Malala's campaigning father: ‘I gave Malala the freedom – and it was her right’

11th September 2015 at 14:53
malala yousafzai, ziauddin yousafzai, he named me malala, into film, cinema, nobel peace prize
Campaigning runs in our family, says Nobel laureate’s teacher father

Nobel Peace Prize-winning phenomenon Malala Yousafzai’s father insists that his daughter’s readiness to take a bullet for her beliefs is a sign of his success as a teacher. 

Ziauddin Yousafzai – Malala’s father, a schoolteacher and an outspoken advocate of girls’ education in his own right – is a big believer in the role of the inspirational teacher. 

“I always say that a great teacher inspires,” he tells TES. “Some teachers – the way they teach and the love which inspires their teaching, and the passion, the spirit with which they share their ideas – make a big difference. They’re inspirational. And it doesn’t end with inspirational speech. Teachers must be role models. Children learn from what we do, usually, not from what we teach.”

Before Malala became a Nobel laureate, her father was the family campaigner. 

The headteacher of a school in Pakistan, he would regularly deliver assemblies on the importance of girls’ education. For his efforts, he was repeatedly threatened by the Taliban. 

The family now lives in the UK. All the same, meeting a member of the Yousafzai family is a convoluted exercise. TES is shepherded on to a coach with other journalists and driven to an undisclosed location in West London. There, in a heavily guarded film studio, we are allowed to meet Mr Yousafzai.

He is going along with this in order to promote He Named Me Malala, a new documentary film about the teenage campaigner and her family. 

One of the most striking moments in the film is when Mr Yousafzai describes the moment when Malala was rushed to hospital after being shot in the head by the Taliban. 

He says that he wondered in that moment whether it was all his fault – whether he had essentially killed his daughter by encouraging her to speak out.

Does he still feel responsible for her shooting? He barely pauses to reflect. “I think it was more inspirational,” he says of his influence on his daughter. 

“That means that I never shared my ideals with her purposely – that I am putting these ideals in her head. No, it never happened. What happened is that I was an educational advocate, a social and political activist of my community. 

“People ask me, what did you do to make her so poised and so confident? And actually, rather, ask me what I did not do.
I didn’t give her this [confidence], OK? I didn’t give her this. I gave her the freedom – and it was her right. 

“Every father is supposed to do that.”

It is notable, however, that Malala did not use her freedom to stay out partying all night. Instead, she took up her father’s campaigning work. 

When a BBC journalist began a search for a girl to write an anonymous diary of life under the Taliban, Malala volunteered. Later, she abandoned the anonymity and began speaking on the same platforms as her father. As a result, she was shot. 

“Before, I was Zia Yousafzai,” her father says. “But because of her popularity, that went in the background. Now I am known as her father.”

He insists that this change does not bother him, “because I think that your children are like your extension”. 

“They are you. And you think that, OK, my child has been inspired by me. I inspired someone. I think it’s very simple.”

Famously, the family now lives in Birmingham, where Malala has just achieved a string of A* and A grades at GCSE.

“When I used to see children going to school here, I used to have tears in my eyes,” Mr Yousafzai says. “I wished that may God keep this country safe and may my country’s children have the same opportunity, the freedom to go to their schools.” 

He has not, however, taught since moving to the UK; he points out that qualified teacher status is difficult for immigrant teachers to acquire. 

“I would say that I am a born teacher,” he says. “My father was a teacher, my brother was a teacher, and we love teaching. 

“The greatest happiness for me used to be in the classroom, when I used to see the little light – the children’s glittering faces – when they got something. 

“So I miss all that. I would love to teach again, once I go to Pakistan. Here, if somebody gave me an opportunity, a teaching job here in this country…” He looks wistful for a moment. “But, you know, I never applied.” 

He Named Me Malala is released in cinemas on 6 November


Exclusive preview screenings for teachers

Ten preview screenings of He Named Me Malala will be held exclusively for teachers. The showings will be free of charge and will take place around the UK at 6pm on 15 September. 

They will be held at the following Odeon cinemas: Belfast, Birmingham Broadway Plaza, Cardiff, Glasgow Braehead, Liverpool One, Manchester Trafford, Newcastle Metrocentre, Norwich, Southampton and Wimbledon.

Places are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Book a ticket here

As part of the Into Film festival, Malala Yousafzai will be taking part in a Q&A session, following screenings of He Named Me Malala. She will answer questions from British secondary-school pupils via a live video link-up. Pupils will be able to submit questions via an interactive Twitter feed, which will accompany the Q&A.

Find out more, and book free tickets for the Into Film festival here.






Related Content

Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today