Talking about Malala Yousafzai’s courage

Talking about Malala Yousafzai’s courage

Quite honestly, I haven’t had the privilege of knowing many Muslim women. So I considered it a special opportunity to broaden my perspective—and better understand another world view—when I spent a few hours talking with Mona, a Saudi Arabian Muslim studying for her master’s degree at a U.S. university.

We met in Mona’s home—over a cup of cardamom-infused Saudi coffee and tasty Saudi dates—to discuss important principles within the Muslim faith. Mona believes these principles support education for all, including girls. We also talked about how Mona, like millions of others across the globe, continues to be inspired by Malala Yousafzai.

And though it is unlikely that Malala will ever read this interview, I would like for her to know that it is her brave spirit that encouraged this conversation in the first place. So as you read Mona’s thoughts about Malala, I invite you to contemplate what your own answers to these questions would be. I wonder if you’ll discover, like I did, that in the area of gender equality, what unites our views as women is far more important than what may separate us as people from varied backgrounds and different religions.

Do you think Malala Yousafzai is courageous?

Yes, absolutely. In the Muslim Holy Book, the Quran, the first thing that happened when God sent Gabriel to the prophet Mohammed—peace be upon him—was that Gabriel told the prophet Mohammed to read. He told him this three times. This shows that Islam supports education and supports reading. Islam never said to be uneducated.

Are Malala's efforts offensive to Islam or the Muslim faith?

Islam is never against women or education. Islam really supports education and women.

How does Malala's experience with education compare to education of women/girls in Saudi Arabia?

It is very different. Education is allowed for all women and for all ages in Saudi Arabia and every child is required to receive an education. Women and men are educated separately, but they have the same opportunities and equal access to education.

It used to be that women could just be teachers, but now the government has opened a lot of opportunities: accountant, doctor, nurse, and more. In the last five years, there have been a lot of changes. There is even a special university to prepare women for better jobs. (Note: Princess Nora University is the world’s largest women-only university with capacity to serve 50,000 students in 15 academic degree areas.)

Have you ever worried about your safety as an educated Muslim woman? What are your plans for your future education?

In Saudi Arabia, I always felt safe going to school. The facilities are good and the teachers have the tools they need. Girls are encouraged to go to school. For my own education, I plan to apply to upgrade my scholarship and study for a PhD. If I don’t receive the scholarship, I will return to Saudi Arabia, get a good job, and continue my life.

How do you think Malala’s courage will impact young Islamic women around the world?

It will have a positive impact because Malala asked for something that she should have. She asked for an education for the women in her country and she has a right to that.

If given the opportunity to speak to Malala, what would you say?

What you did is the right thing. Keep going and keep fighting. It is your right.

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As I read this final line where Mona applauds Malala’s courage, it makes me pause to thank Mona for her courage to speak out, as well. Through open dialogue such as this conversation, we can discover what we share as women across the globe: the desire to have a future filled with possibility and choice, a desire ultimately rooted in the gender equality that Malala is fighting for.

And while I appreciate the chance to understand Mona’s views about education and gender, on a much more personal note, I am also grateful to discover that we enjoy some of the very same things: Starbucks coffee, pumpkin bread, and cooking for others. Quite simply, it was a wonderful chance to get to know a Saudi woman.

Malala’s voice has generated an important, ongoing conversation about gender and education. And in this instance, it has helped bring two women from distant parts of the globe together to uncover our shared human experience, as well.

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This is the sixth article in an ongoing series about Malala Yousafzai and the impact her tragic shooting has had on lives around the world. We encourage readers to share their perspectives on this thought-provoking topic. Read our other articles here:

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