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Malala Yousafzai Facts: Fun, Fascinating, and Inspiring Story of the Youngest Nobel Laureate

Explore fun and fascinating facts about Malala Yousafzai life, her fight for education, and her enduring impact on the world.


Interesting facts about Malala Yousafzai

Here are key Malala Yousafzai facts highlighting her powerful humanity and unbreakable cheerful spirit in her pursuit of women's rights and universal access to quality education. First, she courageously defied the Taliban by cooperating with the BBC and exposing the group to the world. Second, Malala's journey as the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner involved recovering from brain damage after the terrorist attack and adjusting to life in the British environment and culture. Those challenges have only strengthened Malala, now a University of Oxford graduate, without dimming her joyful character.

Key facts about Malala: A person of sincerity, emotion, and determination

Fact 1: Malala wrote an autobiography that became an international best-seller 

"I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and Was Shot" is an autobiography by Malala Yousafzai (born July 12, 1997, in Mingora, Pakistan), where she shares her unique experience as a young female human rights and education activist. The book sheds light on the challenges faced by people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other Islamic countries, where life is full of dangers due to active terrorist groups and corrupt political leaders. 

The author appears to be a vivid, energetic, yet still imperfect person who has the support of her father to defy the cultural and political odds of her environment. Despite corruption and religious oppression, Malala enjoyed an adventurous childhood and learned foreign languages, wishing all girls to receive a quality education and dream big, perhaps even becoming a prime minister like Benazir Bhutto.

After being shot by a Taliban gunman and moving with her family to England, Malala's life entered a new phase. Her impact grew as a symbol of defiance against terrorism, which she believes should be fought with education, not weapons.

Fact 2: Malala's list of awards and honors is record-breaking due to its versatility and her young age

The list of awards and honors Malala has received continues to grow. Currently, she has more than 50. An incredibly diverse list includes the 2011 National Youth Peace Prize (the National Malala Peace Prize now), the 2013 International Children's Peace Prize, the 2013 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought that she received during the plenary session of the European Parliament, the 2015 Grammy For Best Children's Album, and dozens of others. 

In 2014, the Pakistani activist was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center. Malala is the youngest person to be the United Nations Messenger of Peace, and she even has an asteroid named in her honor. The activist has also been granted honorary Canadian citizenship and made it to the British TIME's "Most Influential People list," being also honored with the "2013 Pride of Britain" award.

Fact 3: The Taliban appeared on the scene a year before Malala's birth

A year before Malala was born in the picturesque city of Mingora in the Swat District, the Taliban seized control over the Afghani people. Malala's father had never tried to soften the harsh truths when explaining to his daughter what the Talibs were truly after absolute and undivided control over people's every move, especially women. Ziauddin would assure the future education rights activist, who has been becoming more and more curious with age, that he would do everything in his power not to let the Taliban mess with his child's future:

"I will protect your freedom, Malala. Carry on with your dreams."

So she carried on, undeterred by the Taliban gunman who shot her for her 'quality education for all' activism. The injury sent her into a medically induced coma; she was then forced to undergo long-term rehabilitation at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, UK. After recovery, Malala continued to work to see more Pakistani girls able to read, write, speak, and pursue their education freely.

Fact 4: Malala learned about corruption early 

Malala Yousafzai's father once told her and her brothers:

"If our politicians hadn't spent so much money on building an atomic bomb, we might have had enough for schools."

Malala has been observing corruption since her earliest years. Sometimes, provincial governors called Wali would build new roads alongside the river in the Swat Valley. And yet, most politicians elected to the Provincial Assembly of Peshawar or the National Assembly tended to disappear right after being chosen. All promises about schools, electricity, clean water, and other modern infrastructure would just evaporate. It motivates the young activist, who has undergone an assassination attempt for her efforts at the hands of Taliban extremists, to ensure access to quality education for all girls and boys in Pakistan and worldwide.

Fact 5: "Mock Marriage" was Malala's favorite childhood game 

One of Malala's favorite childhood games was mock weddings, especially on family trips during the Eid holidays. The players would form two groups: families, who would then pick a girl to betroth. The groups would tell a "bride" some traditional advice:

"Marriage is a part of life. Be kind to your mother-in-law and father-in-law, so they treat you well. Take care of your husband and be happy."

