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Summary of I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb


What is the book about?

This book is an autobiographical book by the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai. Co-written with Christina Lamb, a British journalist, the book was published in 2013. The book focuses on Malala’s early life, including her father’s ownership of schools and how activism. It then delves deeper into the events leading up to the attempted assassination of Malala at the hands of the Taliban, when she was just 15 years old. 

As a book, this autobiography won Goodreads’ 2013 aware for the Best Memoir and Autobiography, and was a finalist in the Political Book Awards for best Political Book of the Year.  Finally, the audiobook version won a Grammy in 2015 for Best Children’s Album. A highly influential, inspiring, and impactful book, this book summary will provide a concise summary of the 5 parts of Malala’s book, I Am Malala: The story fo the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.

About the author

Malala Yousafzai is a 22-year-old Pakistani activist for female education who became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. She received the award in 2014. In the area she grew up in the local Taliban would frequently ban girls from attending school; Malala and her father were advocates and started an international movement for the education of girls. This led former Pakistani Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to describe her as “the most prominent citizen” in their country. 

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

– Malala Yousafzai

Part 1 – Malala’s upbringing in Pakistan

The early years

Malala was born to a Pashtun family in the Swat Valley of northwestern Pakistan. From the outset, Malala’s father was different than other fathers. In Pakistan, the birth of a girl is not usually celebrated; however, Malala’s father was thrilled and named her after a Pashtun heroine: Malalai of Maiwand. This would end up being a fitting name, as Malalai of Maiwand died in battle after using her words and bravery to inspire her people to fight against the British army. Malala would not end up sacrificing her life but her words have changed the lives of thousands of young girls and women. 

Malala speaks very highly of her time growing up in Swat, somewhere that she still sees as the most beautiful place in the world. Swat is filled with beautiful mountains and ancient ruins, including the Butkara ruins that are remains from when Buddhists first entered the area. Growing up, Malala and her family had very little money. The family had to live off of the small amounts of money that Malala’s father made from a school he had started in the local area. Malala also uses this early part of the book to introduce the readers to her background. First, she describes how she has two younger brothers: Kushal and Atal. Then, she explains her ancestry. Her family moved to Pakistan in the past, meaning that she identifies primarily as Swati, then Pashtun, and then Pakistani. 

Malala’s father

The second chapter of Malala’s autobiography is based solely on her father and the impact she had on her life. Unlike Malala’s grandfather, Malala’s father was not a great speaker. He had a clear speech impediment that led to him stuttering over his words. Because of this, Malala’s father would constantly try to please his father. Despite this, Malala states that he never believed he had lived up to her grandfather’s expectations, until one day. Malala’s father had decided to enter a public speaking competition; Malala’s grandfather wrote a speech and Malala’s father gave an enthralling speech. He ended up winning first place. Seeing this determination instilled a similar determination in herself. 

In this autobiography, Malala also gives a brief description of her Mother, Tor Pekai. Her mother was placed in school when she was young but sold her books for candy as she was jealous of her female friends who didn’t go to school and just stayed at home. Malala’s mother changed her opinion on this upon meeting Malala’s father, who was a very educated man who wanted to start his own school. Upon Malala being born, the school that Malala’s father had started had a change of fortune. Slowly the Kushal School began to grow with more students joining. This environment was extremely important during Malala’s upbringing, as she was free to explore the school and its educational tools from a young age. 

This freedom to learn is something she realized was rare upon traveling to visit her father’s family’s small village of Barkana for Eid holidays. Her cousins believed that Malala was modern, as she came from the city and was highly educated. In the area her cousins were from they adhered to Pashtunwali, which meant that the women there were even more restricted than those in Malala’s local area. From a young age, Malala disliked these restrictions placed on women and would frequently complain about them to her father. Her father would often explain how life was even worse for women in Afghanistan, where Malala’s ancestors are from, because of a group called the Taliban. Malala’s father always made sure that she knew, though, that she was as free as a bird. He would always strive to protect her freedoms. 

Malala’s academic excellence and the school’s continued growth

“The extremists are afraid of books and pens, the power of education frightens them. they are afraid of women.”

– Malala Yousafzai

Malala was frequently the top of her class at school and had a friendly competition with her best friend, Moniba, for this spot. During this time she also learned some important life lessons. Specifically, a neighbor her age, Safina, stole Malala’s favorite toy. In order to enact revenge, Malala then proceeded to slowly steal many things from Safina. Upon being caught, Malala felt terrible having disappointed her parents. At this point, Malala vowed to never lie or steal again. In fact, soon after (in an effort to make her parents proud) Malala entered a public speaking contest on the topic of ‘Honest if the best policy’. Malala finished second and also saw this as an opportunity to learn how to lose graciously. 

