Those who shot Malala Yousafzai might have thought that by silencing the voice of a maverick, they would send a wave of scare among the society and people would stop sending their daughters to schools. However, if that was what they had desired, then they surely have failed to achieve their objective.

Malala, fortunately, has survived the assassination attempt and recovered to start a new life. Once again, she has vowed to “continue her struggle for proving education to all children”, especially girls. The society has shown impregnable solidarity with Malala, rallied around the cause of education and expressed unflinching commitment to resist any attempt by the extremists to have their way. The government too has faced the challenge resolutely and, unruffled by the dastardly acts of the extremists, is working with a renewed zeal to facilitate every Pakistani child to enrol at school.

The international community has also condemned the assault on Malala and thrown its weight behind the cause of education for Pakistani children by establishing the Malala Fund For Education, designed to ensure that by 2015 every child without distinction of sex, race, religion and class goes to school.

However, a collateral outcome of this sad incident has been the contribution it has made to project a soft image of the country; a country where people are determined to embrace enlightenment through education and have an unfaltering resolve not to allow the forces of darkness to succeed.

Malala is no more an individual. She is a symbol of resistance against religious extremism and a flag bearer of the forces of enlightenment. The courage and determination shown by her against the formidable enemy is unprecedented, to say the least. Keeping this in view, she deserves the epithet of the ‘Daughter of Islam’, as she is  making an effort to promote a cause that is basically the responsibility of every Muslim - that is to seek knowledge.

The elements, who are trying to obstruct the spread of knowledge and particularly targeting girls schools, are, in fact, maligning Islam; indeed, their acts constitute a glaring negation of the Quranic commandments and the sayings of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) about love, peace and religious tolerance. 

Islam is the biggest proponent of religious tolerance, which means allowing the followers of other faiths to practice their religion and desisting from forced conversions to Islam. The Holy Quran rejects coercion in these words: “Let there be no compulsion in religion”  (The Cow, Verse 256).

The best example of interfaith harmony and religious tolerance was set by the Prophet (pbuh) when he migrated to Madinah and laid down the foundation of an Islamic state. A large number of Jews and Christians were already residing there, but it did not bother him. He did not contemplate on forcing them into the fold of Islam, but instead made a peace agreement with them.

The first Article of the Constitution of Madinah (Sahifa) drawn up by him declared that all the inhabitants of the city, the Muslims as well as those who had entered the pact from Jews, Christian and Idolaters, were “one nation to the exclusion of all others.” They were all considered members and citizens of Madinah, regardless of religion, race or ancestry. People from other faiths were protected from harm as much as Muslims; another Article said: “To the Jews who follow us belongs help and equity. He shall not be harmed nor his enemies be aided.” 

Also, the Prophet (pbuh) strictly warned against any maltreatment of people of other faiths and said: “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority or curtails their rights or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their will, I will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment” (Abu Dawood).

The Holy Prophet (pbuh) in his last sermon to the Muslims, while spelling out the spirit and message of Islam, declared: “Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.” This shows that Islam is a religion of tolerance, peace and brotherhood. It not only is tolerant of other faiths, but also protects their followers from any harm while living in an Islamic polity.

Against this backdrop, the actions of those who are killing their fellow Muslims in cold blood, in complete defiance of the Islamic teachings, preventing them from fulfilling their religious duty of seeking knowledge and showing intolerance towards other sects,  are nothing but barbarism of the worst order. Their sinister machinations to foist their own view on the majority through terrorism are not only bringing a bad name to the religion, but also constitute a grave threat to the unity and integrity of the country. 

The threat is multi-dimensional. The merchants of death need to be stopped in their tracks with all the vitality and resources at the command of the nation. Education is only one of the fronts on which we have to fight and defeat the forces of retrogression. They are attacking our security and law enforcement agencies. The politicians, intellectuals and journalists are also on their hit list and they have vowed to dismantle any obstacle to have their way.

But thanks to our security forces, who have rendered unprecedented sacrifices and are still engaged in eliminating this threat facing the country. Their efforts must be supplemented through an offensive on the intellectual and religious level. Therefore, the religious leaders and media have a great responsibility in exposing the real intentions and machinations of the extremists to the people, and condemn and challenge the dogma that we are confronted with in the light of the Islamic teachings.

All the segments of society, including politicians, have to exhibit an unflinching commitment to fight this menace on the political level and defend Pakistan against threats from within.

The writer is a freelance columnist.  Email: ashpak10@gmail.com