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The legacy of Pakistan's 'Father Teresa' Abdul Sattar Edhi

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Abdul Sattar Edhi, a celebrated famed philanthropist who achieved a saintly status in Pakistan has passed away at the age of 88 on July 8 in Karachi. He had been undergoing treatment for renal failure.

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 -- all aimed at helping those who cannot help themselves.

He once said "my religion is humanitarianism, which is the basis of every religion in the world. No religion is higher than humanity. Beware of those who attribute petty instructions to God."

In a country where government run services have been glaringly ill equipped to deal with humanitarian crises, Edhi's social welfare system has become a trusted household name.

The most prominent symbols of the Edhi foundation -- its 1,500 ambulances -- are deployed with unusual efficiency to the scene of terrorist attacks that tear through the country with devastating regularity.

Revered by many as a national hero, Edhi created a charitable empire out of nothing. He masterminded Pakistan's largest welfare organization almost single-handedly, entirely with private donations. His name became synonymous with charitable causes.

Edhi had done extensive work in the field of social service including formation of the Edhi village 25 years ago. The village served as a home to the homeless, destitute, street children, elderly, abandoned babies and addicts.

One of the small girl brought to his shelter home 15 years ago was Geeta, a deaf-mute girl from India who accidentally crossed over to Pakistan. She was adopted by Edhi's wife Bilquees and lived with her in Karachi. Geeta, now 23, was returned to India in October 2015. Geeta's homecoming was seen as a rare example of humanitarian cooperation between the two hostile nuclear neighbors.

Since its inception, the Edhi Foundation has rescued over 20,000 abandoned infants, rehabilitated over 50,000 orphans and has trained over 40,000 nurses.

It has run relief operations in Africa, Middle East, the Caucasus region, Eastern Europe and United States where it provided aid following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

He was referred to as Pakistan's version of Mother Teresa by India Today in 1990, and the BBC wrote that he was considered "Pakistan's most respected figure and was seen by some as almost a saint."

To many, Edhi was known as the "Father Teresa" of Pakistan.

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.

What he has established is something of a safety net for the poor and destitute, mobilizing the nation to donate and help take action -- filling a gap left by a lack of welfare state.

His work earned him numerous awards at home and abroad, including the Gandhi Peace Award, the 2007 UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize, the 2011 London Peace Award, the 2008 Seoul Peace Award and the Hamdan Award for Volunteers in Humanitarian Medical Service.

Edhi has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and appeared on the list again this year.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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