I switched on my computer early this morning to get a lovely surprise: Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014. For all those who think Muslim women are too oppressed, too quiet, or too busy being mothers and housewives, to make international news, todays’ announcement from the Nobel Peace Committee may have come as a bit of a shocker. For me, it was validation of a lot of things.
If you can’t tell from these words that I am bursting with pride, let me break it down: I am absolutely ecstatic! Here’s why:
1. Malala is a Pakistani girl, with all the hopes and dream and aspirations that I and millions of my countrywomen had growing up. We all wanted to improve life around us, live in safety and security, and have fun. I am so happy to see Malala make strides towards so many of these aspirations at such a young age. At sixteen, I was worrying about boys and pimples, but she showed all of us what we can do even as a teenager to change the world.
2. With all the horrible atrocities being committed in the name of Islam, it’s about time a Muslim received international fame for doing something positive. Malala should make all Muslims – men and women, proud – proud that she is Muslim, proud that she is following the teachings of peace and friendship my religion expounds, and proud that she isn’t scared to be who she is and where she comes from. This doesn’t mean Muslims aren’t doing good, kind things every day on a local and national level. It just means Malala is high profile enough to get media attention.
3. All the negative Nancies who have been maligning Malala since the day she was thrust into the limelight by the shot of a rifle, finally need to shut their mouths. Pakistanis’ sadly, are at the forefront of this name calling, insisting that she is a CIA agent or that she is somehow being disloyal by confronting the Taliban about their anti-Islamic rhetoric. This isn’t anything new, however. Pakistan’s first Physics Nobel Laureate Dr. Abdus Salam (and until Malala the only one) was and is still shunned as a traitor because he belonged to the persecuted Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Once and for all, let me be very clear: Malala is more Muslim than those wielding guns or swords can ever be; she is a better Muslim by encouraging girls to go to school than those who behead innocent civilians. To those who have found reasons to object against the Peace Prize I can only say, your attitudes are pathetic, but women, especially Muslim women, will always rise to the challenge and prove their worth.
Malala Yusufzai is a girl with a heart so brave, a soul so pure, it shines on her face for everyone to see. She is human, and I am sure she has faults, but if I had been shot in the face I would probably not have found the courage to continue preaching love and kindness, education and peace. For that, congratulations, Malala, may today be a motivation for a thousand other girls and women to break their chains and do great things in the world. I am truly inspired by you.
Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi