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Looking Back at the Muslims Who Have won the Nobel Peace Prize

This week signaled the start of the never-not-contentious Nobel Prize season, perhaps the most prestigious award season of them all. Over the last week, Nobel gongs have been bestowed upon esteemed minds from a variety of important disciplines, like literature, chemistry and economics.

The most famous and talked about category is the Nobel Prize for Peace. By and large the prize has gone to worthy recipients, many of whom have been Muslim. To celebrate this week’s festivities, we’re looking back on three Muslims who have (deservedly, we think) taken home the Peace prize.

Yasser Arafat

Nobel

Yasser Arafat (L) and Secretary General of the U.N. Kofi Annan at the 2001 World Economic Forum. Credit: World Economic Forum via Flickr.

Yasser Arafat was the President of the Palestinian National Authority and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). He was awarded the prize in 1994, along with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, for their combined efforts to create peace in the Middle East.

Following Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Arafat became the leader of the PLO, a guerrilla group who fought for Palestinian independence, often through violent means. However, in 1974, Arafat told the UN General Assembly that he was holding an olive branch for peace in one hand and a freedom fighter’s pistol in the other.

His willingness to negotiate with Israel resulted in a degree of reconciliation between the two states, as well as diplomatic privileges with the US for the PLO. In 1993, he signed the Oslo Accords, which granted Palestinians the right to govern the Gaza Strip through the newly formed Palestinian authority.

While the conflict has continued in the ensuing years, Arafat’s diplomacy in the early 1990s suggests the olive branch briefly won out. He died in 2004.

Tawakkol Karman

Nobel

Credit: Erik F. Brandsborg, Aktiv I Oslo.no via Flickr.

Tawakkol Karman is a journalist and human rights activist from Yemen. In 2005, she founded the group Women Journalists Without Chains, which works to promote freedom of expression and other democratic rights. While she has always been respected (or reviled, depending on which head of state you ask) for her activism, her reputation was cemented in 2011, when she became the face of the Yemeni uprising.

During the unrest, Karman organised protests that would play a part in the eventual overthrow of the Saleh government, which had ruled Yemen for 33 years. Karman was awarded the Peace prize in 2011, with the committee stating: ‘In the most trying circumstances, both before and during the Arab spring, Tawakkul Karman has played a leading part in the struggle for women’s rights and for democracy and peace in Yemen.’

Upon being given the award, Karman became the first Arab woman to win the award. At the time, she was also the youngest recipient of the Peace prize, at age 32. Until our next Muslim winner arrived on the scene…

Malala Yousafzai

Nobel

Malala meets the Obamas, 2013. Credit: White House via Wikimedia Commons.

Does she really need any introduction? Perhaps the most admired and least divisive inclusion in this list, Malala has somehow managed to even transcend her impressive activism work: she has arguably become a global symbol for education, equality, resilience and out-in-out power.

Born in 1997 in the Swat district of northwest Pakistan, the precocious Malala began blogging for the BBC in 2009 about the Taliban’s growing stranglehold on the region. Her advocacy for education for all children caused her reputation to grow, and in 2012, the Taliban – sickeningly, horrifyingly – tried to assassinate her as she rode the bus home from school.

Malala survived, but was flown to Birmingham to undergo a number of operations. She still lives in the UK, where she has continued to campaign for the rights of all children to have access to an education.

Malala has since written a biography, met with global leaders, secured a place at Oxford and inspired people the world over. When she was awarded the prize in 2014, the Nobel committee said they gave it to her due to her ‘struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.’

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