Abdul Sattar Edhi: the greatest Pakistani to have ever lived!

By Imran Ahmad Khan

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On a recent official assignment, I was lucky enough to work with the Edhi Foundation. While my interaction with Pakistan’s largest social welfare organization was extremely limited, it gave me a chance to move away from the distractions of life and get a real sense of the great work that Abdul Sattar Edhi had done for humanity.

Edhi’s name has always been a part of our lives. His image has always floated around, becoming a meaningful constant in the everyday life of a vast majority of Pakistanis. In the form of the famous Edhi centres, the cradles outside these centres, the ambulances that have provided relief to hundreds of thousands people, and the orphanages where Edhi sahib took in so many children – he has impacted the lives of innumerable people.

Pakistan has a strange ability to deride and discredit those who manage to achieve something. In Edhi’s case, calls came from the radicals who called him a heretic. His fault? He picked up dead bodies of all human beings, regardless of their religious association. In January 2016, in an interview published in The News on Sunday, Edhi talked about the division caused by religion. “Mazhab nay bara tang kiya hai. It divides. The clerics are just there to manipulate religion as they will.”

Few can contest the stinging honesty of his words.

Somehow, his magnanimity always restored our confidence in the goodness of humankind. In a world marred by worsening forms of deceit and violence, Edhi’s presence served as a reminder of God’s existence on earth. With him gone, it feels like God has taken a huge chunk of goodness away from this world. His life will serve as a constant reminder of what our purpose as human beings needs to be. His selflessness will, hopefully, give us a reality check of how meaningless our lives have become and how misplaced our priorities in life are.

What is most admirable is the fact that he never gave up. Even after having dedicated his entire life to the cause of humanity, Edhi Sahib wanted to do more. In an interview with Express Tribune that was published in April 2016, he expressed his regret as he talked about his unfulfilled mission of eliminating poverty. In running Pakistan’s largest welfare network, this great human being managed to achieve what no government could achieve. And yet, he felt burdened by his own expectations and continued to have a sense of duty towards humanity.

In college, I remember being told by a teacher about his encounter with Edhi Sahib. If I remember correctly, Edhi was visiting Bosnia for a relief mission. My teacher stood at the exit gate, ready to take care of Edhi luggage as he arrived. But he walked out without any luggage. The great man was traveling with two sets of shalwaar kameez – one which he was wearing and the other tightly gripped under his arm. And he lived his entire life like this; a degree of asceticism that is hard to match.

Tributes flowed in from everywhere after Edhi’s death and the magical healing power that this man possessed was on display in an otherwise fractured society. The funeral, however, negated everything that Edhi ever stood for. He was a man who lived with his people yet his funeral was hijacked by Pakistan’s civil and military leadership. His death has also renewed calls for him to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. While all of this – the state burial, Nobel Peace Prize, naming an airport after Edhi – is well-intentioned, it fails to grasp the character of Edhi. He was a man of action, never bothered about protocol and awards. A fitting tribute to the great man lies only in carrying forward his legacy through action. On government level, this means focussing on welfare policies that improve the standard of living for the poor in our country. The traits of Edhi’s character need to be inculcated in the children of Pakistan and that can happen if he is made a hero through our curriculum. On an individual level, this means developing a small percentage of the selflessness possessed by Abdul Sattar Edhi as we look to become more empathetic towards the sufferings of the poor.

Peter Oborne, a British journalist, met Edhi in 2011 and wrote:

“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.”

Only last month, as I read more about the Edhi Foundation in order to prepare a press release for our collaboration, I realised how lucky Pakistanis were to have someone as selfless as Edhi. Abdul Sattar Edhi is, without any doubt, the greatest Pakistani to have ever lived. He is definitely going to rest in peace but where will humankind ever find a person of his stature?