For thousands he was a father, a teacher, and a caretaker. Some even called him the “Father Teresa” of Pakistan. Abandoned children would be left at his organization’s front door in the dead of night and he would take them in and provide for them.
In this regard he helped more than 20,000 abandoned infants and similarly more than 50,000 orphans in his lifetime. He set up shelters for the handicapped and battered women and many hospitals for the destitute. This man was Abdus Sattar Edhi and he died on July 8. But many have never heard of him or only learned of him in his passing.
His relative anonymity can be attributed to many things. For one, this man lived all the way across the world. But does this excuse really work for a man who the Huffington Post described in 2013 as the “world’s greatest living humanitarian”?
Another reason could be that he was a Muslim. And for some reason, Muslims are rarely portrayed doing any good in the world. The logical conclusion for those whose only interaction with Muslims is through mainstream media therefore is that either Muslims don’t actually do good for the world or talking about their accomplishments is not newsworthy. In any case, this results in a villainous depiction of Muslims in the minds of most Americans.
The greatest accomplishment of his organization was its service to orphans. The Quran and the Prophet Muhammad both lay great emphasis on the care of vulnerable sections of society. Whenever the Quran enjoins Muslims to do good to others, it singles out orphans by name. In fact, they are third in the list after parents and relatives as far as those deserving our attention and benevolence (4:37).
Similarly, the Prophet Muhammad stated, “Whoever helps the widows and poor is like the one who spent the entire day fasting and the entire night in prayer.” Likening the service of fellow man with the worship of God signifies the importance of such work in His eyes. The sheer number of orphans he helped is absolutely astounding and worthy of appreciation irrespective of one’s faith or nationality.
The environment that Edhi worked in was also one of diverse backgrounds and religious faiths. However, he did not pay attention to the caste or the religion of any child or needy, but rather viewed each individual as a human being as one should. Hindu and Christian children both received the same care as Muslim children. He stayed true to Prophet Muhammad’s farewell address where he mentioned, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve and a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white – except by piety and good action.”
The above statement could be a lesson for us here in the U.S. in the wake of increasing racial tensions amongst whites and blacks and the rise of Islamophobia. Good works and piety alone are what can distinguish us not the color of our skin, our religion, or our social standing.
It is unfortunate that ISIS and terrorist attacks dominate the media and narrative on Islam when Muslims like Edhi who dedicate their entire lives in the service of mankind are reduced to a few seconds of fame on twitter with a hashtag.