KARACHI: Leading humanitarian and the most endearing person in the country Abdul Sattar Edhi passed away at the age of 88 in the late hours of Friday. Edhi had been suffering from kidney failure since 2013 and was on dialysis. According to his son, he could not undergo kidney transplantation due to his advancing years.
“Abbu is no more. He has gone back to his Creator,” said Edhi’s eldest son, Faisal Edhi, as he broke the news of his death to broadcast news media. Earlier in the day, Faisal had announced that Edhi has been placed on a ventilator due to his deteriorating condition.
“Edhi Sahib has been placed on a ventilator. He suffers from hypertension, is on dialysis, there is less food intake coupled with general weakness that he is currently suffering from,” he had said in an earlier media briefing.
Edhi’s funeral is expected to be one of the biggest in Pakistan’s history. The last time Pakistan held a state funeral was for military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in 1988.
According to Dr Abhay – a medical officer at the ICU ward of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) – Edhi passed away at around 11pm. He is survived by his wife Bilquis Edhi and four children – two daughters and two sons.
The announcement of his death triggered a wave of accolades on TV and social media. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif paid tribute to him as “a great servant of humanity,” and said he would be awarded Nishan-e-Imtiaz posthumously.
Later in a statement, the SIUT said Edhi was hospitalised on July 5 due to an infection. “But unfortunately due to a combination of new antibiotics and nutritional support his condition worsened,” the statement said.
The news of Edhi’s death spread like a wild fire and mourners from all walks of life started to gather at the hospital and his residence while social media was flooded by a torrent of condolence messages.
In view of the great contributions for the service of humanity, the federal government announced one-day mourning. Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan governments also expressed their deep sense of grief and announced three days of mourning. PM Nawaz also announced that Edhi would be awarded Nishan-e-Imtiaz posthumously.
According to officials, Edhi’s ghusal will be carried out at the Edhi Centre, Sohrab Goth and his funeral prayers will be held at National Stadium after Zuhr prayers on Saturday (today). Later, he will be laid to rest at Edhi Village graveyard with full honours.
Abdul Sattar Edhi had pledged to donate his body organs. However, due to his long illness, his son has promised to donate only his eyes to any deserving person.
Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah expressed his profound grief on the demise of Edhi and directed Chief Secretary Siddique Memon to coordinate with Faisal Edhi and facilitate him in his burial. He also directed Rangers and police to provide fool proof security at his funeral prayers. During the three day mourning, Quran Khawani will be held in government offices all over Sindh.
The philanthropist’s reputation for austerity and generosity resonated deeply in Pakistan, a country of 190 million people whose government is riddled with corruption and where public health and welfare services are weak.
“There are few men who have done as much good, and made as much a difference to the lives and livelihoods of the Pakistani people as Abdul Sattar Edhi,” PM Nawaz said hours before Edhi’s death.
Last month, the PPP Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari had offered to airlift Edhi on a special plane to any foreign destination for medical treatment. However, the social worker has declined the offer, saying that he would get medical treatment at medical facilities in Pakistan.
The Edhi Foundation runs a vast fleet of ambulances, orphanages and medical clinics across the country.
Last year when a devastating heat wave struck Karachi – a city of about 20 million people – the foundation was at the forefront of the response: its ambulances tended to the sick, the Edhi morgue was used to store the dead and many of the poor buried their family members in the Edhi cemetery for free.
“He was a noble soul who dedicated his life in service of mankind,” said Sushma Swaraj, the foreign minister of India, Pakistan’s historic foe.
“Pakistan’s Mother Teresa”
In a nation often riven by social, ethnic and religious strife, Edhi won respect from every strata of society for an ascetic lifestyle that was devoted to helping the poor regardless of their background.
Edhi lived in a bare room in Karachi, alternating between his two suits of black clothes and occasionally listening to recordings of Quranic verses on a battered old tape recorder.
“When my ambulance takes a wounded person who is in pain to the hospital, when people reach the hospital, I find peace in knowing I helped an injured person who was in pain,” Edhi told Reuters in an interview in 2013.
“My mission is to love human beings … Each day is the best day of my life.”
Edhi was well-known for berating militant groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for their attacks on civilians, criticising the government for incompetence and corruption and denouncing the elites for dodging taxes.
His wife, Bilquis, a nurse, oversees the women’s shelters and the adoption of orphans. They have found homes for about 25,000 children.
Edhi’s foundation has provided relief in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, Croatia, Indonesia and in the United States after Hurricane Katrina.
Pakistanis took to Twitter to mourn the death of a national hero many call a “living saint” and “Pakistan’s Mother Teresa”.
“In his death he has united all of Pakistan, across all affiliations, in mourning. That in itself is a measure of his greatness,” said a Twitter user named Imran Khan.
Motivated by a spiritual quest for justice, over the years Edhi and his team created maternity wards, morgues, orphanages, shelters, and homes for the elderly, picking up where limited government-run services fell short.
His ethos of humanitarianism transcended religious and ethnic lines, but made him the target of many ferocious smear campaigns.
Hardliners branded him an infidel and his work un-Islamic. His response was hard work and an obstinate asceticism, a bid to leave his enemies with no ammunition.
He slept in a windowless room adjoining the office of his foundation furnished with just a bed, a sink and a hotplate.
The state’s failure to help his struggling family care for his mother — paralysed and suffering from mental health issues — was his painful and decisive turning point towards philanthropy.
In the sticky streets in the heart of Karachi, Edhi, full of idealism and hope, opened his first clinic in 1951.
Abandoned children and the elderly, battered women, the disabled, drug addicts; Edhi’s foundation now houses some 5,700 people in 17 shelters across the country.
He was so widely respected that armed groups and bandits were known to spare his ambulances.
Meanwhile the foundation’s adoption service sees unwanted children — many of them girls — left in cradles placed in front of every centre, where they can be safely cared for.
Without Edhi, “I would have had no life,” Seher, 16, one of several thousand children who has grown up in the foundation’s care, told AFP earlier this year.
As news broke of his death, social media lit up with tributes lauding him as “the greatest Pakistani”.
Opposition leader Imran Khan described Edhi as a “noble soul”, while COAS General Raheel Sharif expressed his “deepest sorrow and regret”.
Edhi has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and appears on the list again this year — put there by Malala Yousafzai, Pakistan’s teenage Nobel laureate.
Frail and weak in his later years, he appointed his son Faisal as managing trustee in early 2016.
“I have done a lot of work. I am satisfied with my life,” he told AFP in an interview earlier this year.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2016.