History pits them against each other, but a fiery passion united this year’s interfaith Nobel Peace Prize winners around the common goal of children’s rights.
Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi -- a Muslim education activist from Pakistan and a Hindu child slavery abolitionist from India -- are joint recipients of the 113-year-old honor, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced on Friday.
The judges praised the unlikely pair for their “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”
The announcement came at a time when tensions are escalating between Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, particularly along the disputed, mainly Muslim border region of Kashmir. It is the worst fighting between the two rival countries in more than a decade, Reuters reports.
The committee highlighted the importance of having Pakistani and Indian activists from the Muslim and Hindu faiths join together in a common struggle “against extremism.”
"There is a lot of extremism coming from this part of the world. It is partly coming from the fact that young people don't have a future. They don't have education. They don't have a job," Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland told the AP.
17-year-old Yousafzai is the youngest person to ever claim the peace prize and the third Muslim woman. Yousafzai said she and Satyarthi have spoken to each other and agreed to work together for peace between their two countries. She requested that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meet at the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, scheduled to take place in Oslo this December.
“I want both the countries to have dialogue, talks about peace, and to think about progress and development,” Yousafzai said during a press conference on Friday.
“This is not the end of this campaign that I have started,” she added. “I want to see every child going to school.”
Yousafzai has been in the running for the prize for two consecutive years. The brave young woman was shot in the head by a Taliban member while traveling home from school in 2012. The Taliban has said that they targeted Yousafzai because she spoke out against the group’s radical interpretation of Islam.
The charismatic survivor has gone on to become a voice for young Muslims. She boldly challenged the Taliban’s ideology in a speech to the U.N., saying, "They think that God is a tiny, little conservative being who would send girls to the hell just because of going to school. The terrorists are misusing the name of Islam and Pashtun society for their own personal benefits."
Extremists would have the world believe that Islam mandates the oppression and seclusion of women, but Malala’s Islam is different.
"Islam says that it is not only each child's right to get education, rather it is their duty and responsibility," the young woman has said.
The Nobel Committee commended Satyarthi for leading peaceful protests and demonstrations against the exploitation of children, following the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi with “great personal courage.”
The 60-year-old founder of India’s Save the Childhood Movement has freed more than 75,000 child slaves from factories in India, The New York Times reports. He has also built a trade school to make sure these children can support themselves as adults.
“Caste, religion, the political system, the economic system — all are helping the bonded labor owners,” Satyarthi said in an 1992 interview. “I believe in Gandhi’s philosophy of the last man, that is, the bonded laborer is the last man in Indian society, that we are here to liberate the last man.”
On Friday, Satyarthi told the BBC that he is dedicating his award to children who are still living in slavery around the world.
"It's a great honor for all the Indians, it's an honor for all those children who have been still living in slavery despite of all the advancement in technology, market and economy,” Satyarthi said.
Yousafzai and Satyarthi faced stiff competition from this year’s record number of 278 Nobel Peace Prize nominees, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the fugitive National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, and bookmakers’ favorite, Pope Francis.