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May 15, 2014
Column #1,707
Islam Vs. Girls With Books
By Mike McManus

For the past month the world’s attention has focused on the abduction of 276 teenage Nigerian girls by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, whose name means ”Western education is a sin.”

This week 100 of the girls were seen in traditional Muslim garb, chanting “Praise be to Allah, the lord of the world.” However, what’s not been reported widely is that the girls are Christian, speak English – and are being forced by their captors to become Muslim.

That is utterly contrary to what the Koran teaches, asserts Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National Director of the Islamic Society of North America, an umbrella organization of 2,500 mosques. Virtually all were built in the last 40 years.

Sayeed quoted Koran Sura (Chapter) 2, verse 256: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

A commentary on that verse in my Koran states: “Compulsion is incompatible with religion because religion depends upon faith and will and these would be meaningless if induced by force.”

Yet that is exactly what Boko Haram did after capturing the school of girls – forcing them to be Muslims. Secondly, their school was destroyed.

Again, that is a familiar pattern. A year ago the world was horrified to learn of a 15-year-old in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in her head by a Taliban soldier on October 9, 2012 for daring to go to school and for speaking about the importance of educating girls. Her father was the school’s principal. Two other girls on the bus with Malala were also shot, but Malala was the special target because she had become famous as a speaker on behalf of educating girls from age 11.

Schools for girls were being blown up or burned by the Taliban in the Swat Valley where they lived. A BBC correspondent called her father and asked for a female teacher or a girl who would write a dairy about what it was like to live with the Taliban threat.

When she heard her father speaking about it, she said, “Why not me?” She said she wanted people to know what was happening. “Education is our right, just as it is our right to sing. Islam has given us this right and says that every girl and boy should go to school.”

A BBC correspondent called her weekly to interview her, and then published a diary. He told her about 13-year-old Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam, who kept a famous diary. That inspired her. For protection, she wrote with a pseudonym, Gul Makai, which means “sunflower.”

Her first diary entry was published in 2009, at age 11. Under the headline, “I AM AFRAID,” she wrote, “I had a terrible dream last night filled with military helicopters and Taliban.” She was thrilled to see her words on a website.

The BBC hired a girl to read Malala’s words. She reflected, “I began to see that the pen and the words that come from it can be much more powerful than machine guns, tanks or helicopters. We were learning how to struggle. And we were learning how powerful we are when we speak.”

On the other hand, the Taliban set a deadline. Girls had to stop going to school, or suffer grim consequences. At the time 50,000 girls were in Swat schools. In her father’s school the number of girls quickly shrank from 27 to 10, as many moved to safer areas of Pakistan. A week later, her school closed too.

The New York Times commissioned a documentary on the closing. “What would you do if there comes a day when you can’t go back to your valley and your school?” she was asked. Malala said that would not happen, but started weeping. Later she replied, “They cannot stop me. I will get my education if it’s at home, school or somewhere else. This is our request to the world – to save our schools, save our Pakistan, save our Swat.”

Her family moved to Islamabad. A Taliban leader said in an interview, “Islam does not allow democracy or elections.” Or schools.

After the shooting, Malala survived a series of operations in Pakistan and England. Eventually she went back to school. On July 13, 2013, her 16th birthday, she spoke at the UN, asking for free education for every child:

“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

Her book, “I am Malala” is must reading.


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