Thought for the Day - 08/10/2013 - Professor Mona Siddiqui

Yesterday morning on this programme we heard an interview with the impressive Malala Yousafzai, exactly a year after she was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban for speaking up for the rights of girls to be educated in Pakistan. This week Malala as she is simply known, is a contender for the Nobel peace prize. Her life has changed dramatically but at the core of her young life is the principle of education for everyone – education, the tool against poverty, dependency and terrorism itself.

For those of us who live in the west it’s difficult to imagine how much of a struggle this basic human right is in so many part of the developing and Islamic world. Here, education is now a given, your primary schooling marks your first steps into society, your secondary schooling shapes your entry in to early adulthood and higher education allows you the opportunities to explore how you can make your own mark on society. Yet, while most of us understand the value of achieving good results, we underestimate the transformative effect of education, that education is life itself and carries the ultimate role of transmitting and distilling values from one generation to another. When denied the ability to think freely, we are in danger of becoming little more than slaves to our society. As TS Eliot remarked `It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us escape, not from our own time -- for we are bound by that but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our time.’

A year ago no one in the West head heard of Malala and now she has become a universal symbol of so many hopes. Yet, her life points to a bigger cause than her own struggle - the need to educate girls that she repeats is a tenet of the Muslim faith itself. There are no boundaries to this sacred duty when we read that that seeking knowledge is an act of worship itself or the prophetic words, the ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr. Malala’s voice and life is one amongst thousands who dream of picking up a pen and making a difference. Despite the spotlight in which she finds herself, the reality of her vision for Pakistan is fraught with obstacles. When Islam is used to attack education by equating it with westernization, the battle of ideas becomes fatal. Tragically and inevitably many will still die in this battle of ideas but if this society is to turn itself round, it requires enormous political and intellectual courage. One young girl may be nurtured and developed as an iconic and global spokesperson but her vision for change is in a society where your voice can cost you your life. And yet ironically it is precisely more voices not martyrs that Pakistan needs.

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