"There is no sight in Pakistan more moving than to visit some dusty, impoverished small town in an arid wasteland, apparently abandoned by God and all sensible men and certainly abandoned by the Pakistani state and its elected representatives - and to see the flag of Edhi Foundation flying over a concrete shack with a telephone, and the only ambulance in town standing in front. Here, if anywhere in Pakistan, lies the truth of human religion and human morality." Anatol Lieven, author of Pakistan: A Hard Country
What Professor Anatol Lieven describes as "human religion and human morality" is the very essence of the Huqooq-ul-Ibad (Human Rights) in Islam. Abdus Sattar Edhi understood it well when he said, "there's no religion higher than humanity".
Edhi's foundation served all in need. When he was asked why he thought it was okay for his ambulances to pick up Christians and Hindus, he said, "Because my ambulance is more Muslim than you."
Edhi was 88 years old when he died Friday night in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city. He had been ill for weeks, and had needed a new kidney, but he refused all offers to go abroad for treatment as Pakistan's elites often do. Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently underwent heart surgery in a London hospital.
Edhi saw how the religious leaders of the Muslim majority in Pakistan focus mostly on Huqooq-ul-Allah (prayer, fasting, hajj, etc) while ignoring the equally important Huqooq ul Ibad (rights of fellow humans and all of Allah's creation). He realized the urgent need to bring the two in better balance. He did so by caring for the poor and the needy who felt abandoned by the Pakistani state and society. "It is everyone's responsibility to take care of others, that's what being human means. If more people thought that way, so many problems could be solved," he reportedly told the BBC.
Edhi started his work with a single clinic in 1951. Then he established Edhi Foundation that is now the country's largest welfare organization. It runs schools, hospitals and ambulance services across the entire length and breadth of the country, including remote places where there's no sign of the state.
Edhi was everything Pakistan's leaders are not. He did not take money from the people to stash it away in foreign bank accounts. Unlike the country's politicians, bureaucrats and generals who take everything they can for themselves, Edhi gave everything he had or collected from the people to those who needed it most. Unlike the country's politicians, bureaucrats and generals who live extravagant lifestyles in luxurious mansions, Edhi was known for extreme austerity. He wore simple clothes and lived in very basic housing.
There has been great outpouring of glowing tributes to Edhi, including those from the nation's top leaders and politicians. Words are cheap. What's really needed is concrete action to emulate how Edhi cared for humanity. My hope is that the most selfish among Pakistanis will pause to assess their own lives and make a commitment to serve humanity as Edhi did.
Here's a related video discussion:
Huqooq-ul-Ibad in Islam
Philanthropy in Pakistan
Panama Leaks Scandal
Misaq-e-Madina Guided Quaid-e-Azam's Vision of Pakistan
Interfaith Relations in Islam