World

Humanitarian known as “Pakistan’s Mother Teresa” dies at 88

Abdul Sattar Edhi cared for the poor in spite of death threats

A man known as the Mother Teresa of Pakistan died in Karachi Friday. Abdul Sattar Edhi was Pakistan’s best known humanitarian, as National Public Radio reported:

From his base in Karachi’s inner city, Edhi, who was 88, created a network of social services for his country, including a fleet of 1,500 ambulances, 24-hour emergency services, homeless shelters, orphanages, blood banks and homes for unwanted and abandoned infants. Even during years of agonizing gang violence in Karachi, Edhi frequently drove his own ambulance and showed up personally to transport and care for the injured or wash the dead.

Widely admired for his stubborn integrity — he only accepted private donations, refusing government offers of support — and commitment to helping Pakistan’s destitute and forgotten, Edhi was often referred to as “Pakistan’s Mother Teresa.” He saw charity as a central tenet of Islam and lived humbly with his wife, Bilquis, in the same building as his organization’s offices.

But it wasn’t just poverty that Edhi had to confront. He had received death threats from some Muslims who didn’t feel he was being faithful. His workers and his ambulances were subject to attacked. Islamists occupied one of his facilities, and the nurseries he and his wife had set up to accept unwanted babies were criticized as encouraging out-of-wedlock births.

“They call him an infidel, saying that he does not say his prayers,” Bilquis told the Guardian last year. “What we are doing should be done by the government and should be appreciated, but instead we are blamed.”

The India-born Edhi emigrated to Pakistan soon after India’s partition in 1947. He started a clinic and a one-man ambulance service in Karachi after the death of his mother, whom he’d cared for during years of illness.

Recalling his early years in Karachi, “I saw people lying on the pavement,” he told NPR’s Julie McCarthy in 2009. “The flu had spread in Karachi, and there was no one to treat them. So I set up benches and got medical students to volunteer. I was penniless and begged for donations on the street. And people gave. I bought this 8-by-8 room to start my work.”

Over the years, this grew into the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s most relied-upon social safety net, handling many of the responsibilities that the Pakistani government could not or would not.

“There’s so much craftiness and cunning and lying in the world,” Edhi told NPR. “I feel happy that God made me different from the others. I helped the most oppressed.”

In an interview with the Fides news agency, Father Emmanuel Parvez, a pastor in Pansara, near Faisalabad, said that Edhi showed the “human face of Pakistan.”

“He was a Muslim who devoted his whole life to charity and to the next, without any discrimination. He taught us that charity has no boundary, no barriers,” Father Parvez said.

“His services to humanity were a pure manifestation of the love of God,” said the Justice and Peace Commission of the Pakistani Bishops, in a statement, which noted that the ambulance services provided by the Edhi Foundation are the most efficient in the country “and continue to contribute to the common good in times of need, especially during terrorist attacks and natural disasters.”

Shawn Neal

John Burger

John Burger is a news editor at Aleteia. He formerly worked at the National Catholic Register and Catholic New York in the Archdiocese of New York. He has also written for a wide variety of Catholic publications.