Book Review: I AM MALALA by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I am Malala (Little, Brown & Co. Pub.: 2013), 327 pages text plus 16 pages of photographs.

I am Malala: The Girl who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban is a worthy read. I mostly read this book in the backseat of our Kia on a recent cross country road trip between Oregon and Nebraska. I learned so much about Pakistan and the Muslim people that I never knew I didn’t know. When I finished the book I had a lot of compassion for the people caught in the political and religious wars in the Middle East. Malala claims in the book a few times that she believes the Islamist extremists who are murdering people in the name of Allah are not true Muslims because nowhere does her holy book, the Quran, instruct Muslims to murder people to bring Allah glory. She believes her people were misled because so many are illiterate and cannot read the Quran for themselves. Many Pakistanis memorize the Quran in Arabic, but the people don’t speak Arabic and don’t know what the words mean. So when the Pakistani Taliban starts a radio program telling people how to wear their clothes, trim their beards and be better Muslims, they believed it, because they truly wanted to be better Muslims. But the Pakistani Taliban turned out to be using and abusing the Pakistani people living in the rural area of northern Pakistan. Malala speaks compassionately about her people in Pakistan. She probably has a future career in politics in Pakistan. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.

  1. Pakistan became a sovereign, independent Muslim nation on August 14, 1947. Mohammad Ali Jinnah is the founder of Pakistan. Swat became part of Pakistan in 1969. In 1977 General Zia ul-Haq seized control of Pakistan, executed the elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. General Zia then launched a campaign of Islamization in Pakistan. General Zia set up prayer committees in every district and appointed 100,000 prayer inspectors. [Pakistan numbered 84.2 million people in 1981.] Then General Zia called the mullahs to Islamabad to teach them how to give sermons. General Zia greatly restricted women’s rights in Pakistan. He opened madrasas or religious schools and replaced the school curriculum with Islamyat, or Islamic studies. He also started a military intelligence service which Malala calls ISI. [“ISI – the Pakistan intelligence agency; a powerful and almost autonomous political and military force; has procured nuclear technology and delivery capabilities; has had strong ties with the Taliban and other militant Islamic groups.” According to The Free Dictionary by Farlex,] The ISI trained Afghan refugees to become mujahedeen, or resistance fighters. It was during this time that a Saudi millionaire, named Osama bin Laden, went to Pakistan to train to be a resistance fighter. (pp. 30-32).
  2. “Just in front of the school on Khushal Street, where I was born, was the house of a tall handsome mullah and his family. His name was Ghulamullah, and he called himself a mufti, which means he is an Islamic scholar and authority on Islamic law, though my father complains that anyone with a turban can call himself a maulana or mufti. The school was doing well, and my father was building an impressive reception area with an arched entrance in the boys’ high school. For the first time my mother could buy nice clothes and even send out for food as she had dreamed of doing back in the village. But all this time the mufti was watching. He watched the girls going in and out of our school every day and became angry, particularly as some of the girls were teenagers. “That maulana has a bad eye on us,” said my father one day. He was right.  Shortly afterward the mufti went to the woman who owned the school premises and said, “Ziauddin is running a haram school in your building and bringing shame on the mohalla [neighborhood]. These girls should be in purdah.” He told her, “Take this building back from him and I will rent it for my madrasa. She refused and her son came to my father in secret. “This maulana is starting a campaign against you,” he warned. “We won’t give him the building but be careful.” My father was angry. “Just as we say, ‘Nim hakim khatrai jan’—‘Half a doctor is a danger to one’s life,’ so ‘Nim mullah khatrai iman’—‘A mullah who is not fully learned is a danger to faith,’” he said. I am proud that our country was created as the world’s first Muslim homeland, but we still don’t agree on what this means. The Quran teaches us sabar—patience—but often it feels that we have forgotten the word and think Islam means women sitting at home in purdah or wearing burqas while men do jihad. We have many strands of Islam in Pakistan. Our founder Jinnah wanted the rights of Muslims in India to be recognized, but the majority of people in India were Hindu. It was as if there were a feud between two brothers and they agreed to live in different houses. So British India was divided in August 1947, and an independent Muslim state was born…. We Muslims are split between Sunnis and Shias—we share the same fundamental beliefs and the same Holy Quran, but we disagree over who was the right person to lead our religion when the Prophet died in the seventh century. The man chosen to be the leader or caliph was Abu Bakr, a close friend and adviser of the Prophet and the man he chose to lead prayers as he lay on his deathbed. “Sunni” comes from the Arabic for “one who follows the traditions of the Prophet.” But a smaller group believed that leadership should have stayed within the Prophet’s own family and that Ali, his son-in-law and cousin, should have taken over. They became known as Shias, shortened from Shia-t-Ali, the Party of Ali.” (pp. 90-92.)
  3. “I sat on the rocks and thought about the fact that across the water were lands where women were free. In Pakistan we had had a woman prime minister and in Islamabad I had met those impressive working women, yet the fact was that we were a country where almost all the women depend entirely on men. My headmistress Maryam was a strong educated woman, but in our society she could not live on her own and come to work. She had to be living with a husband, brother or parents. In Pakistan when women say they want independence, people think this means we don’t want to obey our fathers, brothers or husbands. But it does not mean that. It means we want to make decisions for ourselves. We want to be free to go to school or to go to work. Nowhere is it written in the Quran that a woman should be dependent on a man. The word has not come down from the heavens to tell us that every woman should listen to a man.” (pp. 218-219.)

Malala is probably best known as the young Muslim girl who was shot in the face, at close range, by the Pakistan Taliban as she sat on a school bus, surrounded by her classmates, coming home from school. Against all odds, this remarkable young lady survived. In this book she says her family is living in England. She is still going to school and still thriving.

Since I read I am Malala she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, “The Nobel Peace Prize 2014 was awarded jointly to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”  ( She seems to be a strong, sincere Muslim teenager whose heart longs to champion women’s rights in Pakistan. I look forward to see where life takes this impressive young lady.

I bought this book on No one paid me for my book review. This review originally appeared in on January 3, 2015. I am disclosing this information in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”