Malala’s father’s school continued to attract more students and, because of this, Malala and her family were able to move to a nicer house. Some of her cousins, spoken about earlier, lived in the house with them. Additionally, Malala’s father made a point of giving spaces at the school to children from poor backgrounds, so that they could learn. The school was under attack at times, though. For example, Malala recalls occasions where a Mufti (Islamic Scholar) tried to close the school, as he believed that women being educated is blasphemous. He was ultimately unsuccessful but this was another indicator for Malala of how there are many people who believe that women should not have the right to an education. 

Part 2 – The introduction of the Taliban into Malala’s life

“I don’t want revenge on the Taliban, I want education for sons and daughters of the Taliban.”

– Malala Yousafzai

After multiple political dynamics, explained in detail by Malala, it came to be that the Taliban came to Swat Valley, led by Maulana Fazlullah. This occurred when Malala was just 10 years old. Many people in the local area supported this leader, as he sounded charismatic, but Malala’s father did not. Fazlullah called for the removal of all CDs, DVDs, and televisions from homes; Malala and her family secretly kept theirs. 

Additionally, Fazlullah directly told women that they should stay at home rather than going to school; Malala knew this was not what the Quran said. Despite Fazlullah’s suggestions not being supported by the Quran, some of Malala’s teachers refused to teach the girls anymore. Even worse, whenever women left the house to go to the market, they would be heckled by the Taliban and told to go home. This heckling would continue until the women agreed to go home. Multiple barbaric rules were put in place by Fazlullah, including public whippings for small crimes; Malala’s father eventually became one of the biggest public figures speaking out against this regime. 

This was a particularly difficult time for Malala. The things she had always loved about the Swat Valley were being eradicated. Music was banned. Their history was being destroyed. And the beautiful Buddhist statues were blown up, as they were seen as sinful. Looking at the wider political picture, the Taliban also took over the capital city, Islamabad, and the Pakistani’ government. In an attempt to instate a politician popular enough to fight against the Taliban, the female Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, returned from exile to share power with Musharraf. Bhutto was a role model for Malala. The Taliban attempted to kill Bhutto when she was returning, by bombing the bus she was on; she was not killed, but 150 other people were. However, the Taliban did later kill her; she was making a speech and a suicide blew himself up and shot her. This was an important moment for Malala, as it showed her and many others that nobody was safe under the rule of the Taliban. 

School as a guiding light amid the darkness

“With guns you can kill terrorists, with education you can kill terrorism.”

– Malala Yousafzai

Despite the horrific Taliban regime, Malala kept moving forward with her education. She graduated from high school. She continued to maintain her position at the top of her class, but the environment had shifted as some girls dropped out because they felt threatened by the Taliban. This was on the back of bombings, orchestrated by the Taliban, of girls’ schools. 

During this time, Malala’s father consistently told her that courage would be needed to get rid of the Taliban. Malala’s father, at this time, was chosen as a spokesperson for an assembly designed to challenge Fazlullah. Malala would often attend these meetings, and fellow activists saw her as a daughter to them. In fact, Malala even began to give interviews. The bombings became more frequent and more devastating. Therefore, Malala’s school took in some of the girls that had been victims of school bombings. In 2008, the Taliban announced that all girls’ schools would close. This would not stop Malala, who was determined. 

Malala’s father continued to speak out against the Taliban and Malala began writing as Gul Makai

“I raise up my voice-not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”

– Malala Yousafzai

The Taliban started to dump bodies of those they had killed in the square at night. This was supposed to act as a warning to others. These actions, along with some of the other devastating killings, reduced people’s support for Fazlullah. Lots of people stopped believing in Fazlullah, but Malala’s father was the one who spoke out, strongly, against him. This put Malala’s father in danger. 

One day, Malala’s father received a call from BBC respondent, Abdul Hai Kakar, asking for a female teacher or student he could ask to keep a public journal about life under the Taliban. Malala agreed to do this. She narrated what had happened to her on that day every evening to the BBC. Malala wrote under the pseudonym Gul Makai, as it would have been too dangerous to use her own name. Her writings were a mixture of the terrors of the Taliban and her regular school and family life. Because of her academic excellence, her fellow students guessed she was probably the author. All the while, the deadline for girls’ schools to close was approaching. Eventually, the Taliban decided to allow girls’ education up to Year 4, and despite Malala being in year 5, she pretended she was younger than she actually was. 

On top of this, a Pakistani journalist, Irfan Ashraf, was given permission by Malala’s father to film an American documentary on the school. This publicity was dangerous, though. At this time, Malala’s friends and family feared for her and her father’s safety. Despite this, many were confident the Taliban would not kill Malala, as she was only a child. Either way, Malala and her family would eventually leave Swat, as the army was seeking to drive the Taliban out. Therefore, civilians were asked to leave. This was a tough time for Malala: she was not sure she would ever see her home again. During this time, Malala and her father continued to give interviews about the situation. 

