Malala Yousafzai, Jesus and the power of resurrection

It was impossible not to be inspired listening to Malala Yousafzai yesterday as she addressed the UN General Assembly on her sixteenth birthday, exactly nine months after she had been shot in the head and neck in an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Since 2009 from the age of eleven she has been recording their systematic destruction of the education system in the Swat Valley in Pakistan.  Through her BBC blog she has been a powerful voice recording the oppression she and her fellow female peers have faced from the oppressive militant forces of the Taliban as they have sought to impose their Islamist ideology on the peoples of that area.

Her fearless blogging has had a far reaching impact. In October 2011, Desmond Tutu announced Malala’s nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize and she became a celebrity in Pakistan. Her public profile rose even further when she was awarded Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize two months later in December.

As Malala became more recognised, the dangers facing her became more acute. Taliban death threats were published in newspapers and slipped under her door. Despite this Malala vowed to “never stop working for education for girls”.

When none of this worked, a Taliban spokesman says they were “forced” to act. In a meeting held in the summer of 2012, Taliban leaders unanimously agreed to kill her.

Their failed attempt followed by her subsequent remarkable recovery has brought her further international attention.  She was included in Time Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Yesterday’s event at which she demanded education for all was described by the UN as Malala Day and was organised by Gordon Brown, now the UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

Malala Yousafzai is from a Muslim family, but her speech referenced a number of famous religious figures and campaigners and drew on a number of religious themes:

“I don’t know what people would be expecting me to say, but first of all thank you to God for whom we all are equal and thank you to every person who has prayed for my fast recovery and new life.

“Dear friends, on 9 October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends, too. They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought 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.

“I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. And my dreams are the same. Dear sisters and brothers, I am not against anyone. Neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I am here to speak for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

“This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.

“Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced.”

What Malala is referring to is a deep reality that those who seek truth and freedom are ultimately far more powerful than those who attempt to rule by force and violence.  The darkness will never extinguish light no matter how hard it tries and it only takes a small flicker of light to eat into and begin to destroy that darkness.  As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1,27-28:

‘But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are.’

I do not want to bestow any messianic qualities on Malala, but her life bears many parallels to that of Jesus.  He regularly spoke out against the leaders of his day confronting the legalistic religion they used to exert control over the lives of those in their society.  His words caused those leaders to attempt to silence him through brutal murder, despite his innocence.  His death was not the end, but instead his resurrection caused his name to be ultimately known throughout the earth.  Jesus’ life of love, compassion and forgiveness continues to demonstrate to us how we should live.

Malala has experienced her own metaphorical death and resurrection and through it she has come out with an even bigger voice and influence than she had before.  It reminds us of the way one individual has the potential to achieve great things if they are willing to risk everything in their life for the greater good.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Malala despite still being a child has given us a reminder of the truth of these words.  She may not fully appreciate it, but it is almost as if these words of Jesus were spoken directly to her.

Categories: Education, International politics, Justice, Persecution

Tags: , , , , , , ,

23 replies


  2. What an awesome responsibility and so inspiring!

  3. On a purely personal level, I am so encouraged by what you say in this post. Many, many folk think I am extremely odd for believing God (of the Bible) to be other than the source of privileged blessings to whom we can appeal on our behalf or for others. This is something I have always questioned. But what you write here strongly reflects my own understanding that God (of the Bible) is the figure-head of a particular worldview / way of living – namely, loving the neighbour as the self so that no-one is excluded – which can be demonstrated by anyone of whatever culture be they Muslim schoolgirl, Roman centurian or Syro-phoenician. A parallel life to that of Malala is Iqbal Massih whose story is recounted in the book ‘Iqbal’ translated by Francesco D’Adamo. Have you read it? It too is a resurrection story and if you know any film producers out there….!

