Religious leaders in Pakistan have condemned the shooting of teenage education rights activist Malala Yousafzai, during a special day of prayer across the country.
Clerics on Friday declared the attempt on her life, made by Pakistani Taliban gunmen while the 14-year-old girl was on her way home from school in the Swat valley, to be “un-Islamic”.
The joint fatwa, or religious edict, was issued by at least 50 scholars associated with the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), and appealed to worshippers to observe a “day of condemnation” on Friday.
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“Islam holds the killing of one innocent person as killing the entirety of humanity,” Hamid Saeed Kazmi, a former religious affairs minister in Pakistan, told reporters.
“It also forbids the killing of a woman who has even denounced her religion.”
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said Yousafzai, who had risen to international prominence for decrying Taliban efforts to stop girls from attending school in northwest Pakistan, had been “leading a campaign against Islam”.
But the clerics of the SIC said that attacking innocent women and children “was not jihad”. They also said the attackers were “agents of Washington”, defaming Islam, undermining Pakistan and legitimising the branding of Muslims as “terrorists”.
Yousafzai remains in critical condition, with doctors fearful of potential brain damage after removing a bullet from her skull. She remains stable and sedated, said a statement at a military press briefing early on Friday afternoon.
“Her condition is not yet out of danger despite improvement. She is being shifted to Rawalpindi,” Masood Kausar, the governor of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told reporters.
Earlier, one of her doctors, Mumtaz Khan, said that Yousafzai had improved, but she was still seriously ill.
“She has been put on a ventilator for two days. The bullet has affected some part of the brain, but there is a 70 per cent chance that she will survive,” he said.
Ziauddin Yousafzai, Malala’s father, told Al Jazeera that was warmed by the support his daughter had received from people of all faiths across the globe.
“I am very much satisfied from the treatment which has given to Malala so far and very much hopeful that she will recover soon with the prayers of the people and with the blessings of Almighty Allah.
“I am a lucky person to whom Allah has blessed Malala as a daughter because not only our Muslim Ummah has prayed for her life but even Christians, Hindus, Sikhs; everyone who came to know about Malala’s incident has prayed for her life,” Yousafzai said.
“Especially when I watch Television and see small kids praying for Malala’s life it gives me more strength and hope that Malala the Nation’s daughter will recover soon… and one day she will be going back to school to accomplish her dreams for humanity.”
Despite national and international condemnation, her attackers remain at large, despite a $105,000 bounty for their capture.
Local media reported that three suspects had been arrested in connection with the shooting though details over their role remain unclear. A military official, speaking under the condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera that another suspect was arrested near the hospital in Rawalpindi after trying to pose as Malala’s father.
Yousafzai was attacked on her way home from school in Mingora, the main town of the Swat valley.
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She was with her classmates in a school van when unidentified men stopped the vehicle, asking if it belonged to Yousafzai’s school.
One of the gunmen then asked: “Where is Malala?”
As she was identified, the assailant reportedly drew a pistol and shot her in the head and neck. Two other girls on the bus were also wounded. They were treated for their injuries at a nearby hospital.
Ehsan said the Pakistani Taliban had repeatedly warned Yousafzai to stop speaking out against them.
“She is a Western-minded girl. She always speaks against us … We will target anyone who speaks against the Taliban.”
The Taliban said it was not only “allowed” to target young girls, but it was “obligatory” when such a person “leads a campaign against Islam and sharia”.
The group also criticised media coverage of the shooting, saying: “After this incident, [the] media poured out all of its smelly propaganda against Taliban mujahideen with their poisonous tongues.
” […] will the blind media pay any attention to the hundreds of respectful sisters whom are in the secret detention centres of ISI [Pakistan’s spy agency] and suffering by their captivity?”
Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said Yousafzai’s shooting could be “a turning point” in the country’s battle against extremism.
“[Yousafzai] has put it as a black and white question,” said Khar. “She has put it as either you are with the future that she represents or the future they [Taliban] are trying to impose.”
The foreign minister’s condemnation came as Pakistan’s armed forces said they stood ready to take on the Taliban.
“The resolve to fight the menace of terrorism will be kindred and Armed Forces of Pakistan are ready to render any sacrifice therein,” read a statement from Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.
Army chief General Kayani had earlier visited Yousafzai at a military hospital in Peshawar, before she was airlifted to Rawalpindi.
“We refuse to bow before terror,” he said. “We will fight, regardless of the cost, we will prevail, Insha Allah [if God wills it].”
With additonal reporting by Hameedullah Khan.