The Red Couch: I Am Malala Discussion


Red Couch -I Am Malala Dicussion2

To learn more about I Am Malala, please read the introductory post. Be sure to peruse The Nightstand in that post, which has resources for those wanting to learn more about the topic and themes of this month’s selection.

O Malalai of Maiwand,
Rise once more to make Pashtuns understand the song of honor,
Your poetic words turn worlds around,
I beg you, rise again  (p.15)

At age 11, I was laughing at silly jokes with my friends and saving them seats at lunch. I was not writing a blog about how the Taliban had banned girls in my country from going to school. At age 13, I was reading magazines and going to the movies. I was not publicly advocating for all girls’ rights to an education. At age 15, I was trying to find an identity, confidence, a voice. I was not fighting for my rights or the rights of girls around the world. I was not fighting for my life.

As an American teenager, my life was largely very different than that of Malala Yousafzai. I took my education for granted—often complaining about going to school at all. I lived in relative safety in a country very far from Pakistan. Honestly, I barely saw beyond my own front door. But as I read I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban, I was surprised to realize that my life was also very similar to Malala’s. As a teenager, like Malala, I loved being with my friends and I fought with my siblings. I had parents who loved me and encouraged me. I loved listening to music and watching movies.

Through the voice of this young Pakistani girl, I Am Malala relates the story of a beautiful home, its invasion by the Taliban, her courageous fight for education, and the attempted assassination she lived through. In the midst of political upheaval and religious extremism, Malala says, “If one man can destroy everything, why can’t one girl change it?” (p. 142). For those of us who have felt useless in the face of war and tragedy, her courage and belief in her own ability to change the world is astounding.

And what is it that keeps Malala fighting? The belief in the right to an education for all girls and boys, and an unshakeable faith that would put many of us to shame. A faith that calls her to action in making the world a more perfect place.

“‘Dear God,’ I wrote, ‘I know you see everything, but there are so many things that maybe, sometimes, things get missed, particularly now with the bombing in Afghanistan. But I don’t think you would be happy if you saw the children on my road living on a rubbish dump. God, give me strength and courage and make me perfect because I want to make the world perfect. Malala.'” (p. 89)

I remember the first time I heard the name Malala several years ago. I heard about her pacifism in the face of great violence and how it contrasted with what many know of Islam. I loved her then, and I love her now for showing the world what a girl can do when she steps in to lead and what faith can do in the face of the enemy.

In so many ways, reading about Malala’s Islam helped me reflect on my own Christianity. So often, we draw lines in the Christian faith between believer and stranger, us and them, in and out. In the United States, especially as of late, people have expressed many opinions of what it means to have extreme faith and who should be in and out, quite literally. But just like in Christianity, the shades of Islam vacillate greatly between peace and hate, between those working for reconciliation and those working for destruction, all in the name of a God who may or may not be on our side.

I believe in a God who is Love, and I struggle with those who call on Him to push agendas of hate. I think Malala would understand this. I think her Islam is not so far from my Christianity. 

“I love my God. I thank my Allah. I talk to him all day. He is the greatest. By giving me this height to reach people, he has also given me great responsibilities. Peace in every home, every street, every village, every country—this is my dream. Education for every boy and every girl in the world. To sit down on a chair and read my books with all my friends at school is my right. To see each and every human being with a smile of happiness is my wish. I am Malala. My world has changed but I have not.” (p. 313).

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How were you challenged by this book? How were you encouraged?
  2. At a young age, Malala made a significant impact on the world. What is it about her story that has touched so many people?
  3. In what ways is your faith similar to Malala’s? In what ways is it different?
  4. Does Malala’s story inspire you to take action? How does her life show the power of words, the power of one person?



Our September book is Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women And The Burden Of Strength by Chanequa Walker-Barnes. Come back Wednesday, Sept. 7 for the introductory post. The discussion post will be up Wednesday, Sept. 28.  In the meantime, be sure to follow along in the Red Couch Facebook group.


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Jamie Watkins
I am a wife, writer, film-lover, and traveler. I am a follower of Jesus and a struggling church-goer. I live in New Jersey, where my husband and I open our house to others with good food and wine. I blog at Seek.Follow.Love about wrestling with faith and church, and looking for meaning in the every day.
Jamie Watkins

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  1. I loved her relationship with her parents, too. Her dad is quite outspoken, but it takes a strong mother to support and encourage her husband and daughter in that environment, too. It made me reflect on how “easy” it is to raise strong girls here in America. I still need to be intentional, but am grateful for the opportunities my daughters have.

  2. sgibsonneve . says:

    I think that for me, my biggest take away was actually about parenting. I had never really thought about Malala’s father before other than to wonder a bit about whether her family was supportive of her in her fight. I hadn’t realised what an important advocate and educator her father was and is, to her and to other children. It’s such a reminder of what our children can be if we give them a belief in themselves and in the power of right and good in the world. We have such a powerful influence if we teach children to believe and to fight for what is right. The world is different because of who Malala’s father (and mother) are and how they conveyed a message of value and importance to their child. At times, it can be such a hard fight to raise our children to have countercultural values – this is such a wonderful reminder of the payoff for that struggle.

  3. It’s a miracle when someone so young can endure so much and emerge with a sweet spirit of gratitude along with her fiery determination to make a difference. I was especially impressed by the loving way in which Malala spoke about her parents – and her transparency in describing life with siblings.

  4. I have yet to read this book! I’ve heard amazing things about it. I look forward to reading it!

  5. I loved this book. She has a bold but gentle determination within her that inspires change. I have told my three girls her story many times, and again everytime they tell me they don’t want to go to school. 😉

  6. What a passionate young woman! I am so encouraged by Malala’s willingness to take a stand. Few adults are even courageous enough to do that, whether in her country and in ours. “All this happened and nobody did a thing. It was as though everyone were in a trance.” (p 125)

    I saw a direct correlation of our faiths here: “But you just use him to learn the literal meaning of the words; don’t follow his explanations and interpretation. Only learn what God says. His words are divine messages, which you are free and independent to interpret.” (p 134)

    Other memorable quotes to me:
    * But I said, “Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.” Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human. (p 162)
    * Some people are afraid of ghosts, some of spiders or snakes—in those days we were afraid of our fellow human beings. (p 166)

    Great book! Thanks for recommending it.

  7. The contrast between our western childhood experiences and yet the similarities in who we are as people is striking. I think there were two main challenges for me: one is around the specific issue of education, specifically girls education; the other is the challenge to stand up and do something when I see injustice in my world, rather than just shaking my head and moving on.

    Also I now know a lot more about the history of Pakistan than I ever did before!

    I really enjoyed this book, thanks for recommending it.

    • And the geography! I was struck by Malala’s description of the Swat Valley as being so fertile and beautiful.

  8. Chad Watkins says:

    Beautiful description. I love the comparison between Christianity and Islam, how they each have good and bad. So important to remember.

  9. Saskia Wishart says:

    Thank you for this lovely conclusion to this month’s book. I feel an amen: “I love her now for showing the world what a girl can do when she steps in to lead and what faith can do in the face of the enemy.” And also can relate to the reflection that there are so many similarities between our faiths when we are on the side of peace, love, and justice. It also challenges me, in ways that I can represent the part of my Christian faith that I want the world to see, the side devoted to life, not destruction and division.

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