Pakistan’s Richest Poor Man

Abdul Sattar Edhi lived a simple and candid life. (Photo by junaidrao, Creative Commons License)
Abdul Sattar Edhi lived a simple and candid life. (Photo by junaidrao, Creative Commons License)

No words will ever suffice to pay proper homage to the greatest humanitarians that ever graced the earth. Abdul Sattar Edhi’s death marks the end of an era. Edhi was not just a man.

He was Pakistan’s conscience. A voice for the voiceless. A hope for the hopeless. A home for the homeless. He forever lives in our hearts as a myth, a legend, an icon and an inspiration for humanity.

No Pakistani since Muhammad Ali Jinnah has commanded such reverence. Pakistanis should not mourn but celebrate the astonishingly meaningful life and legacy of Edhi.

Born to Muslim traders in Gujarat, Edhi came to Pakistan in 1947. Government ineptitude to assist his paralyzed mother decisively drew him towards social philanthropy. In Karachi, Edhi created a charitable empire, the Edhi Foundation, from scratch, inaugurating his first clinic in 1951.

The Edhi Foundation became Pakistan’s largest welfare organization, a safe sanctuary for Pakistan’s impoverished, where abandoned children, especially girls in cradles, abused women, the disabled and drug addicts were all welcomed in. He was a one-man welfare state unto himself filling a vacuum left by the state.

Edhi and his team built orphanages, shelters, maternity wards, elderly homes and morgues. The Edhi Foundation houses 5,700 people in 17 shelters nationwide. Edhi rescued at least 20,000 abandoned children, sheltered 50,000 orphans, trained 40,000 nurses with 1500 ambulances, which made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest ambulance fleet. These ambulances are first to arrive at terror attack scenes that regularly ravage Pakistan.

Edhi remarkably fought discrimination and sectarianism. He did so silently, intuitively. He kept politics at bay and abstained from religious decrees (fatwas). He just practised humanity for the sake of humanity. His selfless service made him prey to countless smear campaigns, bribes and bullying. He even had to momentarily leave the country under life threats. Extremists labelled him an infidel. Yet Edhi’s humanity deprived oxygen to their hate – One of Edhi’s noteworthy quotes: “no religion is higher than humanity”.

When asked why his ambulances picked up Christians and Hindus, Edhi, in his infinite wisdom, replied “because my ambulance is more Muslim than you”. After Daniel Pearl’s murder, Edhi himself collected Pearl’s ten body parts, ensuring they were returned to his US family. People witnessed him picking up animal’s dead bodies with his very own hands.

That some of our national leaders could not make it to Edhi’s funeral is lamentable. When necessity dictates statesmen must step up rather than make excuses. For Edhi, a state funeral was held, names of roads changed, national mourning days declared, flags flew at half-mast. Edhi never ‘needed’ such protocol, but we Pakistanis desired it. For someone so down-to-earth, such ostentation feels cruelly ironic. If anyone deserves to be draped in the flag of a nation they served, it is him, yet he insisted to be buried clad in clothes he himself washed and in a grave he himself had dug. Such was his humility.

He spent his life in a small house not large enough to encapsulate his enormous heart. He denied getting medical treatment abroad, and stayed down-to-earth, a lesson for some of our own politicians perhaps?

Edhi’s legacy will be carried forward by helping those we routinely ignore. Not by signing Nobel Prize petitions.

This nation lacks an idea that everyone can rally behind. It lacks a unifying vision. Edhi provides a template for all that. Edhi must be etched into our curricula, our history books, with July the 8th declared Charity Day.

We see our ‘heroes’ become villains, stained by scandal or tainted by corruption. Edhi is an exception as he never considered himself a ‘hero’. Edhi is more than a hero. He is a heritage. By uncompromisingly serving humanity he showed us what we can be. For all our shortcomings we are a deeply charitable nation. And we must honor Edhi by never letting his mission fail. Each of us carries within us the seeds of redemption.

Edhi`s legacy has to be carried forward by every one of us. We need to awaken the Edhi within us. We can do this by donating to, helping and loving those less fortunate than us. Such a mission cannot falter. This mission is now ours.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: Twitter: @ozerkhalid

This article first appeared at The News International. Click here to go to the original.

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