs, Catholic nuns and Hare Krishnas.
This is where Malala has found a home and this is where her determination and compassion is being nurtured even more.
I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
May we all be half as strong, half as determined, half as justice-seeking, half as dedicated, half as compassionate as this rising young woman.