Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls' education, was given a standing ovation at the United Nations Friday as she declared the attempt on her life had only given her strength and banished any fear she once felt.
“Dear friends, on the 9th of October, 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too,” she said in her first major public appearance. “They thought that the bullets would silence us, but they failed.”
Speaking on her 16th birthday, she said the "terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this -- weakness, fear and hopelessness died, strength, power and courage was born."
“I am the same Malala, my ambitions are the same, my hopes are the same and my dreams are the same,” she said to thunderous applause.
Introducing Malala to a Youth Assembly of nearly 1,000 students from around the world, former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown had said that it was a “miracle” that she was able to be there.
"Let me say the words the Taliban never wanted you to hear -- happy 16th birthday Malala," said Brown, now the U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education.
She was welcomed to the stage as her mother, father and other family members watched and the audience stood to applaud.
Friday was declared Malala Day by the U.N. However, Malala said it was “not my day,” but a day for every woman, boy and girl struggling for their rights.
“Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured,” she said. “I am just one of them. So here I stand, one girl among many."
"I speak not for myself but for those without voice ... those who have fought for their rights -- their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated."
Her message to world leaders was that they should introduce “free, compulsory education” for all children across the globe.
In comments that may have been aimed at President Barack Obama amid attempts to hold peace talks with the Taliban, Malala said that peace “was necessary for education.”
“In many parts of the world, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, terrorism, war and conflict stop children to go to their schools. We are really tired of these wars. Women and children are suffering,” she said.
But she added that “all the peace deals must protect women’s and children’s rights. A deal that goes against the rights of women is unacceptable.”
She said she even wanted education for the “sons and daughters of the Taliban.”
Malala, who said that she was proud to wear a shawl that previously belonged to slain Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said she had no desire for revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group.
“I do not even hate the Talib who shot me,” Malala said. “Even if there was a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me, I would not shoot him.”
She said she had learned this attitude from "Muhammad, the prophet of mercy, and Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha." She said she was also inspired by people like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
Her philosophy was one of non-violence and the “forgiveness I’ve learned from my father and from my mother.”
She said the Taliban were “misusing the name of Islam ... for their own personal benefit.”
"The extremists were and they are afraid of books and pens, the power of education frightens them," Malala said. "They are afraid of women, the power of the voice of women frightens them. and that is why they killed 14 innocent students in the recent attack in Quetta [Pakistan]."
Islam, she said, was a religion of "peace, humanity and brotherhood" that enshrined education of children not just as a right but "a duty and responsibility."
Malala, who had been writing a blog for BBC News in which she wrote about the need for education of girls, was shot along with two friends shortly after they left her school in Mingora, Swat, Pakistan. The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack.
The audience at the United Nations consisted of children and young people, aged 12 to 25, from 85 countries around the world.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has dubbed Malala “a symbol of hope, a daughter of the United Nations,” was also there and Malala presented him with a petition signed by nearly 4 million people in support of 57 million children who are not able to go to school.
The petition demands that world leaders fund new teachers, schools and books and end child labor, marriage and trafficking.
The U.N. said in a statement that the Youth Assembly was held “to accelerate the goal of getting all children, especially girls, in school and learning by 2015.”
Speaking before Malala, Ban praised her for being “courageous” and “resilient” in the face of the Taliban.
“She was targeted just because of her determination to go to school,” he said. “The extremists showed what they fear most – a girl with a book.”
“When young people are educated then that’s what terrorists are fearful [of] most.”
Brown said that Friday’s event was not just a celebration of her birthday, but a “celebration of what you yourself have called your second life.”
He also said it was to celebrate “her vision, her dream” that “threats” or “assassins’ bullets” should never deny the right to education of “every single child.”
Brown thanked medical staff in Pakistan and the Britain who treated Malala and also her family for helping her recover so she could “do what the Taliban tried to stop her doing … go back to school.”
NBC News' Amna Nawaz and Reuters contributed to this report.
First published July 12 2013, 3:39 AM