Then, they would give the girl away, adorn her with national-style jewelry, paint her nails with henna, and lighten her skin with soda and limestone.

Fact 6: Malala is scared of ghosts because of her aunties' stories

Many Pakistani villages had only oil lamps as a light source in the house. Looking at the reflection of the burning lamp flickering on the wall, the future Nobel Peace Prize winner would listen to her grandmother reciting tapey or Pashto couplets or her aunties telling ghost stories, as in such a setting, they would sound especially dramatic. The ghosts were supposed to "encourage" children to fall asleep faster. The one Malala was scared of the most was a story about a twenty-fingered man called Shalgwatay. She says she didn't realize all girls and boys have twenty fingers combined.

Fact 7: A 13-year-old Malala was a BBC voice against the Talibanization of Pakistan as "the world's first Muslim homeland"

Encouraged by her family, Malala agreed to write a diary for BBC Urdu under the pen name Gul Makai, sharing her experiences as a seventh-grade Pakistani schoolgirl. 

"On my way from school to home, I heard a man saying, 'I will kill you .' I hastened my pace, and after a while, I looked back if the man was still coming behind me. But to my utter relief, he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone."

The writer and the BBC journalists wanted to show how Taliban militants were "seeking to impose their austere interpretation of Sharia law," destroying hundreds of education facilities, especially targeting the girls' schools. In her book, Malala says:

Malala Yousafzai quote

After the partition of British India in 1947, tensions escalated as Pakistan became an independent Muslim state and India became a Hindu-majority state. It was difficult to imagine "a bloodier beginning." Those differences did not contribute to the unity of people in Pakistan and eventually paved the way for extremists like the Taliban. When writing for the BBC, Malala took these factors into account when describing the actions of the Taliban in Pakistan.

Fact 8: Malala has overcome the fate of her famous namesake

When she was a child, her grandfather would sometimes bring up his sad premonition about the Nobel prize winner's name, meaning "grief-stricken." Malalai of Maiwand, the national heroine of Afghanistan she was named after, died while trying to help her fellow people win in the Second Anglo-Afghan War. This story is bittersweet, as Malalai's efforts succeeded, but at the cost of her life. Malala's grandfather, not wanting her to face the same fate, would try to "lend" some happiness to her name, singing:

"Malala is of Maiwand, and she's the happiest person in the world."

Fact 9: Malala gave all her Nobel Peace Prize money to charity

Malala has become the Nobel Peace Prize winner alongside Kailash Satyarthi, an activist advocating ending child labor in India. Both are members of the Emergency Coalition for Global Education, a group once also supported by Nelson Mandela. The United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown called Satyarthi and Yousafzai "the world's greatest children's champions."  

Upon receiving the award, Malala pledged all the money to the Malala Fund "to help give girls quality education, everywhere, anywhere in the world and to raise their voices." The Fund supports education initiatives, including teaching refugee girls English and modern digital tech skills.

Fact 10: Declaration of United Nations Malala Day is called to unite education activists around the globe

On July 12, 2013, less than a year after the shooting, Malala delivered her first high-level public speech at the UN headquarters in New York. This day was declared "United Nations Malala Day," and it was called to inspire and unite young leaders around the world to work for the goal of "getting all children, especially girls, in school and learning." Meanwhile, Malala stressed that "it is not her day," but "the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights." Former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, admitted that she took a powerful stance by translating a clear message:

"What the Taliban fears most – what terrorists fear most - is not guns, it is not weapons. When girls are reading books, when girls are educated, that is what the Taliban fears most."

Fact 11: "Malala's Magic Pencil" was written by Malala to help children realize the value of education

In 2017, Little, Brown, and Company and Puffin Books published a picture book, "Malala's Magic Pencil" written by Malala Yousafzai. It translates her message to a younger audience: you don't need a magic wand, aka magic pencil, to make a positive change, but your efforts can make this world a better place for you and other children.

Fact 12: By appearing on the American hit series "Friends," Malala celebrated her younger brothers and a favorite form of reality escapism

In 2021, HBO producers invited Malala and her friend Vee to participate in a special reunion episode of the popular American show "Friends." Malala accepted, citing the uplifting nature of the comedy series as a welcome escape after her intense advocacy work for girls' education. In an interview with PEOPLE Every Day, the activist expressed her fondness for shows like "Friends" as a favorite form of reality escapism. 

