The Courage of Malala Yousafzai

Who is Malala Yousafzai?

Malala Yousafza, born 1998, is an eighth-grade Pashtun student from the town of Mingora in Swat District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, known for being a children’s rights activist. Her little town was dominated and controlled by the local Taliban, whom they’ve shut down local school for girls in her area. During those periods, young Malala, under the pseudonym “Gul Makai”, shared with BBC Urdu of the experience of her little town under the order of the Taliban.

Due to her courage and advocacy for the rights of Children and Education, The international children’s advocacy group KidsRights Foundation included Yousafzai among the nominees for the International Children’s Peace Prize, making her the first Pakistani girl nominated for the award. South African Nobel laureate Desmund Tutu announced the nominations during a 2011 ceremony in Amsterdam, Holland, but Yousafzai did not win the prize.

Today, Malala was shot in the head while she was heading to school by a Taliban Militant. Different stories recount that she was waiting for the school bus to arrive as the gunman was searching for her. Fortunately, her injury was not severe, and by the decree of the Pakistani government, she was transfered to a better hospital to be hospitalized and receive care. In addition, security measures were put in place to protect her against the Taliban, as they waged their threat towards her.

Significance of her Work

“Education is the fundamental right for every child” – Malala Yousafzai

After the closing of the schools in her town, through the help of a local BBC journalist, she blogged about the condition of her classmates and her fellow residents under the military operation of the Taliban. The blogs were published on BBC Urdu, shedding light to the reality and horrors of the rule under the Taliban regime. Given her courage and strength, she was nominated for multiple Peace Awards, one of which she was awarded within Pakistan.

What is amazing for me is the fact that a 14 year old has taken the initiative to rise against the outrageous and venomous conditions of her community. And after the removal of the Taliban rule in Pakistan, she returned to her school and resumed her advocacy publicly.

These are stories of true courage, this is the story of Malala Yousafzai

BBC Report
Interview with BBC (November 2011)

Education Under Fire

Within the Baha’i community in the United States, we are encouraged by our National Spiritual Assembly to promote and bring awareness to a campaign called Education Under Fire (EUF). The campaign addresses the Iranian government’s denial of the right to education for ideological and religious reasons; which includes the Baha’is in Iran being denied their rights to education.

Historical Background

The Baha’is are among the largest religious minorities in Iran, constituting over 300,000 – 350,000 believers (International Religious Freedom Report – 2009). The Baha’is in Iran have been persecuted by the Iranian government ever since its inception during the 1800’s. Among the accusations they receive from the Iranian government include espionage against the Iranian government, apostates from Islam that undermines the security of Iran, supporters of the West and Israel, and treason. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, many Baha’is were executed and assassinated for their beliefs through the order of the King of Iran, Naser al-Din Shah Qajar and other clergy men in the country.

To explain the cause of such prosecutions and attacks lie on the Teachings and Writings of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith. Friedrich W. Affolter in “War Crimes, Genocide, & Crimes against Humanity” writes:

Bahá’u’lláh’s writings deal with a variety of themes that challenge long-cherished doctrines of Shí‘i‐Islam. In addition to making the ‘heretic’[sic] claim of being a ‘Manifestation of God,’ he suggested that school curricula should include ‘Western Sciences,’ that the nation states (Muslim and non-Muslim) should establish a world federal government, and that men and women were equal. Bahá’u’lláh also wrote that in this time and age, priests were no longer necessary for religious guidance. Humanity, he argued, had reached an age of maturity where it was incumbent upon every individual to search for God and truth independently. These principles did not only call into question the need for a priesthood, but also the entire Shí‘i ecclesiastical structure and the vast system of endowments, benefices and fees that sustained it. No surprise then that in the following decades until the overthrow of the Qájár dynasty in 1925, it was the mullas who instigated attacks against the Bahá’ís in cities or villages where the clerical establishment was particularly influential.

Present Iran and the Baha’is

Fast forward to 1979, after the Shah left Iran on January 16, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned on February 1, 1979 and started the process of creating a new government. During an interview before returning to Iran with Professor James Cockroft, Khomeini stated that Bahá’ís would not have religious freedom:

Cockroft: Will there be either religious or political freedom for the Bahá’ís under the Islamic government?
Khomeini: They are a political faction; they are harmful. They will not be accepted.
Cockroft: How about their freedom of religion– religious practice?
Khomeini: No.

