Three days ago, a young Pakistani girl from Swat was shot in the head, point-blank, by a Taliban gunman. Miraculously, she is still alive - a courageous young woman who will not be silenced. Malala Yusufzai, the 14 year-old champion of a woman's right to self-expression, lies in critical condition in a hospital in Rawalpindi. Her attackers claim to be enacting the will of God. The Pakistani public, and Muslims around the world, vehemently disagree.
The earliest revelations to the Prophet Muhammad (upon him, peace) warned of an impending day when each human soul would be called to account for its actions in this world. These apocalyptic surahs, with their urgent staccato rhythms, ask us to imagine a time in which the laws of nature cease to apply, when every certainty becomes uncertain, and when human beings are like "scattered moths" in their haste to flee from the impending judgment.
When the sun is overturned
When the stars fall away
When the mountains are moved
When the ten-month pregnant camels are abandoned
When the beasts of the wild are herded together
When the seas are boiled over
When the souls are coupled
When the girl-child buried alive
Is asked what she did to deserve murder
When the pages are folded out
When the sky is flayed open
When Jahim is set ablaze
When the garden is brought near
Then a soul will know what it has prepared. (81:1-14, tr. by Michael Sells)
In the center of this chaos lies a simple heartbreaking phrase: when the girl child buried alive is asked what she did to deserve murder. This sentence refers to the abominable practice of female infanticide through live burial that plagued the Arabian peninsula before the advent of Islam. Daughters were a financial burden, best disposed of at birth. In fact, it was the Qur'anic condemnation of this practice that attracted many of the first converts to the new faith. Just like the murdered infant, Malala committed no crime. She merely understood that imprisoning a woman within four walls, physical or mental, is like burying her alive.
That this of all crimes should take center stage in the drama of the apocalypse reminds us, forcefully, of the Qur'anic stance on violence against women. The Qur'an was first revealed as a call to arms against injustice, and one of the first injustices it chose to address was the victimization of women and girls. The Prophet Muhammad (upon him, peace) exemplified the Qur'anic attitude; his love for his four daughters is the stuff of legend. Of his daughter Fatima(may God be pleased wIth her), he said: She is a part of me; whoever hurts her, hurts me. Whenever the Prophet saw Fatima, he would stand up and kiss her, take her by the hand and seat her in his place. The Prophet tells us that if parents are good to their daughters, they will be as close to him as one finger is to the next.
The Qur'an is one of the only scriptures that directly addresses women as participants in the process of revelation. Women played pivotal, at times even controversial, political and scholarly roles in the early community. Their voices are clearly heard in hadith literature, often questioning or raised in dissent. The gunman has no place in this story. He spits in the face of the tradition he claims to uphold. Not only did he try and shoot a young girl to death, he did it to prevent every girl from claiming her Qur'anically mandated right formulate her own opinions and act on her conscience. It is so easy to despair in the face of such brutal ignorance and self-delusion. But if we wish to honor Malala, then we must act as she did. Malala understood that every human being, even a young girl, has a moral obligation to respond to injustice. In a CNN interview in 2011, she decried apathy by saying "God will ask you on the day of judgment, "Where were you? Where were you when your people were asking [for] you!"
Perhaps she remembers what the Prophet once said, "A believer who struggles in community and endures its pain is more virtuous than the one who does not."
Malala's lack of fear and her clear-eyed commitment to the truth is the mark of one who understands, in the wise words of Abd al Hakim Murad, the fundamental poverty of fanaticism. The product of an insecure and fragmented self, fanaticism is essentially unsustainable, built on the shifting sands of Satanic logic. The feminist legal scholar Azizah al Hibri elaborates on this twisted form of logic: in the Qur'anic story, Satan (the first fanatic) claimed his superiority over human beings on the basis of an arbitrary principle (fire is better than clay) that he invented to serve his own ego. His self-obsession led him to defy the direct command of God Himself, to bow to Adam, the new creation.
The fanatic serves the idol of his ego. And so it is that he can shoot an unarmed girl in the head and call it an act of courage. Malala's commitment transcends her own fragile self. She grasps `urwat al wuthqa, the handhold that never breaks. And so it is that she can act in the world without fear, even in the face of death.
There are so many young girls like Malala in Pakistan, and around the world. They need our prayers but more than that - they need our active support. Let us follow Malala's example, stand on the front-lines, and create a world in which violence has no place.