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What can we learn from Malala & her marriage statement?

Pakistan reacted bitterly on the statement of world's youngest and the country's second Nobel laureate as #MalalaOnMarriage trends on Twitter. But have we misunderstood her statement?

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“O you who have faith!

If a profligate [person] should bring you some news, verify it, lest you should visit [harm] onsome people out of ignorance, and then become regretful for what you have done.”

Surah Al-Hujurat: verse 6

In The Friends of Voltaire, Evelyn Beatrice Hall famously wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I stand for marriage as an institution. Period. I’d planned to write an essay or an open letter to Malala to explain why marriage is important, but the way Pakistanis reacted to her interview changed my mind.

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, has recently graced the cover of British Vogue, a fashion magazine. It was one of Malala’s most frank interview in the recent years where she spoke her heart out. As a young girl, she appears to be confused about several aspects of life. This is how young people (who have a thinking mind) are around the world are: uncertain, confused, and inquisitive. She neither maligned the institution of marriage nor did she promote Zina as many of her fellow citizens are alleging in her homeland. She simply raised some questions, expressed her confusions and narrated her own story. We could have discussed these ideas at length without resorting to disrespect and character assignation of Malala. Karl Popper famously wrote in his masterpiece The Myth of the Framework: In Defence of Science and Rationality that “the growth of knowledge depends entirely upon disagreement.”  Respectful disagreement would been appreciated, but attacking her under the false pretexts of promoting zina represents ‘the pre-modern sensibilities of Pakistanis.’

Malala did not question religion or its utility! Imagine, had she said something like that! She even did not ask publically some fundamental questions about life, existence and God. Every young boy or girl thinks about the basic question of life in this age and in the societies like the UK and the US, and generally students are encouraged to question every authority to develop an inclusive worldview. In their classrooms and cafes, these discussions do not offend the popular culture or endanger dominant faith. This is how they have evolved and developed a culture where anybody can question, explore and find life, its meaning and God.

We have become a community where nobody is given any space to become a little different. We are quick to judge, ridicule and attack. Religious extremism in Pakistan has eroded our culture, classrooms and public spaces. Every other young man or woman would be treated as anti-Islam for voicing their doubts or questions. We have become a society where unconditional submission to the dominant discourse is considered only legitimate way to be considered a part of the group. This is how we have, advertently or inadvertently, institutionalized extremism and ignorance. Violence is natural result of what we have done so systematically.

Read More: Malala Yousafzai appears on the cover of British Vogue

The net result is that “from the 1990s to the present, about 1,500 people have been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan. Although no executions have taken place yet, 70 of those who were charged have been lynched by mobs.”

Malala, a thinking mind?

Like many people, Malala is not ready to trust anybody. She says: “You know, on social media, everyone’s sharing their relationship stories, and you get worried…If you can trust someone or not, [and] how can you be sure.”

Like so many young people, Malala does not understand the significance of marriage as an institution: She questions: “I still don’t understand why people have to get married. If you want to have a person in your life, why do you have to sign marriage papers, why can’t it just be a partnership?”

Like so many other mothers, Malala’s mum convinces her to get married: “My mum is like, ‘Don’t you dare say anything like that! You have to get married, marriage is beautiful’.”

Malala was asked; where does she see herself in 10 years?

Like any other young woman, her answer was not clear. “This is a question I have for myself every night. Lying awake in bed for hours thinking, ‘What am I going to do next?’ Where do I live next? Should I continue to live in the UK, or should I move to Pakistan, or another country? The second question is, who should I be living with? Should I live on my own? Should I live with my parents? I’m currently with my parents, and my parents love me, and Asian parents especially, they want their kids to be with them forever.”

Malala beautifully explains why she always carries a dupatta.  “It’s a cultural symbol for us Pashtuns, so it represents where I come from. And Muslim girls or Pashtun girls or Pakistani girls, when we follow our traditional dress, we’re considered to be oppressed, or voiceless, or living under patriarchy,” she explained.

“I want to tell everyone that you can have your own voice within your culture, and you can have equality in your culture,” she added.

A friend, who is a great admirer of Malala, thinks that Malala’s dupatta style has also come of age.  Earlier she’d be more tightly covered as if she was defending herself through it against intolerance and misogyny. Now both she and her Dupatta seem to have grown enough to be at total ease with each other like decades old school friends

Read More: Why do we have to get married? Malala’s question baffle Pakistanis

We should learn from Malala how to express our ideas without being apologetic and ask questions without the fear of being judged or trolled. She is a global influence, a graduate from Oxford, and a proud Pashtun who carries her cultural identity with utmost grace and beauty. We can learn much more from this brave girl!

Proud to be a citizen of Malala’s Pakistan!

Farah Adeed teaches politics and international relations at UMT. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s Editorial Policy.

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