Pakistanis mourn death of Abdul Sattar Edhi

By Javed Mahmood

Thousands of mourners July 9 in Karachi attend the funeral prayer of Abdul Sattar Edhi, a day after he died at age 88. [Javed Mahmood]

Thousands of mourners July 9 in Karachi attend the funeral prayer of Abdul Sattar Edhi, a day after he died at age 88. [Javed Mahmood]

KARACHI -- Pakistanis mourning the death of philanthropist and social activist Abdul Sattar Edhi are celebrating his life's work of helping the needy.

"The people who are engaged in militancy must learn from the life of this hero," Peshawar-based security consultant Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah told Pakistan Forward. "They must give up tormenting human beings."

Edhi died July 8 in Karachi at age 88 and was buried in Edhi village, Sohrab Goth, Karachi, one day later. Thousands attended his funeral prayer at the National Stadium in Karachi. He founded the Edhi Foundation, an NGO that served orphans and homeless for more than 60 years. His motto, "humanity is the biggest religion", gained nationwide popularity.

Edhi tried to live by example.

"I believe that all religions of the world have their basis in humanity," he said in a March 2009 Daily Times interview. "Humanity itself has its basis in religion."

"My mission is to help anyone in need," he said.

Promoting peace, harmony

Edhi was the first Pakistani civilian to have a military honour guard and a 19-gun salute before his burial, analysts said.

The highest government officials, including President Mamnoon Hussain and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif, attended his funeral prayer.

The federal government announced one day of mourning for Edhi. The Sindh government declared three days of mourning.

The federal government post-humously awarded Edhi the highest civilian honour, the Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Order of Excellence).

Edhi "personified a message that [undermines] militants and terrorists -- serving humanity without religious, ethnic or linguistic discrimination", Imtiaz Gul, political analyst and the executive director of Islamabad-based think tank Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), told Pakistan Forward.

"He shamed everyone who seeks power and fame through money or muscle," Gul added.

"Pakistan needs heroes like him," Shah said. "Not those [militants] who ruin peace and spill blood in the name of religion. Edhi ... strongly opposed any kind of oppression...He always advocated for peace and harmony."

A life of honour and service

"In 1951, Edhi ... established a dispensary in the Mithadar area of Karachi," Faisal Edhi, the philanthropist's son, told Pakistan Forward. "In 1957, he ... launched the Edhi Foundation, which he made Pakistan's biggest charity."

"My father dedicated all his life and resources to the well-being of the deprived, disowned and needy Pakistanis," he said on July 9 after burying his father. "I will take this mission forward."

His father's motto of "humanity is the biggest religion" was meant to promote peace and well-being for all and to discourage bloodshed, Faisal said.

Edhi "always advocated for peace and worked for the well-being of humanity", Muhammad Ramzan Chhipa, founder of the Karachi-based Chhipa Welfare Foundation, said in Karachi July 9.

"We will miss Edhi, but we need more heroes like him to continue his mission with commitment, honesty and dedication to reduce poverty and inequality and to discourage extremism," he said.

Dedication to all humanity

A family crisis set Edhi on his path, Mubasher Mir, Karachi resident editor of the Urdu-language Daily Pakistan newspaper, told Pakistan Forward.

"When he was just 11 ... in Gujrat, Hindustan, in 1939 [before the Partition], his mentally ill mother became paralysed [from a stroke]," Mir said.

Edhi devoted himself to caring for his mother until she died, when he was 19.

"That was the turning point," Mir said.

Since his foundation's humble beginnings in 1957, it has expanded to offer multiple services -- ambulances, orphanages, homeless shelters, schools, refugee assistance, free meals for the needy, animal shelters, and marriage and funeral assistance, among others.

Caring for the needy properly can prevent extremism and militancy from taking root, Mir said.

"My ambulances are more Muslim than you are," Edhi used to reply when bigoted individuals asked him why his ambulances picked up Hindu and Christian patients, Sadia Shakil, an Islamabad social worker, told Pakistan Forward.

"Edhi ... helped millions of people to believe in themselves," Sadia said. "He [embraced] thousands of the dispossessed, regardless of caste, creed, ethnicity and religion."

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