Abdul Sattar Edhi was a Pakistani philanthropist, ascetic, and humanitarian who founded the Edhi Foundation, which runs the world’s largest volunteer ambulance network, along with homeless shelters, rehab centres, and orphanages across Pakistan.
Born in Bantva, Gujarat, British India in 1928, Edhi moved to Karachi where he established a free dispensary for Karachi’s low-income residents. Edhi’s charitable activities expanded in 1957 when an Asian flu epidemic swept through Karachi. Donations allowed him to buy his first ambulance the same year. In 1965, he married Bilquis who was a nurse working at the Edhi dispensary. He later expanded his charity network with the help of his wife Bilquis Edhi. They have four children; two daughters and two sons. Fasial Edhi, his son and his daughters also takes part in the charity work.
“My religion is humanitarianism, which is the basis of every religion in the world.”
Over his lifetime, the Edhi Foundation expanded backed entirely with private donations including establishing a network of 1,800 minivan ambulances. By the time of his death, Edhi was registered as a parent or guardian of nearly 20,000 children. He is known as Angel of Mercy and is considered to be Pakistan’s “most respected” and legendary figure. In 2013, The Huffington Post claimed that he might be “the world’s greatest living humanitarian”, while on 28 February 2017, Google celebrated Edhi with a Google Doodle hailing his “super-efficient” ambulance service.
“So, many years later there were many who still complained and questioned, ‘Why must you pick up Christians and Hindus in your ambulance?’ And I was saying, ‘Because the ambulance is more Muslim than you’.”
Edhi maintained a hands-off management style and was often critical of the clergy and politicians. Edhi was a strong proponent of religious tolerance in Pakistan and extended support to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 1985 famine in Ethiopia. Edhi was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize, including by Malala Yousafzai. Eidhi received several awards including Gandhi Peace Award and the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize.
In recognition of his services for humanity, he was awarded the Doctorate degree by University of Bedfordshire in 2010. Institute of Business Administration awarded him with the degree of Doctor of Social Service Management In 2006.
In an interview given to a journalist in Lahore in 1991, Edhi said,”I want to request the people not to invite me to social gatherings and inaugural ceremonies. This only wastes my time which is wholly devoted to the well being of our people.”
In the early 1980s, Edhi was arrested by Israeli troops while entering Lebanon. In 2006, he was detained in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for 16 hours. In January 2008, U.S.immigration officials interrogated Edhi at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City for over eight hours and seized his passport and other documents. When asked about the frequent detention Edhi said, “The only explanation I can think of is my beard and my dress.”
He passed away at the age of 88 on July 8, 2016. He had been suffering from kidney failure since 2013 and was on dialysis. Funeral prayers of the renowned social worker were offered at Karachi’s National Stadium attended by thousands of mourners including the top politicians and officers of the armed forces.
Honors and Awards
- Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service (1986)
- Lenin Peace Prize (1988)
- Paul Harris Fellow from Rotary International (1993)
- Peace Prize from the former USSR, for services during the Armenian earthquake disaster (1988)
- Hamdan Award for volunteers in Humanitarian Medical Services (2000), UAE
- International Balzan Prize (2000) for Humanity, Peace and Brotherhood, Italy
- Peace and Harmony Award (2001), Delhi
- Peace Award (2004), Mumbai
- Peace Award (2005), Hyderabad Deccan
- Gandhi Peace Award (2007), Delhi
- Peace Award (2008), Seoul
- Honorary doctorate from the Institute of Business Administration Karachi (2006).
- UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize (2009)
- Ahmadiyya Muslim Peace Prize (2010)
- Honorary Doctorate by the University of Bedfordshire (2010)
- Silver Jubilee Shield by College of Physicians and Surgeons (1962–1987)
- Moiz ur rehman Award (2015)
- The Social Worker of Sub-Continent by Government of Sindh (1989)
- Nishan-e-Imtiaz, civil decoration from the Government of Pakistan (1989)
- Recognition of meritorious services to oppressed humanity during the 1980s by Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Government of Pakistan (1989)
- Pakistan Civic Award from the Pakistan Civic Society (1992)
- Jinnah Award for Outstanding Services to Pakistan was conferred in April 1998 by The Jinnah Society. This was the first Jinnah Award conferred on any person in Pakistan.
- Shield of Honor by Pakistan Army (E & C)
- Khidmat Award by the Pakistan Academy of Medical Sciences
- Bacha Khan Aman (Peace) Award in 1991
- Human Rights Award by Pakistan Human Rights Society
- 2013 Person of the Year by the readers of The Express Tribune
Per directive of the Prime Minister, State Bank of Pakistan will release the commemorative coin in honour of Pakistani philanthropist through a special condolence reference for Edhi.
In 2011 Yousaf Raza Gilani, the Prime Minister of Pakistan recommended Edhi for a nomination of Nobel Peace Prize. Again in early 2016, a petition signed by 30,000 for a Nobel Peace prize to Edhi was moved by Ziauddin Yousafzai, the father of Malala Yousafzai. In her condolence message on Edhi’s death, broadcast by BBC Urdu Service Malala quoted that “as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, I hold the right to nominate people for the prize and I have nominated Abdul Sattar Edhi”.
Najam Sethi, a governing board member of Pakistan Cricket Board proposed to rename Gaddafi Stadium after Edhi.