THOUGHT: The girl who said no

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MOST fourteen-year-old girls would not be considered serious threats to the foot soldiers of a ruthless regime.

Yet that would appear to be the impact of Malala Yousafzai, currently recovering from surgery in a British hospital, after being targeted by Taliban gunmen in her native Pakistan.

Her crime was to campaign for women’s education while living in a part of Pakistan still under the heel of Muslim fanatics, who believe that a woman should only leave the house for two purposes, either to perform the Hajj (pilgrimage), or when taken to the graveyard. She paid for her views when Taliban gunmen singled her out on her school bus and shot her in the head.

The incident has had a profound impact. In Pakistan, which has often seemed ambivalent about Islamist terror, 50 clerics have put a ‘fatwa’ (death sentence) on the gunmen, stating that what they did was unIslamic, and the authorities have offered a reward of £70,000 for the capture of the gunmen involved.

This piece of Taliban arrogance and cruelty might just prove the beginning of the end for their baneful influence.

Some might rush to claim this incident as infallible proof of the inferiority of the Muslim religion. I do not yield an inch to any who refuse to see Jesus Christ as the only way to God the Father (John 14;9).

Besides, no one has done more than Jesus of Nazareth to honour womanhood, as witnessed by his concern for his own mother, while hanging on the Cross (John 19;26,27).

But those inclined to make glib assertions based on this incident should bear in mind that Christianity also has its lunatic fringe. A few years ago, a doctor working in an abortion clinic in Florida was shot dead by a Christian who , paradoxically enough, claimed to be ‘Pro-Life’!

Malala, now well enough to ask to have her books brought to her—echoes of St. Paul’s request in 2 Timothy 4;13—is to be awarded Pakistan’s highest civilian bravery award. Her bravery was most conspicuously demonstrated when she told an Islamabad conference, “One defiant NO an break the silence of fear”.

The folk who utter a defiant ‘NO’ are the people who help bring humanity round the great corners of history; John Brown and William Wilberforce who said ‘No’ to slavery; Lord Shaftesbury who said ‘No’ child labour in factories; John Howard who said ‘No’ to inhuman prison conditions; Josephine Butler who said ‘No’ to the sexual exploitation of women.

The tragedy of modern churches is that they are often perceived to be defenders of the status quo, rather than the drivers of change in society.

We need Christians to be more prominent in campaigns to save the environment, to eradicate racism, to spread social equality. We need people like Malala who are prepared to say ‘No’ to all that degrades and debases men, women and children made in the image of God.