The Malala Yousafzai Saga: Like Father, Like Daughter

As the world is astonished by the bravery of the young Pakistani girl, attention is being given to the man whose ambitions inspired her courage

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Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters

Candles are lit in front of a portrait of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was shot on Oct. 9 by the Taliban, during an Oct. 15 candlelight vigil organized by Nepalese youth in Kathmandu

Correction Appended: Oct. 17, 2012

Malala Yousafzai is only 14 years old, but she has always come off as preternaturally mature, able — even at 11 — to talk about serious issues like education and terrorism and her native Pakistan’s troubled relations with India. The attempt on her life and the ensuing medical emergency have made her a hero to a greater audience. But in the patriarchal and conservative Muslim world she grew up in, a pioneer like Malala would not have been possible without another hero: her father.

The saga “is a story about a father and a daughter, more than a story about a girl,” says Adam Ellick, a journalist and documentary filmmaker who covered the 2009 shutdown of the schools in the Swat Valley because of Taliban threats that led to the displacement of the Yousafzai family and thousands of others. Ziauddin Yousafzai founded the Khushal School and College that his daughter attends in the city of Mingora. Says Ellick: “ Her father has a sort of revolutionary commitment to his cause. He is an incredibly unique and complex person.” Mustafa Qadri is a Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International who knows Malala’s father well. Describing him as a “folk hero in Swat,” Qadri says, “He’s a deeply religious man, in the best sense of the term. I remember him constantly talking about his Islam and that it tells him to get his daughter educated and to make sure that women get the same rights as men.” Ziauddin, he says, “is very brave, very eloquent, as is Malala.”

(MORE: How Malala Yousafzai May Affect Pakistan’s Culture Wars)

“I can’t imagine being his child and not fully taking on everything he says,” says Ellick. “He has an evangelical way about him. I can’t imagine having breakfast every morning of my life … and not having what he believes in become what I am going to believe in.”

Indeed, in a section of Ellick’s documentary filmed in 2009, Ziauddin talks about how he wants his daughter to become a politician, not a doctor. It then cuts to Malala saying she wants to become a doctor because she doesn’t like politics. Ziauddin, however, is adamant: “I see great potential in my daughter that she can do more than a doctor. She can create a society where a medical student would be easily able to get her doctorate degree.” The father’s ambition seems to have won out. In a video clip recorded two years later, Malala is quite clear that she wants to become a politician.

Still, the Yousafzais, says Qadri, were “ordinary people made extraordinary by this ridiculous situation” created by the Taliban paranoia about secularization. “This is no elitist Karachi family with cousins in London,” says Ellick. “They are lower-middle-class peasants. They are villagers. Their relatives all live within a short walk.”

Ziauddin seemed very aware of the danger his family was in. Locally it was rumored that his school was funded by the U.S., which made him more of a target for the militants.  He was certainly on the Taliban death list; he used to sleep in a different place every night in order to protect his family. “We spoke so many times about death and martyrdom,” says Ellick. But “all of those conversations were about him being the bull’s-eye, not Malala.” Malala’s shooting has devastated Ziauddin, Ellick has heard from a close friend of the Yousafzais. “One friend met him for half an hour, but they didn’t utter a sentence together. They just cried together for half an hour.”

According to Qadri, Malala is still in critical condition but the situation is no longer life-threatening. According to Ellick, Malala called one period of her life “the darkest days in Swat”: the 2009 Taliban shutdown of the Swat schools forced her family to live in a camp for displaced people. These days, however, are darker still.

 

Correction: The original version of this story stated that the entire Yousafzai family had traveled to Birmingham, England to be with Malala. The hospital trust in Birmingham clarified that the family remains in Pakistan.

MORE: Malala Yousafzai: The Latest Victim of the War on Children in Pakistan

MORE: Schoolgirl Shot by Taliban Flown to U.K. for Treatment

13 comments
yawarren
yawarren

Here is a story about a young girl advocating for female rights and respect, and there is not one mention of her mother's part in her heroic life! Shame on all of you at Time.

charliea37
charliea37

She has inspired me to be a better person

TTeamfollowers
TTeamfollowers

@rsusantisutar follow y » @PoccongGalau TL"nya lucu, dan tanya jawab yang nyeleneh, dan asik dehh.

Kamran Ahmad Bhatti
Kamran Ahmad Bhatti

Dear liberty loving,do-gooder,naive and foolish Americans, with all due respect don't give us your holier than thou nonsense because your hypocrisies are being exposed on a daily basis.

Kamran Ahmad Bhatti
Kamran Ahmad Bhatti

"Afghan Info War As we reported yesterday that uncle of a close friend was shot in Kabul "Night raid" without any reason, you can imagine the terror innocent people are facing on daily basis, here is report regarding the murder. ========================================= "At around 12:00 at night, they [security forces] came down from the roof and entered our yard. When my father came out, he asked 'What's going on?' They shot him. And my father died," one of the family members told TOLOnews on Monday. "They didn't let us get close to the dead body of my uncle. They threatened to kill us if we came closer," another family member said. A resident said the security forces warned them before the raid not to leave their homes. "They said don't come out of your house otherwise we will shoot you. Then we just sat at home and they entered our houses [yards]. They were saying there were suicide bombers, Taliban, but they couldn't find anything," the resident said. The residents said that many houses were searched by the security forces in the area. "They came to my house as well and locked all of us in one room. Their target was Taliban and suicide attackers, but this is not true," a fourth resident said." http://tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/7982-calls-for-investigation-into-civilian-death-in-nds-raid

Stephaniee Symatrix Matra
Stephaniee Symatrix Matra

I give her applause coz unlike others she considers education an important aspect may she get wel n may tha shooters pay with their lives coz God wil punish them for such evil motives

Pat Collender
Pat Collender

A young 14 year old girl should not have to risks in order to attend school. Who do the unelected Taliban think they are. I hope that she will have a speedy recovery in the UK.

Ann St Amand
Ann St Amand

Brave girl, willing to take risks for an education. She should not have to. I hope and pray she gets well, and that her story inspires change.

Talendria
Talendria

This story made me cry.  As a parent, I would sacrifice anything to make life better for my child.  To see my child suffer as a result of my actions would be unbearable.  I hope Malala recovers.  I hope her father finds peace.  Most of all, I hope the people of Pakistan stand up to the fascists who did this.