Sunday, November 25, 2012

Malala Yousafzai: Sharing in the prophetic task

Because she is a girl, she was shot in the head. 

Malala Yousafzai has become a household name since the Taliban attempted to assassinate her on October 9.  That day, as Malala and other girls rode home from school, Taliban gunmen boarded the canopied Toyota pick up truck that served as their bus.

Malala’s crime: her conviction that girls have a right to education. Her advocacy for the education of girls began in 2009, when the Taliban captured her town of Mingora in the Swat valley of Pakistan, and began a reign of terror. Eleven years old at the time, Malala wrote a blog for the BBC describing life under the Taliban. While Malala wrote anonymously under the pen name Gul Malek, which means “grief stricken”, it was only a matter of time before the Taliban discovered her identity. 

Since 2011, when she was awarded Pakistan’s National Peace Prize, and nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize, the Taliban have been out to get Malala, who believes that education for girls is a human right, a means of reducing poverty, and a tool for peace. Not surprisingly, these accolades fail to impress the Taliban, and perhaps make them even more determined to harm Malala, whom they consider to be a “symbol of obscenity”, and “an advocate for the west”. They have said they will attack her again.

Malala has power over the Taliban
Even while she is wounded and recovering in a hospital bed far from home, Malala has power over these men. While she is at her weakest and most vulnerable, the strength of her convictions, her spiritual courage, and her ability to inspire others scare these men. Because of her courageous spirit that arises from her deep convictions, Malala has successfully inspired her community and  captured international attention. She epitomizes Ambrose Redmoon’s definition of courage; “courage is not the absence fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

Malala’s courage is contagious. It empowers others. Despite her fears, Malala publicly expressed the grief of her community and persisted in her criticism of their oppressors.  In the words of Malala’s friend Kainat Riaz, who was also wounded in the attack, Malala gave them courage; “she made us powerful.”

As if to prove her point, Riaz has put herself at risk by telling the story of that fateful day. Armed guards are posted outside her home to protect her and her family. Everyday, she and other girls put themselves in harm’s way when they go to school. Since the assassination attempt the Pakistani Taliban has adopted the horrific practice of throwing acid in the faces of girls who continue to attend school.

A voice in the wilderness cries out for justice
The Taliban has presently silenced Malala, but her voice echoes in the courageous but less attention grabbing actions of others who daily challenge their oppressors. Her voice echoes in the determined footsteps of girls who continue to attend school, refusing to let the Taliban dictate their future. Her voice echoes in the fathers who respect their daughters’ desire to learn, and who still allow their daughters to attend school despite the risks. These fathers and daughters are everyday prophets who know that to do nothing in the face of oppression presents a greater risk. They are laying the foundations for change.

While the Taliban call Malala a symbol of obscenity, others call her a “symbol of resistance”, a “symbol of peace,” and a “voice in the wilderness”.  This last epithet strikes me as particularly apt.  It brings to mind Biblical prophets, like Moses, Isaiah, and John the Baptist.  These were not doom and gloom harbingers of an apocalypse. These were prophets who brought hope to communities that were oppressed with injustice.  They challenged the dominant culture, offered a different vision of the future and energized the people.

Malala is like these prophets. She discerns a reality that transcends her current personal and communal experience of suffering. She envisions a new future full of possibility.  She inspires others to work for change.

Every so often, someone exceptional like Malala appears as a leader in a community. While her prophetic imagination is linked with the culture and history of a specific situation, the call to be a prophet is universal. Each one of us shares the prophetic task of envisioning and building a more just world, where the dignity and rights of all people are honored. Each one of us has a responsibility to do our part so that justice flows like a mighty river, enriching the lives of all people, regardless of sex, race, or creed.

Read more on the courage of girls like Malala in this story from Kathy Gannon of the Associated Press.

Some Biblical references for the requirement of justice:
Micah 6:8
You have been told, oh mortal, what is good
and what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do justice and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

Amos 5: 22-24

 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

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