- Responses on Twitter ranged from allegations of poisoning Pakistani youth against Islam to gang rape threats.
Making history is nothing new to Malala Yousafzai. From being airlifted out of her country in 2012 for medical treatment after a Taliban insurgent shot her in the face for her advocacy of girls’ education, her 23 years has been eventful. She’s won the Nobel Peace Prize. She runs a global girls’ education charity. She graduated from Oxford University. She’s known by only one name. She even made her TV debut as a guest star on the “Friends” reunion.
And now Malala is in the news again, facing social media wrath after telling British Vogue (July 2021 issue), “I still don’t understand why people have to get married. If you want to have a person in your life, why do you have to sign marriage papers, why can’t it just be a partnership,” she says in the chatty tail end of the article, which covers a range of topics, from how she coped with graduating from Oxford during a pandemic to her desire eventually to move out of home (she still lives with her parents in Birmingham, England) to her favorite food, comedy movie and her friendship with environmental crusade Greta Thunberg.
Although as the article does point out her mother – like most mothers – disagrees. “My mum is like,” Yousafzai says laughing, “Don’t you dare say anything like that! You have to get married. Marriage is beautiful.” Malala adds that despite her mom’s views she’s not sure if she would ever marry anyone.
But her “controversial” statement clearly didn’t go down well with Pakistani netizens and sparked an outrage on Twitter. Pakistan is not a place that welcomes casual thoughts about the need for marriage, particularly not from Malala Yousafzai. Responses on social media ranged from panic that she was poisoning Pakistani youth against Islam to bold gang rape threats.
Mathira Mohammad, a Pakistani model said, “Malala, please we should be teaching this generation that nikkah is sunnah, it’s not just about signing a paper – you aren’t buying a plot. Forced marriages, abusive marriages, child marriages are bad. But getting a nikkah done with the blessings of Allah is beautiful. So if you think having someone as a partner in your life is great, then getting your future blessed in a halal way is wonderful.”
Netizen Ayesha Khanik took to Twitter to point out that, “Nikkah is For Us (Muslims) Partnerships are for you cheap people #MalalaOnMarriage.”
Twitter user Ahmad Saeed Khan Dawar wrote in Urdu. “Marriage is a Sunnah,” referring to the practice of the Prophet Muhammad that all Muslims are expected to emulate. “Partnership is adultery. While Shabir Jan, “Shame on #Malala for saying such a type of words. #nikah Is a Sunnah Of Our Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).”
Others, like Suman Munir also pointed out that “Today I am proud of never supporting Malala! #MalalaOnMarriage #MalalaDoesnotBelongToPakistan.”
While others in favor of the institution of marriage said, “Absolutely shocked to discover Malala’s views on marriage are like those of most college- going 23-year-olds. Hard to see how Pakistan’s otherwise-unshakeable family system or wedding hall industry will ever recover now.”
Some even took to Twitter accusing her of forgetting her Muslim heritage and spreading Western ideas. Mir Tanveer Lehri tweeted, “#MalalaOnMarriage Shame on you Malala knows your promoting the western culture, I think she's forgot she is Muslim.”
Others also took to social media to mourn her “death” as an influencer and role model. Mahhparah tweeted, “2 min silence for those whose influencer was #Malala #MalalaOnMarriage”
While Maimoona Aftab tweeted, “V well said I would love to be part of that silence too who ever thought of her to be their role model… gaddar (traitor).”
One Twitter user went so far as to say he was mad that the Taliban hadn’t killed her before her statement about marriage caused shame to Pakistan! The insurgents “could not hit a single perfect target,” wrote Muhammad Arif Shahzad, referring to Yousafzai’s face, underneath a post by Yousafzai about the Vogue piece.
“The whole nation is going through shame for the punishment,” wrote Shahzad, of the Taliban not making a “perfect” hit. This tweet has subsequently been taken down.
Some of the more hateful posts seemed to veer between mocking her appearance because she had been shot to doubting that Malala was shot in the first place. One Twitter user referred to complaints that Malala was tarnishing Pakistan’s image. “Malala is making Pakistan look bad.Yeah because it looked so great that a 15-year-old kid was shot in the face for wanting an education.”
Another Twitter user responded: “She never got shot, it was a CIA drama!!” And then there were outrageous conspiracy theories. One woman, who identified herself on Twitter as an adviser to a politician in Pakistan’s ruling coalition, accused Yousafzai of being groomed by multiple intelligence agencies to lead Pakistan. “It means the training abroad by M16, CIA & many others is complete,” Misba Zafar alleged,”and she is ready to be launched as PM of Pakistan.”
In response to which Pedro Chavvaria humorously asked, Is this the Pakistani chapter of Qanon?https://twitter.com/LOLC4N0/status/1401048397776408577?s=20
But be it Twitter or newspaper comments, the outrage was palpable. There was also social media support, however limited for Yousafzai. Posted Ali Malik, “Malala Yousafzi has single-handedly done more for Pakistan and its future by fighting for girls’ right to education than anyone its broken history and that’s despite what the country did to her beautiful hometown and people. Pakistanis are the worst at acknowledging their heroes.”
“Extremely graceful. Keep blooming … We are proud of you,” another Twitter user wrote. Netizen Shahrukh, singing her praises tweeted, “Looks beautiful! I never understood the hatred among Pakistanis against Malala. She is a Pakistani hero in the west & reminds the world that Pakistanis are humble, kind, resilient, compassionate, talented. Neither of the qualities exist in ppl who don’t like her, lol.”
While Netizen Yasser Latif Hamdani tweeted, “There can hardly be a greater Pakistani Nationalist than me and I love @Malala. Those who are linking hatred for Malala to Pakistani Nationalism are not doing anyone any favors.”
To which netizen Shafaat Ali, agreed and responded, “They have been whining about her since she was 12, while they don’t realize how low they became when they spew hatred towards a teenage girl who, 9 years later, have been the most accomplished Pakistani girl. Making every Pakistani proud in the whole world.”
Pakistan is overwhelmingly conservative, and most men and women are matched up in some form of an arranged marriage. According to NPR, civil partnerships without an Islamic marriage contract are unheard of outside a tiny crust of elites and are widely seen as lewd. Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, however, told NPR that his daughter’s words had been twisted by trolls. “Social media misinterpreted what she said, taking out selective things out of context, changing it and interpreting,” he wrote in a Twitter message in response to a request for comment from NPR.
The hashtag #ShameOnMalala is still trending.