I Am Malala

I Am Malala is a young woman’s story of how she stood up for girls’ education in opposition to the Taliban, one of the most dangerous and ruthless terrorist organizations in the world.

Visual Dictionary:

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Much of Malala’s story takes place in Pakistan’s Swat Valley – “the Switzerland of the East” (16).

Map of Swat Valley
The Hindu Kush mountain range runs through Swat.

Swat Valley Mountains
Malala and her family set up a school in Mingora, the major city in the region.

Malala describes the buses that run through Swat as colorful and intricately decorated.

Swat Bus
Over the course of her story, Malala travels to several other cities in Pakistan, including Peshawar, Islamabad (the capital), Lahore, and Karachi.


After she was shot in the head, Malala traveled to Birmingham in the UK for medical care.

Swat to Birmingham

History of Pakistan

From 1858 to 1947, Great Britain officially ruled over the lands that are now Pakistan and India. The British used their military and economic might to force this region to accept their colonization. Vestiges of that rule, including the English language and the British-style education system, persist through today.

In the prologue to the book, Malala says that she comes from “a country created at midnight.” What she means is that, when the British realized that their continued colonization of the rest of the world was not sustainable, they decided to reestablish local control, giving up power at midnight on August 15, 1947.

When the British ceded power, they shortsightedly determined to create two different countries based on faith – India for Hindus and Pakistan for Muslims – irrespective of the geographic reality that people of both religions lived all over the region. This led to the mass migration across the new borders that Malala describes in the book.220px-Jinnah1945c

Mohammed Ali Jinnah became the first leader of the newly created Pakistani state. His legacy in Pakistan is similar to George Washington’s in the United States, and he continues to be popular through today.

The period after Jinnah’s death was marked by instability as the country wavered back and forth between Islamic-based sharia rule and secularism. For parts of the 1980s and 1990s, Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister of the country (and was the first female leader of a Muslim country) and worked towards making Pakistan a more liberal democracy. Bhutto was assassinated by the Taliban in 2007.


Foreign Terms:

imam: a Muslim religious leader

pulpit: a podium for delivering religious speeches (sometimes also used metaphorically to refer to someone’s position of religious authority)

Sufism: a branch of Islam concerned with mysticism

mullah: a Muslim religious leader (less official than an imam)

madrasa: a school for religious education

mujahideen: Islamic guerilla fighters

fatwa: a legal decree in Islam

Eid: a holiday in Islam marking the end of Ramadan, a period of prayer and fasting

purdah: a set of customs in which women stay within the house to avoid male non-relatives

burqa: a black garment that covers a woman’s entire body and face

Quran: the holy book of Islam, equivalent to the Bible in Christianity

caliph: a Muslim political and religious leader

haram: something forbidden by Islamic law

Mecca: the holiest religious site in Islam, located in Saudi Arabia; a place of pilgrimage for many Muslims

Other Terms:

Urdu: the national language of Pakistan; linguistically similar to Hindi

Pashto: the language of the Pashtuns, and the language most commonly spoken in Malala’s region of Pakistan

GCSEs and A levels: qualifying exams for high school graduation under the British school system

NGOs: non-governmental organizations, or groups dedicated to providing assistance and aid to developing countries

BBC: the British Broadcasting Corporation (the major public news organization in Britain)

RPGs: rocket-propelled grenades

apartheid: the system of racial segregation in South Africa that lasted from British rule in the 1800s through the 1990’s


Get inspired by reading about Malala and four other teens your age who have made a difference in our world!