The answer was hard and clear. Since 1979 until present, the Baha’is in Iran face great difficulties and pressure against the tyrannical members of the government of Iran. Among the greatest outcries included the incident in Yazd (2004-2005), when the Baha’i community in Iran wrote a bold letter to the government of Iran, addressed to President Khatami, seeking an end to Baha’i-focused human rights and religious freedom abuses. The letter was attached with a document from the government of Iran that authorized law enforcement institutions to monitor and track all information relevant to the Baha’is in Iran (October 2009, 2005 Letter). The response by the Iranian government was barbaric and shameful. According to the Department of State, they described the situation as follows:

In 2004, for the first time, the Baha’i community wrote an open letter to the Government of the Islamic Republic, addressed to President Khatami, seeking an end to Baha’i-focused human rights and religious freedom abuses. Numerous anecdotal reports indicated a marked increase in government persecution of Baha’is after this letter. Much of this anti-Baha’i activity focused on Yazd, presumably due to Yazdi Baha’is having presented Yazd intelligence-security officials with a copy of the letter.

In late 2004 and January 2005, nine Baha’is in Yazd were arrested and briefly detained, and their homes searched and some possessions confiscated. On January 14, 2005, authorities summoned, questioned, and released another Yazd Baha’i, and four days later on January 18, four individuals came to his home and beat him with batons, inflicting severe injuries to his face, back, and arms. The same individuals, equipped with batons and communication devices, also attacked the home of another Baha’i later that day. On that same day, these same persons went to the home of a third Baha’i and attacked him with batons, causing serious head wounds. This third Baha’i was attacked again on January 25; on January 27 his shop was set on fire.

In February 2005, the Baha’i cemetery in Yazd was destroyed, with cars driven over the graves, tombstones smashed, and the remains of the interred left exposed. Two days later, a gravestone was removed and left in front of a Baha’is home, along with a threatening letter. The Baha’i community filed a complaint with authorities at the national level, but no action was taken. These events coincided with the launch of a campaign of defamation against the Baha’i faith in government-controlled media.

The following are the images of the incidents:

Yazd Graveyard

Yazd Graveyard II

Education and Baha’is in Iran

Due to religious prosecution and abuse of freedom by the government of Iran, the Baha’is were denied access to exams that allow them to enter into universities. Some of the Baha’i youth and children in Iran are also denied access to education at their local schools. Given such conditions, the Baha’is of Iran sought an alternative means to education and established their own educational curriculum and program. Among such programs include BIHE, or Baha’i Institute of Higher Education, which aims in providing the Baha’is in Iran an opportunity to gain higher education. Despite the efforts by the Baha’is to lead a fruitful and positive life, the Iranian government were aware of such matter and initiated series of raids, arrests and attacks against facilities and individuals that supported or managed the BIHE program (Report of arrests of BIHE professors/instructors).

This is where Education Under Fire comes in. The program alone cannot help on influencing the government of Iran nor bring the needed comfort for the Baha’is of Iran. However, it brings awareness. It’s aim is to point to a reality that is not striking Baha’is alone, but other religious minorities in both Iran and other parts of the world. The initiative bore wonderful fruits of progress. Through the earliest days of the development of the initiative, a student from Harvard Graduate School of Education used this opportunity to shed light into the reality and difficulties that the Baha’is in Iran faced. As a result of EUF’s visit to the campus, Harvard Graduate School of Education formally agreed to accept BIHE credits! Other institutions followed suit (such as Boston University and Stanford University), too. In addition, the Dean of HGSE wrote a letter registering her disapproval to Iran’s ambassador to the UN.

Education Under Fire is the least we can do for those who are deprived of their right to education and freedom, yet it’s a potential medium to generate momentum for something great and bigger.

Learn more:
Education Under Fire
United States Department of State – Search Result on Baha’is

How the Economic Crisis is Improving our Community?

