By Zeeba T. Hashmi
There can perhaps be never another man like Edhi, yet he left behind a legacy that cannot be stopped with his death. Today, no eye is without tear, yet there is an inspiration many take from his nobleness. Abdus Sattar Edhi was no ordinary man, but his humility was matchless. His care for humanity was limitless, even in his death, he made sure his eyes were donated to the blind—a blind who can see the world through his eyes.
“No religion is higher than humanity.”
This is Edhi. A hero who can never die.
As we grieve, we are trying to get more of what have been known of him before his death. But the more we learn about him, more amazed we are to find that even the minute things he had done left greater impacts in Pakistan. Starting small with his philanthropist journey in his thirties, his network grew and reached to all corners of the country over a course of five decades and more. In this span, and he set up a vast network of ambulances, orphanages, medical centers, centers for destitute women and set up cradles for fatherless babies discarded by their families. He laid the infrastructure that could never have been expected from the state due to its insufficient budgeting for social services. Pakistan is indebted to him. As an institution himself, people from all walks of life, from politicians to socialites trying to grab their populist scores, to the helpless and downtrodden who depended on him have all revered him, though more genuinely by the people he directly served as their messiah.
Because of his great popularity among the poor, many people tried to make use of him for their benefits and motives. Some people tried to use him for their political scoring. During a TV interview Abdul Sattar Edhi talked about how he was pressurized and threatened by Hamid Gul and Imran Khan to join their campaign to overthrow the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, but he bluntly refused them despite the risks of doing so. Benazir offered him security, but he refused that also.
And some politicians made sure that they get photographed while visiting Edhi at the hospital days before he died.
As a man who defied all the constraints tried to be put on his work, whether by the religious zealots or the politicians, he was determined to do what his conscience had always compelled him to do. “There is a volcano stirring inside of me”, he once disclosed to a friend when he was beginning with his social work in Pakistan. He never worked for any personal material gains, except for his personal satisfaction he got from his work, and his greed to do more for humanity is what kept him going with it without ever stopping. Perhaps it was not because of the religious need that he felt, it was more about his service to people that made him feel more human.
He served everyone, regardless of their religion, or social background. There was no distinction for him when he cared for everybody.
“So many years later there were many who still complained and questioned.“Why you must pick Christians and Hindus in your ambulance?” And I was still saying because the ambulance is more Muslim than you.”
There were some people who had tried to, and still do, undermine and discredit his genuine humanitarianism. A sheer campaign was lashed against him by the Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan who called him an heretic because of his making humanitarian work separate from religious duties. There was a good reason for them to propagate against Edhi and that was to drive people to donate to their charity work instead of Edhi. Some fundamentalists and even terrorists like Hafiz Saeed pry for donations under the cover of superficial social work in order to channelize charity funds towards jihadism and preaching radical Islam to people.
One such bigot campaigning against Edhi is Mufti Zar Wali Khan, who claims that Islamic charity work of the religious group is more genuine and righteous than that of Edhi network.
Despite the desperate attempts by the radical Mullahs, Edhi’s work remained undeterred, and our faith in humanity is restored when people themselves rubbish their claims about Edhi being an “infidel”.
That he was not. His only crime was that he preferred Huquq ul Ibad (human rights) without distinction or discrimination in people, which has perhaps made him more closer to God than those here who want to create divisions among people and persecute others for not following their brand of Islam.
In 2010, he was honored by one of the most persecuted religious minorities, the Ahmadi community who gave him an award of 10,000 Pounds. On the occasion, he delivered a televised address, which holds a strong message of humanism for people of all faiths:
“…This award will be used for the sake of humanity. I am happy that for the sake of humanity, someone makes a bond with me. I do not make any differences. My work is not a mere past-time or a hobby, but it is about humanity, and humanity is the most important religion. When a person becomes a true human being, then no other relationships matter, except for the relationship between man and God. So many people come here for help, I do not ask what their religion is, rather I consider that this person is a human being.”
Let us also not forget the great acceptance Edhi had for all people of all religions. Though there are countless examples of how Edhi took care of abandoned children and destitute women, but his care for a Hindu girl,Geeta was exceptional. The Edhi Foundation Home adopted her and took care of her for 12 years before she could finally be reunited with her family. Edhi Foundation also made sure that her room has a little temple where she can pray without hindrance. Once she was finally reunited with her family in India, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi offered him Rs.10 million as a token of thanks, but Edhi politely refused because to him getting paid for caring of a girl was unacceptable.
To understand what he taught us through his work, we must also take inspiration from what he believed in with a pure heart. I am adding a few of his very inspiring quotes carrying a message for all of us.
“People have become educated, but have not yet become human”
“Every day before school, my mother would give me 2 Paisas, and say “spend one on yourself, give the other away.” it was her way of telling me the need for social welfare”
“When you follow a rainbow, it ends nowhere”
“Acquiring knowledge has been stressed in Islam because without it, man is but a stray beast. No more significant no more than the study of life itself and can be acquired by the sensitivity to your surroundings”
“Those who gave something gave without understanding the purpose of giving. They contributed towards personal rewards,to forestall punishments,erase sins, assuage bad conscience,and make impressions. Hardly anyone gave out of compassion, a purpose greater to Almighty than any good deed.”
“Love is not a sentiment that words can express. You must learn to judge it by my feelings and passion for the whole mankind, in that you will also find yourself”
“The holy books should open in your souls, not on your laps.Open your heart and see God’s people. In their plight you will find Him.”
“God introduces Himself in all religions through humanitarianism;therefore all people must naturally and fundamentally adopt it. He demands from us same compassion for mankind that we expect from him.”
“Empty words and praises do not impress Him. Show him your faith through deeds, otherwise, why should He believe you.”
No words can ever define who Abdus Sattar Edhi was. No ideology can ever fully conceptualize what his humanism was. Let us embrace Edhism. Let us all be Edhiests. Let’s keep his legacy alive, no matter how small are the steps we take towards it.
Edhi was for all and all were for him. Let us never forget him.