Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
Yesterday I had the unique privilege of being present as Malala Yousafzai delivered her first public remarks since being shot in the head by the Taliban in October of 2012.
The audience was filled with 1000 young people from around the world, including 153 of our own students from New York University, to participate in a global campaign aimed at providing education to all children globally. Former British Prime Minister and current Special Envoy for Global Education to the UN General Secretary Gordon Brown has headed up the global movement and quite appropriately launched the initiative on Malala's 16 birthday with Malala herself present -- a young woman who stood and continues to stand in pursuit of her right and the right of others to education.
It's very rare that we find individuals these days whose leadership and example relates to audiences from all walks of life. As I watched Malala walk into the room in her pink shalwar kameez and shawl, head covered by a matching pink scarf, in a line of grown men all wearing dark suits and consisting of global figures such as Ban Ki-Moon, Gordon Brown and Vuk Jeremić, it only reaffirmed for me that this young woman I look up to is so special. In front of people from all over the world, she shared her message.
"Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every girl, and every boy who has raised their voice." - Malala Yousafzai
What's important to realize about Malala is that she isn't standing up just for her own rights, but for the right of others. And even after she was given accommodations for herself, she continues to speak for those who aren't able to have their voices heard. She hasn't made it about her -- it's much bigger than that. Her sense of selflessness is most admirable, and the passion, drive and confidence she brings to the table only adds to it.
"Whoever amongst you sees something wrong should change it with his hands. If he is unable to do so, then with his tongue. If he is unable to do so, then at least hate it in his heart, and that is the weakest of faith." - The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Malala, you are a true inspiration. From the time of your shooting until this very day, I have kept you in my thoughts and prayers. In a sermon I delivered on Eid-ul Adha last October a few weeks after you were shot, I likened your spirit to the spirit of the prophet Abraham, peace be upon him. The Qur'an describes him as a fata, a young person whose chivalrous nobility stems from their willingness to seek justice not for themselves, but to act justly with and seek justice for others. A young person whose sense of compassion and righteousness enables them to stand against any oppression. A young person who displays poise, carries themselves with dignity and respect and puts forth a beautiful character based on integrity, honor and trust. To me, you embody that same spirit.
"Terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this -- weakness, fear and hopelessness died, strength, power and courage was born." - Malala Yousafzai
In a world that is driven by ego and self-indulgence, thank you thinking of others first. In a world that forgets those who are different from them, thank you for reminding us we are not the only ones who are here. In a world that places emphasis on the pursuit of the material and promotes role models for our young people on ideas of superficial beauty, thank you for emphasizing the importance of pursuing knowledge and intellectual growth. In a world that can at times be dominated by male voices, thank you for seeing your being woman as a strength, not a deficiency. The idea that religion says women should submit to men is a notion that probably came from men who don't truly submit to God. Never back down and keep moving forward. I pray that God grants you the continued strength to do all that you do.