The economic crisis that was, and it still is, affecting us in a global scale has been only viewed by the general media as a negative factor to the world of business and industry. In addition, the increase in the unemployment rate is introducing the factor of crime and poverty into every nation; where every individual is competiting and fighting to get a piece of the pie.

However, in the midst of this catastrophe, there is a bright light for the future of civilization. As budgets become tighter, education becomes less affordable, and jobs are hard to capture; the competition is being centered on individuals to compete with themselves to attain the best of the best, or grasp the taste of excellence.

After much thought and reflection, I summarized my views on how the crisis is benefiting us (from a student perspective) at present:

The field of education is facing a huge budget dilemma. Public universities and community colleges are facing budget cuts, leading to shortages in the number of classes, reduction of faculty members and reducing the number of admitted students. However, on the other hand, many individuals who have been laid off are planning to join a University to continue their education and be supported by the government. I overheard a student in the bus stating “it is better to be in school now! Else you will have to be looking for a job for the next 2 years.” The unemployed at present are given the opportunity to improve their educational background using the experiences they have gained in the working field. With the acquisition of more up-to-date education and information, the individual is supplied with the skills and knowledge that will provide them with a more secured job position and valuable knowledge for the long run.

As for the general public, the budget cut is forcing students to study harder to enter the university of their choice. This is a chance where schools will enforce stricter and a higher educational standards due to the demand of the job market and universities are imposing on the society. The long term effect will lead to the improvement of the economy and a stronger, smarter and creative labor force. Of course, one may state that this will place the burden on the students who are struggling in this economy. And unfortunately, that is correct. However, institution of higher education and government must work on minimizing the financial burden for the student and identify on how to make their degrees and students more proactive and useful in the community. Regardless of the degree, the institution of higher education and government should present the available options for people to have the chance to excel in their field; whether in a firm, as researchers expanding their field of work, or if they start their own business.

Of course, there is much more to investigate, and in the end, it lies on the individual to strive for the best and attain success.

Women and the World

In the teachings of the Baha’i Faith, women are considered as important elements in our society that promote education, spiritual and ethical values, and instruments that direct their energies in social growth and prosperity. Unfortunately, there exists many inequalities against women in both the East and the West. For example, in the current global economy, institutions and organizations hold the view that women are not “rational” for decision processes since they believe they are emotionally motivated and that women base their judgement on impulsive motives (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Thesis by Roslin Growe and Paula Montgomery – Women and the Leadership Paradigm: Bridging the Gender Gap). Other stereotypes include that women are not “educated” enough to be leading workers in an organization. Unfortunately, such prejudices lead to women being discouraged from attaining higher goals, or values, in their lives. According to the 2007 Census for the United States, from the 210,019 individuals who participated, woman are 50.1% of the working industry. However, the mean, or average, income of women is 62% of the mean income of working males in the industry.

Even though there are global forces that are working in narrowing the gap between male and females, certain cultural elements in our society and even media pressures them through the negative stereotype that is amplified in our economic system. What’s even more disheartening is that the effect of such stereotypes and mental framework are directly effecting the performance of women, too. In the book Predictably Irrational – The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions, Dan Ariely discusses the influence of our environment in our decision making through series of experiments conducted by scientists, behavioral economists and psychologists. In chapter 9, “The Effect of Expectations – Why the Mind Gets What It Expects,” Ariely describes an experiment testing Asian American and women stereotypes, he states:

“Research on stereotypes shows not only that we react differently when we have a stereotype of a certain group of people, but also that stereotyped people themselves react differently when they are aware of the label that hey are forced to wear (in psychological parlance, they are “primed” with this label). One stereotype of Asian-Americans, for instance, is that they are especially gifted in mathematics and science. A common stereotype of females is that they are weak in mathematics. This means that Asian-American women could be influenced by both notions…Those who had been reminded that they were women performed worse than those who had been reminded that they were Asian-American. These results show that even our own behavior can be influenced by our stereotypes, and that activation of stereotypes can depend on our current state of mind and how we view ourselves a the moment.”

In my opinion, it is a shame that such prejudice holds in our community when in fact women are the first educators of the child.

The question to now ask are:

What is the role of women in the society?

What purpose do their role play?