    • Loving others as yourself is not an exclusively Christian concept, but Christians are commanded to do it – it’s not an option if want to follow Jesus’ teachings. That doesn’t mean that the underlying truth won’t work for anyone else. Of course it will. I struggle with your interpretation of God as a worldview though. I am absolutely convinced that God is far more than an ideology or social construct. The Bible’s authenticity derives from its spiritual underpinning that do not come from a human perspective. If you do not accept that God exists in a real and tangible way, then the way you read and interpret the Bible will undoubtedly be completely different and much of its truth and power will be lost.

      • you mention ‘spirituality’ a lot – but please can you explain what you mean? It’s a word I’ve always struggled with. Until I understand what you mean I can’t comment on whether your understanding of God is more ‘real and tangible’ than mine and whether or not your understanding of the Bible is more truthful and powerful!

        • To me spirituality is being aware that life is more than just physical. There is a spiritual dimension that we cannot see but is tangible and real. I believe that God is spirit and the creator of our world and universe. He is not distant but relational. I speak to him and he speaks to me. My reading of the Bible matches my spiritual and physical experience of God. Romans 8 sums up some of this:

          Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

          You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life[d] because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you.

          14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

        • thanks for this, Gillan. I happen to believe that Paul was talking about the way his readers were to live / politics. But, that aside, my difficulty is this; your spiritual dimension and relationship / speaking with God – how does it make you different from ordinary folk like me? And Malala or Mandela or Iqbal or Ghandi? And how does your understanding of a God who speaks to heaps of folk nowadays square with the Bible where God only spoke to a (very) few folk for very specific purposes?

        • If you look at the Old Testament it prophesies a time when God will speak to many people rather than a few. The church recognises that as the time from when the church was founded at Pentecost. We should expect that to be the case now. Hearing from God and walking with Him gives you an added insight into life. It’s like the lights have been turned on more fully than they were previously.

        • my understanding is that the Bible was looking to a time when many would understand what it meant to live together in solidarity so that no-one would be excluded. I really don’t think the Bible was foretelling a time when God would start talking with middle class 21st century westerners like you and i who live privileged lives in stark contrast to Jesus’ imperatives! But, assuming you are right, what insight have you heard from God?

        • I think you’ll find that the western church is less accustomed to this than in other countries so it’s certainly not a 21st century middle class thing by any means. If you want an example of how God has spoken to me try this for starters

        • thanks for that link, Gillan. I think what you do is fab and I don’t doubt for one moment that you do what you do with integrity. At the same time, I have my honest doubts / issues. Here are just two;
          – if it is really God who talks to you and many others, why does He tell you conflicting things? I know committed Christian Conservatives, Liberals, Socialists, Feminists, Gays and Anti.
          – Just as you see a personal and communicating God as A Good Thing – because it works well for you that way? – it is not so for others. E.g my friend Claire. when she found out she couldn’t have children she thought prayer would solve the problem. It didn’t. She then felt God was punishing her and punishing her husband through her. She couldn’t work out what God was saying to her. Did He want her to be childless or did He want her to try and adopt or, because her husband was desperate for kids, was God saying that she should separate from him? She felt she had let God down because she found it impossible to cope with the burden she believed God had deliberately given her. So she killed herself.

          Ideas pop into my head all the time at opportune moments but it’s not God. I don’t want anything to do with a picky God who talks to some folk about setting up websites and doesn’t make his intentions clear in response to others’ deepest pleadings.

        • I’m not comfortable commenting on Claire because I know so little about her, but although some people like her believe that God is punishing them for something that goes wrong in their lives, it doesn’t match what the Bible says about God’s character. From what I can make out, I think your understanding/interpretation of God’s love is somewhat limited. There are plenty of references to God’s love throughout the Bible. I would suggest you look a bit deeper and try to understand the different words that are translated as ‘love’ in English.

          I’m not expecting you to believe in God if you find that doing so makes little sense, but if you want to make sense of the Bible, you have to acknowledge the religious dimension of it and when I say religious, I mean the writer’s belief in a supernatural God. Much if the Bible is individuals’ encounters with God and his impact on their lives. This is one of the things that set it apart from other Near East religions of the time of the Old Testament.