During their segment on the episode, Vee likened Malala's character to "Joey with a hint of Phoebe." Malala revealed that one of her cherished scenes is "the routine dance" of siblings Ross and Monica, which holds special significance due to her deep affection for her younger brothers. When she was congratulating her brother Khushal in an Instagram post, she jokingly posted:

"Wishing you all the best in what you do and remember the key to success for a brother is listening to your sister."

Fact 13: Malala might become the Prime Minister of Pakistan 

Being shot just when she was a 15-year-old for "promoting secularism," Malala was rushed to a military hospital in Peshawar and then Rawalpindi, being later transported to Birmingham, England. For a while, it seemed she might repeat the fate of Benazir Bhutto, the first Pakistani female prime minister, who was killed in 2007 by those opposed to seeing women having a voice in a Muslim-majority country. However, unlike Benazir, Malala survived, became a Nobel laureate, and started the Malala Fund. She works to be up to the role of Prime Minister herself, admitting:

Malala Yousafzai quote

Indeed, imagine the day when the girl who passionately spoke out during a Pakistani TV interview asking, "How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?" is now leading her country's government!

Fact 14: Malala is a voice of refugee girls

In 2015, American director Davis Guggenheim made a documentary, "He Named Me Malala." This documentary helps to understand why Malala is seen as today's role model for young women whose voices are silenced, especially those who have had to become refugees, as she experienced it firsthand. One of the examples of Malala's impact is Mazoun Almellehan, also known as "The Malala of Syria," who supports Syrian refugees. She is helping them get a chance for a brighter future by learning more "about the world around us." 

Malala dedicated a 2019 Weidenfeld & Nicolson book that she wrote to the refugee cause. "We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World" tells the stories of some of the 68.5 million individuals displaced worldwide, putting a real face on the statistics charts. In Lebanon, which hosts millions of Syrian refugees and still feels the aftershock of the 2020 explosion in Beirut's port, the Malala Fund Champion Nayla Zreik Fahed tutors girls on digital solutions that may enhance the lives of vulnerable communities.

Fact 15: Malala "lost" the Nobel Prize a year before winning it, sparking a public controversy about the selection of candidates

Before winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, Malala stirred a massive international controversy about the "persistence of misogyny" and "warfare against women" on a global scale. It happened after she "lost" the same award the year before to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. For many, it seemed ironic that an advocate of "education instead of weapons to beat terrorism" lost to those who produce weapons that might potentially "fight" the terrorists. 

This situation also made the meeting between Malala and the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner, the 44th American President Barack Obama, controversial, given how the U.S. leader was keen to use both weapons and practical education instead of humanities (championed by Malala) to eradicate terrorism. This polarization among Oslo winners led the public to question the Norway Committee's approach to choosing Nobel laureates.

Bonus Fact: Malala defies the traditional view of Islamic marriage, calling her husband a partner and attending the Broadway show "Suffs" together

In 2021, Malala married Asser Malik, who holds a managing position at the Pakistan Cricket Board. They held a small Islamic ceremony in Birmingham, and Malala said she had "found a best friend and companion" in Asser. Through this, she continued her parents' initiative to challenge an extreme perception of Islamic marriage in which husbands do not consult wives and wives are meant for home and child care only. 

Recently, Malala and Asser publicly supported Shaina Taub, the author of "Suffs," a musical that premiered on Broadway in April 2024. So far, it garnered six Tony Award nominations. The "Suffs" tells the story of the 1913 Women's Movement campaigning for their voting rights to be recognized in the Constitution. It is resonant with the time when millions of Pakistani people, inspired by Malala's courage following her attack, signed a petition to make sure the National Assembly ratifies their "right to free and compulsory education" on an official level.

More inspiring biographies and books on activism on Headway

Are you looking for more inspiring life stories that challenge you to take action and make a difference? Headway is here to assist you. 

If you're ready to feel motivated and learn to thrive under pressure, explore our selection of presidential biographies, including "Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times" by David S. Reynolds and "A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House" by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. 


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