I Am Malala

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     I initially read this book along with the ninth grade geography classes at the school I work at in the Fall of 2013.  I found it a very enjoyable, easy read.  I don't regret the time I spent reading it although I doubt I would have ever gotten to it on my own.  Then it was a selection for the book club in Spring of 2016 so I just skimmed it again.

     Malala is a young girl from SWAT valley in Pakistan.  This geographic area has gone through different rules including Britain and Afghanistan before finally becoming part of Pakistan, leaving its residents with mixed allegiances.  There has been a lot of political uprising in this region - much of it from religious differences between Muslims and non-Muslims.

     The book offers a light look into the Muslim religion on a positive note - showing readers that Muslims are people too.  It is a realistic look into a nice family that got caught up in some bad stuff just because they were true to their beliefs.  They challenged the local government and continued to provide schooling for girls.  Because of their outspokenness, the Taliban hunted Malala down and shot her in the face.

     There is sadness contrasted with beauty, there is tragedy contrasted with celebration.  Overall the book has a positive tone although Chapter 21 (Part 4) does get slightly intense, perhaps especially for moms.

Following are words and questions I wrote down as I read the book.  This is not what the teacher used with her class (I believe she pulled stuff already on the internet) but I provide it now to you for use with your study group or class or whatever.

VOCABULARY
 sacked = fired
nappies - diapers
mediate
feud
bazzar = shopping area
gloomy
regime
frugal
imam
cleric
mosque
prophet
Quran
debate
jihad
madrasa
 lethal
rubbish
activist
drone
militantinfidel
condolences
exodus
liaison
protest
blasphemy
desecration
defile
incompetent
haram = grave sin
infidel = someone who betrays the faith
mullah (mufti or maulana) = Islamic scholar, often self-proclaimed, and therefore dangerous
purdah = belief that women should be hidden unless they are cooking, cleaning or having children

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1.  If the people were so poor, why did they keep spending money on food for guests and even go into debt for weddings?  Doesn't it seem like if they would just cut back on celebrations and say no to visitors they might break the cycle of poverty?

2.  On page 37, Malala recounts favorite times from her childhood.  She said with her cousins the favorite make-believe game to play was "weddings".  What were some of your favorite group games as a child?
She also recounts stories her aunts told the children to make them behave, such as the Shashaka who would come after dirty children.  What are some stories from your culture that you were told as a child?  What stories did you or will you tell your children?

3.  Discuss:  "It's horrible to feel unworthy in the eyes of your parents." (p. 39)

4.  Malala gave up jewelry because it tempted her and she didn't want to "lose [her] character for a few metal trinkets." (p. 40)  This was an epiphany or a defining moment for her.  Describe a time when you learned a lesson that caused you to commit to a lasting change in your outlook or behavior.

5.  It seems like everything is wonderful in Malala's eyes, the landscape is beautiful, the fruit is wonderful, the other girls are all very pretty.  She does acknowledge the corruption and poverty but largely she sees beauty all around her.  Is this the true state of things or does she have an unusually positive outlook?

6.  In Chapter 6 Malala described what the post-9/11 actions looked like from her side of the world.  Did any of it surprise you?

7.  In Chapter 7 Malala describes Sunnis and Shias and various sub-groups.  Does this just sound complicated to us because it is foreign?  Is it any different than all the types of Christianity - Catholic and Protestant, and within Catholic there are Roman Catholics and Orthodox and so on and within Protestant there are Baptist, Methodist, etc. and within Baptist there are Southern Baptists and so on...

8.  "When it suits the Taliban, women can be vocal and visible." (p. 66)  How do you suppose they rationalize this?  Doesn't that put women on equal footing to let them carry out such important work?

9.  Discuss the advice from Malala's father when she questioned how people who studied the Quran could say it was good that Benazir Bhutto had been killed.  He said, "We are dependent on these mullahs to learn the Quran.  But you just use him to learn the literal meaning of the words; don't follow his explanations and interpretation.  Only learn what God says.  His words are divine messages, which you are free and independent to interpret."  (p. 70)\

10.  Discuss the poem.  How can people who are not of a belief still speak out for those who are?
They came for the Communists, and I didn't object - For I wasn't a Communist;
They came for the Socialists, and I didn't object - For I wasn't a Socialist;
They came for the labor leaders, and I didn't object - For I wasn't a labor leader;
They came for the Jews, and I didn't object - For I wasn't a Jew;
Then they came for me - And there was no one left to object.
Martin Niemoller, German Protestant Pastor, 1892-1984

11.  Discuss:  Have you ever told your child they can't do something big because it seems unrealistic?  Should we all think more like Malala who reasoned that, "If one man, Fazlullah, can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it?'  Was she right to have no fear and believe that God would protect her?   

12.  Malala said the Taliban wanted female teachers and doctors but not female students. (p. 83)  Where did they think the professional women would come from?

How much of this history do you remember?  Do you remember a CIA agent called Raymond Davis (p. 106)?  How well do you recall the reports that bin Laden had been killed (p. 107)?

13.  At the beginning of Chapter 18 Malala states that, "Nowhere is it written in the Quran that a woman should be dependent on a man.  The word has not come down from the heavens to tell us that every woman should listen to a man."  Contrast this with the Bible's instructions for men and women and then compare those directions with how the cultures actually live.

14.  Which is more important, to defend religion or practice it?

15.  When Malala became aware of threats against her she said, "...everyone knows they will die one day.  ...nobody can stop death; it doesn't matter if it comes from a talib or cancer.  So I should do whatever I want to do."  Is this a childish outlook or good advice?

16.  In Chapter 19 they receive a letter that says, "It is a Hadith of the Holy Prophet that if you see something bad or evil you should stop it with your own hand.  If you are unable to do that then you should tell others about it, and if you can't do that you should think about how bad it is in your heart."  Compare this with how the Bible tells us to settle grievances.

17.  In Chapter 22, Dr. Javid says, "It is my belief God sends the solution first and the problem later."  Have you ever found this to be true?

18.  Do you agree with the decision that Malala's father made to stay behind with his wife and sons instead of going with Malala to the hospital in England?  Do you think if he had known how long he would be separated from her he would have made the same decision?  How would you have handled it?

Theme Ideas
Serve lots of fresh fruit like grew in the valley near Malala's home (p. 15):  figs, pomegranates, peaches, grapes, guavas, persimmons, plums
Serve traditional tea with "milk and sugar and cardamom". (p. 16)
Serve "rose and pistachio sweets" like they took to their relatives for the Eid holidays. (p. 34)
Meet in a McDonald's or Chinese restaurant like the school girls did on their trip to the capital. (p. 98)
Serve "duck pancakes" for Malala since she missed them on her school trip to the capital because she was on a TV show at that time. (p. 98)


    
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