        • my understanding is that the Bible uses mythological language to discuss ( very rare!) ‘meetings’ between God and important individuals in the tradition. In these meetings God ‘gives’ very important / significant instructions etc to Biblical heroes. How are you, for example, understanding God’s instruction to Abraham and Abraham’s strange reaction to being instructed to sacrifice his son? ( E.g. Is it loving to put someone and his wife through such torture?) At the same time, why do you personally suppose God wants to suggest to you that you should set up a website, how do you discern it is God and why do you want to believe in this selectively deaf God?

        • Rationally it didn’t make sense for me to start this website. I had no interest in doing so and I have plenty of other things I could be doing with my time. I don’t particularly enjoy writing and I don’t have any experience of or training in journalism. Nobody else put the thought into my mind and wasn’t particularly keen to do it at first. I could be deranged or I could be hearing clearly from God. You and I both have an certain understanding of the Bible and of God. The thing is my experience and understanding matches what I read. I don’t see that with yours. I can see where you are coming from to an extent when it comes to the Old Testament, but when you read the New Testament I can’t match it up at all. It only works if you ignore large parts of it or create alternative meanings. You only seem to understand God from a Old Testament perspective that related to the god of a nation. How does your paradigm work when the New Testament writers talk of a New Covenant that is for all people and not just the Jewish nation?

        • You’re right. I am very interested in the Old Testament (1) because it is by far the largest part of the Bible and (2) because Jesus said he wanted to fulfil the tradition – the law and the prophets – rather than invent a new one in place of the old. I think that is absolutely crucial to understanding what Jesus was about.
          The original covenant with Abraham was that Israel would stand up for herself and that, in return, Yahweh (as the figurehead of her ideology) would vindicate her efforts by softening her oppressors’ hearts. (Abram believed Yahweh and credited it to him as righteousness.) And so the OT goes on with the Hebrews never quite managing to perform as required of them in terms of the covenant. Then Jesus! He calls on his people to join with him to be (in the words of Isaiah who talks of Israel as being given a second chance) a light to lighten the gentiles in order to fufil the covenant once and for all. Jaw-droppingly powerful stuff. In the end, though, as we see, everyone else runs away leaving Jesus to fulfil the covenant on his own. The fact that they then called him the only Son of God and talked of his achievement in terms of the inter-testamental term ‘resurrection’ shows that, as far as the evangelists were concerned, Jesus did indeed fulfil it on everyone’s behalf. And as far as i can make sense of it, no rescuing supernatural being and no magic is involved whatsoever. That would be to hugely belittle what Jesus went through and achieved.
          I have to say that i am astounded that you attribute to God your counter-intuitive idea to set up a website. Quite apart from the fact that surely you would agree God would be better spending his time on more pressing stuff, and the fact that He seems to be telling His people quite contradictory stuff, can you imagine what might happen if we all went about declaring our various ideas to come from God. ( E.g i have a devout Catholic friend who says cats are evil and should be destroyed)?! Paradoxically, your latest blog-post itself tells of the danger of attributing our own ideas to God.

          Does any of that make sense to you? The thing is that I just don’t understand how you can say that your experience ( of the world) is that there is a Supernatural Being out there who loves us all. Are you and I living on the same planet?

          Finally – !! – what ‘large parts’ of the NT am I ignoring?

        • I don’t expect us to agree on all of this. I can see our experiences are very different. I am adamant that God exists and you are adamant that he does not! What I find so curious is that you have such an interest in the Bible which is all about a God you don’t believe in.
          For example I wonder how you interpret references to the Holy Spirit in passages such as the start of 1 Corinthians 12. If you deny any supernatural element to this, I don’t see how it makes any sense.

