Foreign Policy Blogs

Joining the World in Prayer for Malala

Joining the World in Prayer for Malala

Image lifted from

The first thing that struck me as I read reports on Malala’s shooting was the village name: Saidu Shareef. Living in Pakistan, we have been conditioned to hear of shootings, bombings and barbarity across the country and get on with our day; unless you know someone who lives where today’s incidents took place. A selfish reaction, yes – but required when you hear of so much every day. When drone attacks were at their peak, there was a “situation” in Pakistan known as the “IDPs” – Internally Displaced Persons – much like refugees, but because no international borders were crossed, they were homeless in their own homes.

Campsites were set up across the country to house these people, all hailing from various quarters of the then North West Frontier Province (now KPK)  and Balochistan regions. These were the less fortunate who didn’t have family or friends they could set up house with temporarily, for an indefinite period. These camps helped them make new friends, formulate new families.

I volunteered at one such camp in Swabi, NWFP, where I met a family from Saidu Shareef.  From the minute Nasreen, a mother of three, propped her youngest, 8 months old at the time with Bambi-eyes and sun-burned brown hair, in my lap I fell in love. Their other two children, a boy of 11 and a girl of eight, were equally adorable and very energetic. When it was time for me to leave the camp, I joked with their father to let me take their daughter with me. Laughing, he pulled her close and said, “She is my princess, you can take a boy!” Growing up in Pakistan, we understood that the unprecedented love for a son is tantamount in our culture – more so in our rural areas. This man dispelled all those myths with one swift embrace. He said he wanted his daughter to study to become “a big person.”

I spoke with that family often after returning from my trip. We remained in touch for a couple of years until last year my phone got stolen and with it, the one number I had to reach them. Of course, I am often reminded of them, but the day Malala was shot my heart sank as I thought of them, and of Arooj, their princess.

The mother had told me tales of how the Taliban had restricted their movement as women, and how often they would sight severed limbs in the alley, lying in a puddle of blood, or heads plastered up against a pole as “admonition”. Nasreen explained how it was difficult for her to walk to the market and how she didn’t answer her front door anymore, out of fear of the Taliban. Her sister had been publicly harassed by the Taliban because she offered some Pakistani soldiers water. “And I thought it was our duty, as Muslims, to feed the hungry and provide water to the thirsty,” she said.

Maulana Fazlullah gained popularity in the Swat region after the October 2005 earthquakes, not by threatening the masses, but by appeasing them. He helped build madrasas, affording local boys education in the light of having no other educational institutions; he helped the poor marry their daughters and provide them with a respectable dower; and most of all, he helped the residents of Swat valley find serenity in prayer in a time when their entire villages were distraught and ignored by the government. Nasreen told me her mother sold her heirlooms and donated the proceeds to Fazalullah’s cause because he was educating her grandchildren. The love for education was a reoccurring theme.

Fazalullah was revered for all the right reasons. It was only later, in and around 2007 that he started imposing a parallel judicial system of the “shariah courts” where beheadings were commonplace; restricting the movement of women and girls, shutting down their schools and stripping them of their right to vote;  banning music and burning music stores; shutting down anti-polio campaigns for being part of a western agenda to promote impotency . A tyrant had replaced the once calm provider of solutions.

Even though the situation on ground has changed since that time (the army has taken control from the Taliban in the area), it seems that the Taliban continue to lurk in the shadows. Even in light of all that has come forth since Malala’s shooting – we are yet to hear an outright condemnation of the Taliban from any of our political leaders. Ordinarily hated by most, MQM leader Altaf Hussain issued a statement that he would “expose” the religious clerics if they did not condemn this shooting. The next day a fatwa was issued stating shooting an innocent girl was not within the injunctions of Islam. But still, no one has come out to say that the Taliban, who have expressed no qualms about owning up to their act but have only shown determination to finish the job should Malala survive, need to answer for what they have done.

Pakistan has come together over Malala’s shooting like never before. Today, Pakistan has declared as a Day for Prayer for the speedy recovery of Malala Yousafzai. The last “day” declared was the “Love of the Prophet” day that brought with it death and destruction over some movie, shown somewhere, stating something no one really knew about. This day, everyone knows what happened and everyone joins in prayer — peaceful, silent, heartfelt prayer.

Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, has said that this case will be the turning point for Pakistan. Turning from supposed “religious” barbarianism to emancipation and recognition of the peace that is really Islam? Quoting novelist Nadeem Aslam, writer Kamila Shamsie put in her piece for The Guardian: “Pakistan produces people of extraordinary bravery. But no nation should ever require its citizens to be that brave.”

No nation should require such bravery because its government should protect it. Every government should have the courage and the authority to speak out against wrong committed and make perpetrators answerable for what they have done. Kamila Shamsie asks these politicians “… do any of you know the way forward? Today, I’m unable to see it. But Malala, I’m sure, would tell me I’m wrong. Let her wake up, and do that.”

As we patiently wait for that turn of fate and awakening of spirit of those power-hungry in politics, we join the nation and the rest of the world in prayer for this girl and the suffering of her family and the hundreds of families similarly situated. We pray that their struggles be not in vain.



Sahar Said

Sahar, who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, has obtained her Master of Laws degree from The George Washington University Law School, and worked with a non-profit in New York. She currently writes from Germany.

Sahar can be followed on Twitter @sahar_said.