And how can we eliminate these prejudices from our community?

To help you answer these questions, I have gathered some beautiful quotes from Baha’i Writings, Philosophers and other renowned figures. I believe that these quotes are universal, and are suitable for this current time and age for our society to diagnose this prejudice and heal the wounds and the suffrage that women felt. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did:

Women, Education and Abolition of War:

“…imbued with the same virtues as man, rising through all the degrees of human attainment, women will become the peers of men, and until this equality is established, true progress and attainment for the human race will not be facilitated.

The evident reasons underlying this are as follows: Woman by nature is opposed to war; she is an advocate of peace. Children are reared and brought up by the mothers who give them the first principles of education and labor assiduously in their behalf. Consider, for instance, a mother who has tenderly reared a son for twenty years to the age of maturity. Surely she will not consent to having that son torn asunder and killed in the field of battle. Therefore, as woman advances toward the degree of man in power and privilege, with the right of vote and control in human government, most assuredly war will cease; for woman is naturally the most devoted and staunch advocate of international peace.”

– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá During His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912, p. 375

First Educators of Mankind:

“The duty of women in being the first educators of mankind is clearly set forth the Writings. It is for every woman, if and when she becomes a mother, determine how best she can discharge on the one hand her chief responsibility a mother and on the other, to the extent possible, to participate in other aspect of the activities of the society of which she forms a part.”

– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 619

Women should devote their energies to Sciences:

“Woman must especially devote her energies and abilities toward the industrial and agricultural sciences, seeking to assist mankind in that which is most needful. By this means she will demonstrate capability and ensure recognition of equality in the social and economic equation.”

– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá During His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912, p. 238

Liberation of Women can be achieved through equality:

“To be liberated, woman must feel free to be herself, not in rivalry to man but in the context of her own capacity and her personality.”

– Indira Gandhi, Selected Speeches and Writings of Indira Gandhi, September 1972 – March 1977

Being a mother and an instrument in the transformation of society:

“In my memoir, I wanted to introduce American women to Iranian women and our lives. I’m not from the highest echelons of society, nor the lowest. I’m a women who is a lawyer, who is a professor at a university, who won the Nobel Peace Prize. At the same time, I cook. And even when I’m about to go to prison, one of the first things I do is to make enough food and put it in the fridge for my family.”

– Shirin Ebadi, from 2006 interview by New America Media editor Brian Shott (translator, Banafsheh Keynoush) about her newly released book, Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope

Education can unleash the potential of women:

“The woman who is forbidden to educate herself save in the duties of the servant, or is limited in her educational pursuits is indeed a slave, because her natural instincts and God-given talents are subordinated in deference to her condition, which is tantamount to moral enslavement.”

– Qasim Amin, Al-Marat Al Jadidah

Education can reveal the treasure of our capacities:

“Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”

– Baha’u’llah, Tablet of Maqṣúd

Moral Education and Economics

It is evident that the economy of any system has multiple factors that affects its progress or development. Each system – whether it is a country, corporate, school, or home – have unique factors that affects their economic growth. However, there are some factors that are common throughout all, and I mean ALL, systems. One of them is moral, or spiritual, education.

Now, what in the world is Moral Education? And how does it affect the systems mentioned?

According to Wikipedia:

“[Moral Education] is the term given to education concerned with religion. It may refer to education provided by a church or religious organization, for instruction indoctrine and faith, or for education in various aspects of religion, but without explicitly religious or moral aims.”

Of course, some may roll their eyes when the world religion comes about. It is understandable. It is a sad fact that humanity has destroyed the true spiritual foundation of religion with false dogmas, interpretations, and traditions. Religion, to some, is seen as the method to brainwash people, or source of violence, or a source of ignorance and denial, or simple stupidity. Of course, the same mentality exists when we people blame the economy rather than the people that run the economy. To explain this problem, I would like you to ponder on this quote by ‘Abdu’l-Baha about moral education:

“With political questions the clergy, however, have nothing to do! Religious matters should not be confused with politics in the present state of the world (for their interests are not identical). Religion concerns matters of the heart, of the spirit, and of morals. Politics are occupied with the material things of life. Religious teachers should not invade the realm of politics; they should concern themselves with the spiritual education of the people; they should ever give good counsel to men, trying to serve God and human kind; they should endeavour to awaken spiritual aspiration, and strive to enlarge the understanding and knowledge of humanity, to improve morals, and to increase the love for justice.”
– Paris Talks, p. 158

Now that the definition of moral education is unveiled, what morals are we talking about?