  4. Reblogged this on matt's musings and commented:
    Great blog about a great speech and a great moment

  5. Do you deliberately omit mention of the Secularist of the Year prize fund, as you lay on the Christian sententiousness with a trowel? You’ve ‘topped’ Alan Billings’s Thought for the Day. Not one of your finest, Gillan.

    • Sorry to disappoint you Lee, but obviously we are coming at this from very different viewpoints. Thank you for pointing out the NSS article. I’d missed that, so leaving it out was far from intentional. Those winning the awards deserved them. Secularism is very good when it allows all faiths to flourish within an open and free society.

  6. Just ‘Thank you’ really. In the words of my favourite collect ‘give us grace to glimpse the singns of [the Kingdom’s] dawning’ … this is one answer to that prayer (

  7. Ah, Gillan. I do absolutely believe in God – by which I mean the god who spearheads a particular way of living first identified by the Hebrews and described with passion and sense in the Bible. Such a god has the power to transform the world (unlike what I have seen of your God who seems to be at everyone’s beck and call and whim). I was brought up to believe in your God – but from a very early age I just couldn’t make sense of Him. As I keep asking you – what does He do, why are atheists and believers good and bad alike, why does good and bad happen to atheists and believers alike, what difference does it make to my life that a supernatural being made a human being to come and walk on water and then go back to a happy ending in heaven which was all pre-planned? No-one could ever answer these questions for me. They just kept telling me to sing and pray and get others to come and sing and pray. Now, I could have become an atheist but I reckoned the Bible must be a hugely important book for it to have survived for so long and to have been so revered. And also, Scotland is a political place where political ideas are part of its lifeblood. Then I came across Andrew’s stuff and it makes sense to me – god as a way of speaking about people’s experiences in the world as opposed to God as a being which is inexplicable. Personally, I think Andrew’s understanding is much more powerful and meaningful for the world – though I can absolutely see that for comfortable folk the God-idea is worth holding onto as it gives justification for their privileged lives and I can also see why some poorer communities also like the idea because it gives them ( ?unjustifiable) hope when they have nothing else. And it certainly helps out the leadership! So, in short, I believe that the magical, wait-and-hope God-idea has been engineered out of the real and do-able god-as-political movement idea because of the transfer of power it gave and still gives. To be honest, because of the title of your blog I thought this wouldn’t be too alien a concept to you. As I also keep asking – why does your God-idea seem such a good one to you?

    If I achieve nothing else in my life I want to tell those who suffer under the God-idea, waiting for answers to their prayers, that if it doesn’t work for them then they can just walk away. It is not an absolute truth – just an idea.

    About Paul – and indeed, John – I agree (! hurrah!) that they both use over-the-top language to talk about their immense experiences and feelings about the enormity of what Jesus did and what god (as figure-head of political movement) means to them. I personally have absolutely no problem with the idea of talking about Jesus’ followers being imbued with a special spirit which will help them in their mission, give them strength etc. It is all pure galvinising , rousing stuff such as you hear in a lot of political speeches. Our god is with us, he will help help us, you have been given the power etc etc

    • It is confusing that your definition of God does not fit with most people’s understanding of the word. My understanding is that yours is an ideology, so I can imagine that a lot of people would say that you don’t believe in God/god.

      I find it sad that as you were growing up no adults were able to give you answers to your questions. I was able to have many of these answered and over time I have tested them and wrestled with them. I would not believe in God if I was not able to find answers to many of the questions I have. It sounds like you have had some bad experiences of Christianity or the church that has left you angry with it. Sometimes churches and Christians fail badly and answers are hard to come by and don’t always make sense, but that doesn’t necessarily make it all untrue. I have met far more people who have had a positive encounter with the God I am familiar with than a negative one.

      As you can see from today’s post the blog is on a Summer break now so I won’t be leaving any more comments for a while. I hope you have found our discussions helpful.

      • please don’t waste your time feeling sad for me! Thanks so much for bothering. If you can face it, i’d like to buy you lunch / coffee. I’ll leave that with you to follow up.
        warm regards, Julie

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