The story of Malala Yousafzai is well beloved by Western media, with news outlets having followed her life closely for the past three years. And rightly so. The Pakistani teen is an activist for girls’ education and a well-respected world leader in promoting the voices of women and girls around the globe.
It was her belief that all girls have a right to an education that made her a target of the Taliban, resulting in Malala losing hearing in her left ear and being forced out of her beloved home in the Swat Valley, Pakistan. Malala celebrated her sixteenth birthday by addressing the United Nations in 2013, the same year she released her memoir, I Am Malala. And most recently, she was named the Nobel Peace Prize recipient of 2014. Her non-profit, The Malala Fund, invests and advocates for girls’ secondary education, in order to amplify the voices of girls around the world who have been ignored.
It would be hard to create a stronger superhero for girls and boys in anyone’s imagination.
On October 9, 2012, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban for advocating for girls' right to attend school. Malala survived the attack, and earlier this month she celebrated her 16th birthday by giving an impassioned speech to the United Nations, advocating for equal rights to education.
This 16-year-old girl was as eloquent and passionate as a seasoned statesman. Her words rang with truth and power. She reminded us that the world is full of vitriol and violence, hate and ignorance — that this is true for people of all faiths, all backgrounds, all political parties. That there is no corner untouched by darkness.
But at the U.N., celebrating her sweet 16, Malala was a light.
I listened to Malala’s story and got chills. As children, before we learned to use politics and policy to defend the lesser inclinations of the heart, we asked: why do people hate? Why do they do harm?
On Sunday, we went to the Washington National Cathedral, a gigantic Episcopal church and self-professed “spiritual home for the nation.” This strikes me a bit funny, as a) Episcopalians make up fewer than half a percent of the nation, and b) America, regardless of religious affiliation, seems more interested in mammon than it does in spirit.
But our friend has been attending the cathedral since she moved to D.C. a few months ago, and I worshipped in Episcopal churches for about seven years, not since 2007, and, frankly, I had missed how the traditional liturgy can transport me to a different place, psychologically speaking – a place where a man dying on a wooden cross 2,000 years really does seem to matter in a cosmic, world-changing kind of way. Plus, I wanted to see the neo-Gothic architecture in its transcendent beauty. This is the rub, right? Mammon makes beautiful things. What was difficult for me about the Episcopal church is the same thing that’s difficult about Washington, D.C.: It’s the wealth, it’s the power, it’s the privileged way of life that seems very distant from my beer-and-burgers existence, let alone from Jesus who had no place to lay his head.