Tag Archives: Islam

Quick review: I am Malala

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is quite an astonishing family – especially Malala (of course!), but also her father. Through this biography, we get a sense of their dedication to the cause of education even in the face of grave danger.

Malala, and her beloved Swat Valley, faced – and still face – many dangers. She narrates a number of the troubles of Pakistan and Pashtun history. But the worst, it seems, is the Taliban infiltration of the valley. Starting with apparently benign aims of social improvement, the Taliban’s presence in the valley became increasingly violent and uncontrollable. Malala’s verbal pictures of external carnage and internal fear simply underline how extraordinary is her bravery in speaking up for education of all, especially girls.

And so the Taliban shot her. The injuries were serious, and her rehabilitation difficult for all. But you don’t need me to recount the story of the book. The book is clear and speaks for itself. Instead of a re-listing, here are some impressions and thoughts from I am Malala.

This book successfully gives an outsider like me a feel for some of the history of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s complex, but the amount of complexity recorded is just enough so I am not totally confused.

Through written with the help of an English journalist (Christina Lamb), Malala’s voice comes through. This sounds like a teenager speaking – speaking well of serious matters, indeed, but still being herself. I’m glad this book does not sound like anonymous, anodyne reportage. Obviously Malala has a strong voice and Lamb is a good journalist.

The tone of this book is mature. It’s not that blame is planted simplistically at the feet of just one or two actors. And even those who fail have moments of strength. For example, Malala’s mentions of Pakistan’s military – of which there are many – do not at all absolve them of culpability in Pakistan’s turmoil. And yet there are also military personnel and structures credited with good and helpful activity.

Finally, showing my definite interest in matters of faith, Islam’s place in the tapestry of Malala’s story is fascinating. The presentation of Islam is a particular example of the book’s qualities noted above: complexity and maturity. Malala is an observant and prayerful Muslim. The Taliban are also Muslim (there’s none of the silly Western pretence that they’re not) – but their expression of Islam is criticised from within the tent of Islam. Pakistan is notably a Muslim homeland, yet Malala wonders why this nation has harmed Muslims more than if there had not been a split between India and Pakistan.

I am very glad for the brave Mulsim activists I heard of in this book: Malala, her father, and a number of others. But I long also for there to be more Christians in Pakistan and the Islamic world. This is not because there’s any greater deficiency in those people compared with others – but because of the greatness of Jesus whom Christians trust. The gospel of the Lord Jesus is needed in places of war, just as it is in places of complacent peace.

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Attacking belief – Islam

I wrote earlier on Attacking Belief (and even earlier). This post is different, because it’s from the outside.

When I write on Christianity under attack, I write as a Christian, an insider. But writing on attacks upon Islam, I am an observer.

In fact, I’m a double observer. Initially, because I am not Muslim. Secondly, because I am trying to view the attacks impartially. That is, I’m not going to present disagreements that I believe to be correct. I am going to note the attack that I think is common, or widespread. ‘How do people in my part of the world talk of Islam?’, even if I think such comment is way wrong.

Just quickly, though, a reminder: I think that attacks for any belief will – imperfectly – match the message of that belief.

What do people say about Islam? What’s the attack?

That Islam is a bit scary, sometimes ugly, and trying to change us. That Islam wants to muscle in on our culture. Perhaps it’s by introducing Sharia law (maybe even a stealth attack on our legal system). Perhaps it’s by silencing criticism and debate.

Then there’s the J word – Jihad. Struggle, warfare, whatever … it’s an attempt to overthrow.

This is the perception. As also understood by Muslims. This is Khaled Abou El Fadl:

Over the past decade in particular, Muslim societies have been plagued by many events that have struck the world as offensive and even shocking. This has reached the extent that, from Europe and the United States to Japan, China and Russia, one finds that Islamic culture has become associated with harshness and cruelty in the popular imagination of people from various nations around the world.

I emphasise, perception.

So, how does this perception match the reality? What truth has been picked up in this attack? I think it is that the culture of Islam is part of the message of Islam.

Unlike Christianity, I believe, Islam does offer a culture as an essential part of being an adherent. Some reasons, as far as I understand Islam:

  • Arabic is the true language for divine revelation
    Though not against translation, the real Quran is not in English. Christians, on the other hand, value the original languages but are open to having translations in the hands of every person
  • Islamic practice has clear markers
    Halal food is religious and cultural. Christians have no universally-agreed food laws. Muslim set prayers towards Mecca are well-known. The closest Christian equivalent would be saying the Lord’s Prayer: but that’s not very close at all – no set time, no set language, not even a law to say it
  • Islamic jurisprudence
    Is there such a term as ‘Christian jurisprudence’? I don’t mention Sharia to stir controversy, but its existence does show a tight conceptual link between ‘Muslims’ and ‘the Muslim state’

To say Islam links culture/practice with its message is not to offer a criticism. It is merely an observation. It’s an observation of a difference between Islam and other beliefs. I think it’s also an observation that makes some sense of the ways Islam is criticised in Australia.

Perhaps knowing this will help us better understand Muslim neighbours, and better talk to them with mutual understanding.