I Am Malala

I Am Malala Summary and Analysis of Part One: Chapters 5-8


Malala excelled in school, known among her peers for participating in everything and being top of the class. Her competition was usually with her best friend, Moniba, but a girl named Malka-e-Noor eventually joined her class and began giving Malala a run for her money. When Malala's family moved into a new home on a new street, she had some trouble with a neighbor her age, Safina, who stole her favorite toy. As payback, Malala slowly began to steal Safina's things at her house as well, but eventually she was caught. She felt terrible disappointing her parents, and after that day she made a point never to lie or steal again.

Pakistan experienced another political changeover a few years after Malala's birth, when General Musharraf took power. He was the nation's fourth military ruler. This ruined many of Pakistan's international relationships, and the people of Swat Valley were very unhappy with the leadership and wished for change. Meanwhile, in an effort to make her parents proud after being caught stealing, Malala entered a public speaking contest at school alongside her friend Moniba. Coincidentally, the topic was ‘Honesty is the best policy’. She came in second to Moniba, but her father was still extremely proud of her, and Malala learned how to lose graciously.

The Kushal School began to attract more students, so Malala and her family had enough money to move into a nicer house. Some cousins and friends lived in the house with them. Malala's father made a point of giving away openings in the school to poor children so that they could learn. Malala wanted him to give openings to a couple of children she had seen living and working at a rubbish heap. Around this time, Malala's father began to become a serious advocate for education for all children.

When 9/11 happened, the Americans began to try to woo General Musharraf because they needed Pakistan's help to fight the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and catch Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, the group behind the terrorist attack in New York City. Some religious people in Pakistan saw bin Laden as a hero for getting back at the Americans for their aggressive foreign policy in their part of the world. Bin Laden was rumored to be hiding out in the tribal regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Musharraf was using the money that the Americans gave Pakistan to help fight terror for himself. Malala was very interested in politics from a young age, and she dreamed and prayed to be given courage so she could make the world perfect.

Chapter 7 tells the story of the mufti (Islamic scholar) who tried to close their school. He came to the school and insisted to the woman who owned the building that the school was shameful because it taught girls, who should be in purdah (i.e. kept out of sight of men). The owner and her son warned Malala's father that the mufti was trying to close them down. Malala talks about how she was proud of her country being founded as a Muslim homeland by their founder Jinnah; then she explains the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims, groups that disagreed over who was the right person to lead the religion when the Prophet Muhammad died. Most Pakistanis are Sunnis. The mufti continued to try to shut the school down, bringing in a delegation of influential people to tell Malala's father that schooling girls is blasphemous because the Quran does not mention any women by name. The mufti’s efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but Malala and her family knew there were others who believed like he did.

General Musharraf held elections for a party to lead the nation, and, of course, the party he supported, colloquially called the Mullah Military Alliance (MMA), won. After pressure from Washington, General Musharraf sent the Pakistani army into the Federally Administrated Tribal Regions (FATA) in the northwest of the nation to seek al-Qaeda militants where the Americans believed they were fighting. The locals in the tribal regions revolted against the military action, and hundreds were killed. Malala's father was afraid that militancy would soon make its way into Swat Valley.

One autumn, an earthquake devastated Swat. Homes, buildings, and schools were destroyed everywhere. The earthquake especially affected the small villages in the valley where Malala's extended family lived. Foreign aid came in, but some of it came from Islamic charities that were really a front for militant groups. Many of these groups insisted that the earthquake was a warning from God, and warned that if they did not convert to sharia (Islamic) law, more severe punishment would come.


The first half of Part One sets up Malala's life through stories about her and her parents' background, explaining how her parents grew up, met, and eventually raised her and her brothers. This second half of Part One is devoted to setting up the main conflict that defined Malala’s young life: the militancy and conservatism that tormented Swat Valley, and her subsequent fight against their ban on girls' education. Part One ends with the earthquake that devastated Malala's home, making it vulnerable. This is part of the reason why the Taliban was so easily able to come in and take it over.

Just like understanding the history of Pakistan is essential for understanding the context of Malala's life, it is important to understand the Taliban and their aims in order to fully understand what Malala and her family experienced. The Taliban is a political movement centered on Islamic fundamentalism, seeking to control key countries and territories and implement a very strict interpretation of Sharia law, which is a religious legal system governed by Islam. The Taliban held power in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and branches of it expanded to Pakistan later in the 2000s, as described in Malala's memoir. The Taliban has engaged in various human rights abuses, and this was particularly true of its treatment of women. Malala grew up hearing about the Taliban's horrible reign in Afghanistan, and eventually would have to witness its oppression herself in her home, Swat Valley.

These chapters provide a more complete characterization of Malala's father, a man who is strongly committed to fighting for what is right. He does so in a quiet way, building relationships with people and silently showing solidarity in the face of trouble. Slowly Malala's father is becoming a profound leader against the oppression that is creeping into their valley, and his leadership will serve as an inspiring example to Malala as she learns to trust her voice and speak out.

The mufti's effort to close the Kushal School is smaller-scale foreshadowing of events to come. His attempt and reasoning makes it clear that schooling for girls does not align with the conservative Islamic values being preached by fundamentalists, and although he is unsuccessful, these views are shared by others who will eventually be more powerful than he is. Even though the mufti is just one person, Malala's father stands strong against him and retains his belief in the power of educating girls, and this resistance predicts the similar, much larger-scale resistance to come.

Interspersed throughout the political and ideological strife are Malala's reflections on the important lessons she learned growing up. She has allowed herself room to make mistakes and learn from them, as evidenced by her resolve never to lie or steal again after disappointing her parents by stealing her friend's toys. She has developed a healthy perspective on faith and religion, believing in its power when used for good, rather than using it for destruction and control as it was in much of corrupted Pakistani politics. The positive people around her shape all of these values–family and friends who have played a major role in coloring her perspective on life.