Part 3 – Returning home and more activism

“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”

– Malala Yousafzai

After three months away from their home, Malala’s family was finally able to return. Swat was not fully under military control. Fazlulluah was still at large, along with many other Taliban leaders, though. Able to go back to school, Malala began taking part in the District Child Assembly of Swat and was chosen as a speaker; they passed resolutions on troubling topics like child labor and sent them to officials, hoping the officials would be acted on these resolutions.

Despite the reduced impact of the Taliban, there continued to be missing persons and death sentences associated with the group. Malala’s father was one of the people who received multiple death threats for speaking out, but he did not stop. Malala also did not stop. She started gaining more international attention, now speaking at a high-profile gala in Lahore. Additionally, she received a cash prize of half a million rupees when she won Pakistan’s first-ever National Peace Prize. This prize was then called the Malala prize. Although hugely impressive, this was another piece of publicity that worried Malala’s family.  

Malala continued to engage with multiple activist pursuits, but when in Karachi for an event at a school that was being named after her, Malala and her father received news that the Taliban were now targeting them. Malala’s father suggested laying low for a while or else sending her to a boarding school like her brother so she would be safer, but she refused to do either, believing they had to keep speaking out. Malala’s father pointed out that there was new Talibanization, except this time it was targeted specifically at activists like them, rather than at the general public. These threats were coupled with multiple visits from intelligence services. 

Malala was now 14. In Islam, this meant she was now an adult. One day, Malala’s father received a call that his friend Zahid Khan had been shot, and he feared he was next. He refused security from the Swat police, however, because he thought that would attract even worse attacks that killed more people. He also refused to leave the area because of his responsibility to the school. For Malala’s protection, her mother insisted that she took the rickshaw to school rather than walking.

On October 8th, after having taken a physics exam, Malala took the bus home from school. The bus was stopped by a suspicious man. The man asked for her by name and he shot Malala. 

Part 4 – Malala fights for her life in hospital

Immediately after the shooting, the bus driver drove the bus straight to the hospital. Malala’s father was notified and he was also rushed to the hospital after delivering a speech. Malala’s father knew that the Taliban targeted Malala rather than him as they knew that would break him, too. 

Malala was then airlifted to a military hospital in Peshawar with her father and Madam Maryam. CT scans revealed that the bullet had gone very close to her brain. Her mother and brother, Atal, arrived in Peshawar by road, and many politicians and government officials came to see her as well. The surgeons had to remove part of Malala’s skull to allow space for her brain, as it had started to swell. 

While Malala was recovering, the Taliban claimed responsibility for her shooting. The reasoning given for this shooting was the promotion of Western ideas in Swat. Two British doctors then determined that the conditions were not good enough for her recovery, and she would die if she remained there. So, she was then moved to Rawalpindi to an army hospital with better intensive care. The hospital was put on lockdown as it was feared the Taliban would attack the hospital. 

Malala’s father then heard the news of how big of an impact Malala’s shooting was having worldwide. Both the UN secretary and Obama had made statements on the shooting. 

Part 5 – Malala is transferred to the UK and recovers

“I told myself, Malala, you have already faced death. This is your second life. Don’t be afraid — if you are afraid, you can’t move forward.”

– Malala Yousafzai

One of the British doctors, Dr. Fiona, was optimistic about Malala’s recovery but also explained that she should be sent abroad to ensure she received the best treatment. The ruling family of the UAE offered their private jet for her to be moved to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK. This would be the first time Malala had left Pakistan in her life. 

Malala woke up in Birmingham a week after the shooting. She did not know where she was or what happened. Her biggest worry was not for health but for how her family would pay for this expensive treatment. In Pakistan, the army was conducting door-to-door searches in Swat seeking out those who had shot Malala. Malala was told about what happened and her only regret was that she did not get to speak to the attackers. During this time, all she wanted to do was continue to learn. She wanted her parents to bring her school bag over to the UK, but her family continued to have problems with getting the correct documents. They were reunited after 10 days.

Malala’s attacker was finally identified: Ataullah Khan. The Pakistani officials promised to arrest him, while the Pakistani government agreed to pay Malala’s medical bills. On top of this, the Pakistani President gave Malala’s father a post as a Pakistani diplomat for education. This meant he could remain in England where he and his family would be safe. This story was warped back in Pakistan, with people rumoring that Malala had been shot by her father so that he could live a life of international fame and luxury in another country. 

Malala and her family moved into an apartment in Birmingham. However, they struggle to adjust. Their friends are back in Pakistan. Malala began going to school in Birmingham, though, and her father went to conferences on education. Malala had flashbacks of the shooting but was at peace with it. 

On Malala’s 16th birthday, in 2013, she spoke at the United Nations. She still hopes to go back to Pakistan but her father keeps providing reasons why they should not and cannot. The situation in Pakistan remains torturous. Schools continued to be blown up. Drone attacks and wars have left her home city damaged. However, for her, the valley that she grew up on is still the most beautiful place in the world. 

She ends the book with the words: “I am Malala. My world has changed but I have not”.

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