Edhi – The Passing of a Humanist

Friday July 08 witnessed a rare glimpse of unity when people came together to pay their homage to the passing of one of its best – Abdul Sattar Edhi – in a country bitterly divided along sectarian, ethnic, political, and social lines. The charity giant died in Karachi after a prolonged illness.

Born in a small village of Bantva near Joona Garh in the Indian state of Gujrat in 1928, Edhi moved to Pakistan in 1947. He lost his mother when he was 19 and it changed the course of his life –  he couldn’t finish his high school.

It all started when Edhi decided to help out the the victims of a flu outbreak in Karachi in 1957. The small dispensary went on to become Pakistan’s most impressive social enterprise to date. Edhi Foundation manages a sprawling, countrywide charity network of more than 1,500 ambulances, 2 choppers, 350 medical centers, a huge volunteer force, a graveyards and an adoption service for abandoned children.

His work earned him numerous awards at home and abroad, including the Gandhi peace award, Bacha Khan Aman award in 1991, the 2007 UNESCO Madanjeet Singh prize, the 2011 London peace award, the 2008 Seoul peace award and the Hamdan award for volunteers in humanitarian medical service. His services were not dependent on any award, he was a self-made and a selfless man. Unlike many socialites of today, Edhi did not need any publicity to stay in the public or social media.

“Until meeting the Pakistani social worker Abdul Sattar Edhi, I had never met a saint. Within a few moments of shaking hands, I knew I was in the presence of moral and spiritual greatness” says Peter Osborne of The Telegraph.

The man owned only two sets of clothes which he washed himself. Like any great leader, Edhi led by example, his needs were meager and his quest for serving the humanity was beyond infinity. He lived a very simple life and spent his life in a 2-bedroom apartment. “He wished to be buried in the same clothes he used to wear. He also wanted to donate his body parts, but only his cornea can be donated as the rest of his organs were not in a healthy condition,” said Edhi’s son Faisal Edhi.

Edhi’s ideals were more in tune with Bacha Khan and Gandhi rather than Mother Teresa. He refused to be called “Maulana” a name reserved for a religious identity. Edhi said “I will not go to paradise where these type of Mullahs go,” he smiled.“I will go to heaven where the poor and miserable people live.”

The singular characteristic which defined Edhi’s work was that he offered his services to anyone in need regardless of his/her skin color, ethnic background, sect, religious identity and social status. Edhi was a taboo-smasher – he buried the bodies of Ahmaddiya Muslims when no one would even come closer to them in Pakistan.

When asked why you give ride to Hindus and Christians in your ambulances, Edhi replied “because my ambulance is more Muslim than you are”.

Edhi valued life and did everything to save as many as he can. There is a little cradle outside every Edhi center, beneath a sign says: “Do not commit another sin: leave your baby in our care.” Edhi has so far saved 35,000 babies and approximately half of them have been adopted, a practice which the Islamist despise.

He collected the dead bodies in the aftermath of natural and anthropogenic calamities. Edhi was the one who collected body parts of the slain journalist Daniel Pearl and made sure to send them safely to his family in the US.

Despite the universal admiration which he received while alive and despite the honor with which he was buried, he was despised by a few in his own country. His home was burglarized and valuables were taken away which were promptly replenished by even more generous donations.

JumatuDawa (JuD)-run Falah-e-Insaniyyat Foundation (FIF) has sucked up the donations which would mostly go to Edhi Foundation in the past. FIF uses these donations to call for Jihad against India. The Islamists call him an infidel and call him out for not saying his prayers. Edhi’s response was always clear: no religion is higher than humanity.

Political parties and the establishment threatened Edhi and wanted to use him as a pawn to topple Benazir Bhutto government, but he refused to budge. He briefly flee to London to avoid the situation.

Pakistan-the country which was lucky enough to have Edhi- has miserably failed in serving its citizens, the apathy of the social sector is vividly visible. The state is indifferent to the public needs and the common man is left at the mercy of a few philanthropists.  The faults run deeper and the hate speeches are bountiful in Pakistan but Edhi was above all of this. Edhi was a humanist par excellence, his religion was humanity. In true sense, his life was full of purpose. I can sincerely hope the Edhi’s legacy will live on and his work will inspire a few more!

Dr. Asim Yousafzai

Dr. Asim Yousafzai is a Washington DC based geo-science professional and regularly writes on technical and geo-strategic issues. He is the author of the book “Afghanistan: From Cold War to Gold War”. He is also an AP editor. He can be followed @asimusafzai

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