If I could have lunch with Malala Yousafzai

Last night, my husband and I were lying in bed talking. We like to play this game of 20 questions, and we always get really random. For example, Colby asked me “if you could do anything in the world right now, but you had to take the person you hate most, what would you do?” One of the last things we pondered over before we drifted off to sleep with the rain pounding on our roof was who we would take out to lunch if we had a choice. After a few minutes of contemplation, I chose Malala Yousafzai. This will not come as a shock to those who know me and know how deep my admiration for her is. I can’t even imagine how incredible it would be to meet such a remarkable individual. I’m sure we would never run out of things to talk about, but I’ve narrowed this post down to the five most essential questions I would ask Malala on our hypothetical lunch date.

What can you tell me about Islam?
I have always been fascinated by world religions… anything from ancient spiritual texts of the Native Americans, to mythology, to stories of the Egyptians and their insanely complex burial rituals. Although I find the concept of spirituality fascinating, I am not very well-rounded when it comes to my knowledge of modern religious practices. Because many Americans stigmatize the culture of Islam, I would like to hear an authentic account of growing up in her culture. More cross-cultural comparisons of religions would allow for a more tolerant, peaceful world, as Malala discusses in her book I am Malala. I dream of the day that people of different belief systems could sit down, share a meal, and converse peacefully. If there were more people in our world like Malala, we would be much closer to making this dream a reality.

Even though you presently live in Birmingham, do you still consider Pakistan your home?
It is no secret that living in Pakistan caused some problems for Malala. In her fight for the rights of women to attend school, she was viciously shot at point-blank range by the Taliban. After she miraculously survived and wrote a memoir of her story, she was criticized immensely in her hometown, as people claimed that her book was offensive. I cannot fathom being able to live life day to day and life it to the fullest as she does. I look back on all of the difficulties of my life, and they look petty compared to the obstacles she has overcome. I would be curious to know if, even after all that has happened, Malala thought of Pakistan fondly and would ever like to return. Thomas Wolfe says, “You can’t go home again.” Will Malala be able?

Other than education, what do you think are the biggest social issues women face around the world?
Malala has been a true champion for human rights and education. By following her on Twitter, I have learned that she also advocates for the release of women being held captive in different parts of the world. I would love to know what other causes she supports on the road to a more equitable world for both genders. I hope that one day I will put one hundredth of the work Malala has done into a cause about which I am passionate. After that, I will feel that I have made a positive difference on the world. Social justice is key!

How does it feel to finally get your well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize?
I was quite annoyed that Malala did not win the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. Even though the Washington Post wrote an article arguing that the committee did her a favor because the celebrity of the prize would have taken away from her cause (view the article at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/10/11/the-nobel-committee-did-malala-a-favor-in-passing-her-over-for-the-peace-prize/), I could not believe she wasn’t the recipient. Thankfully, 2014 remedied that and made Malala, only 17 years old, the youngest laureate in the ninety-five years the prize has been awarded, while most laureates are around 67 years of age when they win (according to this article http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29564935). One thing is for sure… despite this accolade, Malala remains humble as ever, making her one of my favorite people on the planet.

What is your biggest advice for me as an educator?
The U.S. schools are becoming more and more heterogeneous as the years pass by. I have already experienced an immense amount of diversity in the different classrooms I have interned, and I know that the children who enter my classroom over the next several decades of my career will become more and more different. In my quest to promote global citizenship and universal empathy, I can think of no one better to advise me than Malala. While I will probably never get to sit down with her and make this imaginary lunch a reality, I will ensure that my students know her name and her story. The world will never be the same after this brave girl’s sacrifices, and I am thankful I can give my students a positive female role model to look up to.

I encourage you to take some time and think about which celebrity or public figure you would ask to lunch if able; it will tell you a lot about yourself. As for me, I am proud to be a woman, an educator, and a citizen of the world. As I reflect on Malala Yousafzai and her contributions to the world, a passage from one of my favorite books, Tuesdays with Morrie, comes to mind:

“The way you get meaning into your life is devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to the community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” (This quote in on page 47 if you were wondering!)

What will give you meaning, something you would be willing to die for? Don’t be afraid to go search for it; it will be the most worthwhile pursuit of your life.

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