Morals are basic principles, or ethical codes, that shapes our understanding of what is right or wrong, or what is good or bad. This is the dry definition. In my opinion, morals are a set of tools that assist us to become a better individual, leading to the improvement of our community. Those morals include understanding, tolerance, respect, trust, truthfulness, love, humility, cooperation and striving for excellence.

Those set of morals are essential elements that strengthen the foundation of our society, which directly and indirectly affect our economic progress.

For example, based on personal experience:

The United Arab Emirates is a country with high potential of growth due to its wealth in oil and current human resources. However, due to prejudice among some individuals; such as racism, sexism and even religious hatred, they have barred themselves from attaining such potential. It happens in many forms, one form is that  an unqualified person takes a high responsibility position at work, while a colleague of his, who is qualified and happens to be of a different race that is considered second class among the local culture, holds a lower position. Ironically, in all schools in the United Arab Emirates, they teach Islamic Values and ethics. They have taught us moral values, critical thinking and interesting historical eras. Yet,  they haven’t correlated those concepts with the condition present in our society. Every individual absorbed the Teachings as set of information, memorized them (or being told to memorize them); not being told how those Teachings can be channeled through our daily lives, or simply, understand the essence behind those Teachings. There are many more cases present in our society and community that reflect such dilemma. Which you can reflect yourself of what is limiting the potential of our community from growing.

Moral education is essential to the growth of the community. It is important to foster those morals at a very young age; children and the youth. Starting with the roots of our society, those children and youth have the potential, power and capacity to learn and apply those moral values in their lives, which in turn will influence the community around them as they become more aware of the problems in our society; such as poverty, environmental concerns, and injustice.

The current method used to direct our society to follow the codes and ethics of the community is found most of the time in the form of punishment. Rarely have we seen in our media, education or even in conversations individuals laud the work of the good individual. It somehow seems that it has been shaped in our mind that the only way we learned to do good, or act in accordance to the rule of law is punishment.

‘Abdu’l-Baha, in Some Answered Questions, states:

“The communities are day and night occupied in making penal laws, and in preparing and organizing instruments and means of punishment. They build prisons, make chains and fetters, arrange places of exile and banishment, and different kinds of hardships and tortures, and think by these means to discipline criminals, whereas, in reality, they are causing destruction of morals and perversion of characters. The community, on the contrary, ought day and night to strive and endeavor with the utmost zeal and effort to accomplish the education of men, to cause them day by day to progress and to increase in science and knowledge, to acquire virtues, to gain good morals and to avoid vices, so that crimes may not occur. At the present time the contrary prevails; the community is always thinking of enforcing the penal laws, and of preparing means of punishment, instruments of death and chastisement, places for imprisonment and banishment; and they expect crimes to be committed. This has a demoralizing effect.

But if the community would endeavor to educate the masses, day by day knowledge and sciences would increase, the understanding would be broadened, the sensibilities developed, customs would become good, and morals normal; in one word, in all these classes of perfections there would be progress, and there would be fewer crimes.

It has been ascertained that among civilized peoples crime is less frequent than among uncivilized — that is to say, among those who have acquired the true civilization, which is divine civilization — the civilization of those who unite all the spiritual and material perfections. […] The reason is evident: it is because education and virtues prevent them.

Therefore, the communities must think of preventing crimes, rather than of rigorously punishing them.”

The economy, guided with the force of Moral Education, will achieve progress and development due to the power of knowledge, education and consciousness that fuels the momentum to pursue excellence. As individuals who will soon change the course of our community, we must strive, through patience and practice, to implement these values in our circle. And the best way to start is through being an example ourselves.

Baha’u’llah, Founder of the Baha’i Faith, states:

“Forget your own selves, and turn your eyes towards your neighbor. Bend your energies to whatever may foster the education of men.”