Sunday, October 13, 2013



As I watched the retelling of the story of Malala Yousafzai on ABCs 20/20, I felt bombarded by conflicting feelings of compassion, admiration, and anger. Fragments of thoughts quickly flowed along the lines of “How could anyone murder a little girl just because she wanted to go to school!”

Cover Girl
Malala is the current poster girl—a covered, cover girl— a living peace memorial representing the repression of girls and women everywhere. 

We in the West are used to the in-your-face uncovered, bare-bodied, how-dare-you tread on me outrage of Western women. But Malala evokes a different response. She’s the child who deserves to be protected. She’s the modest teen who covers. She’s the forgiving one who seeks no revenge.

Malala is a girl with faith in God. Malala offers a message of love, peace, and forgiveness.
“Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohamed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.” (Malala at the UN.)
Malala on Fundamentalists
Malala is a religious girl shot by those with different religious beliefs-- “radical fundamentalist men,” reports Diane Sawyer of ABC.
  • "I think that death didn't want to kill me."
  • "And God was with me. And the people prayed for me."

Malala is a Muslim girl who offers a different face of Islam. Again, from her UN Speech:
"They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would send girls to the hell just because of going to school. The terrorists are misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits."

Fundamentalists and women
When hearing stories about fundamentalists, it becomes easy to turn and look at other fundamentalists. Those more familiar to us.  Christian fundamentalists informed by biblical texts believe women should be under the authority of a man. After all, Eve--not Adam-- was deceived (1 Timothy 2:11-15). Women may teach children and other women but not men. Women can have supportive roles in ministry, but not leadership roles. Women may not wear men’s clothes. And so forth. 

Some Christian fundamentalists are known for their social protests and their efforts to create laws that limit the freedom of others. The vocal fundamentalists draw media attention. They insult contemporary sensibilities. They appear intolerant at best. Some see fundamentalism as a disease to be diagnosed and cured.

But there’s a difference. Many Christian fundamentalists live peacefully with their neighbors. They offer help in time of need. They seek freedom from laws that impose limits on their ability to live according to their conscience. They want their people covered. And clothed in righteousness. But not in the blood of their fellow citizens. Being a Christian fundamentalist is unpopular nowadays. Even Christian Evangelicals avoid the fundamentalist moniker as if seeking a liberal distance in order to avoid social condemnation.

Granted, I know Christian fundamentalists who spew venom against President Obama, gleefully toss racial epithets, and boisterously bash gays. “Up-in-arms” is almost literal as radical fundamentalists stockpile guns n’ ammo.

But there are others. Millions of peaceful, kind-hearted, hard-working, family-friendly people just trying to negotiate a path through a quagmire of cultural ooze that threatens all they hold dear.
Stereotypes are handy ways to evaluate and quickly respond to threats.
But there’s a downside to stereotyping.
We can miss the many Christian fundamentalists who make good neighbors.
And Christians can be blind to Muslims like Malala Yousafazai, 
the face of a Muslim girl who loves peace, 
and practices forgiveness
 instead of revenge.

Some more links
A review of her book, I am Malala, from the Washington Post
For more on fundamentalists see my 4 October 2013  post.
For more on the psychology of religion see news stories on my Facebook page.

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