Abdul Sattar Edhi-Angel of Mercy

Abdul Sattar Edhi – Angel of Mercy
Submitted by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed

“I Created not beings of energy (Jinns) and beings of clay (humans) except to serve Me” The Qur’an.


There is a heavenly light within every human breast. It shines through the prism of the soul. Just as visible light has many colors, heavenly light has an infinite number of wavelengths. Great men and women allow the heavenly light within them to shine through and illuminate their surroundings. Those who block their inner light depart from the stage of history without a trace.
The light that shines forth from a person is a function of what God has granted that soul and what is refracted and comes through the prism that surrounds that soul. To some, God grants the light of faith. These are the people history celebrates as men and women who are close to God. Rabia al Adawiya and Shaikh Abdel Qadir Jeelani exemplify this category of people. To some, God grants sharpness of mind. These are the men and women we celebrate as men and women of science. Ibn Sina and Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam fall into this category. To some, God grants the light of love and the ability to express that love through word. Theses are men and women we celebrate as great poets and writers. Rumi, Hafiz, Meera in the classical times and Faiz Ahmed Faiz in the modern time fall into this category. To some, God gives the gift of righteous action. These are the men and women we celebrate as servants of God. Abdul Sattar Edhi falls into this class of noble men and women who hold an umbrella over the heads of the unfortunate ones standing in the scorching sun and mitigate the tragedies of human existence.
Abdul Sattar Edhi belongs to that elite class of human beings who serve with boundless dedication as if they are in divine presence. They ask nothing in return except His pleasure. They alleviate pain, provide relief to the afflicted, shelter the abused, wash the feet of the destitute soiled by the dirt of the earth. The world celebrates them as saints, embodying in their character the most noble of the attributes that make us human.


Abdul Sattar Edhi was born in Bantva in the princely state of Junagadh in British India in 1928. It was the interregnum between the two World Wars. The subcontinent of 1928 was a vast tapestry of British territory and some 600 plus princely states under British protection. Junagadh was one of these princely Indian states. Its benevolent ruler, Mohammed Mahabat Khanji III, a Muslim ruling over a largely Hindu population, was a British protégé. Although British imperial power was entrenched, India was beginning to stir with calls for independence. Gandhi had made his first forays into Indian politics. The Khilafat Movement had left its imprint on Indian Muslims. The India of Edhi’s childhood was largely rural, which looked more to the past than the future with the British controlling the sinews of not just political power but economic power as well.
The Edhi family was Memon, an Islamic community, originally from the Indian state of Gujarat, but now spread out all over the world. It was a close-knit brotherhood, known for its piety, tolerance, social service and business acumen. The Edhi family was engaged in retail trade. The family struggled but by the standards of the day, lived comfortably.
When Edhi was 11, his mother suffered a major stroke and was paralyzed. The medical support system in rural India was poor and the responsibility for taking care of the sick and the handicapped fell largely on the family. The young Edhi dedicated himself to his mother. This childhood experience molded the character of the young man and nurtured in him an abiding desire for serving the sick, the poor and the dispossessed.


When he was 19, in 1947, British India was partitioned into largely Hindu India and largely Muslim Pakistan. Riots engulfed northern and western India. Millions perished. Entire villages went up in flames. Cruelty, on a scale seldom witnessed in human history, was practiced by all sides. Seven million Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan. An equal number of Hindus and Sikhs migrated from Pakistan to India.
It was a period of political upheavals. The ruler of Junagadh acceded to Pakistan but the Indian army intervened and Junagadh was absorbed into India. To escape the violence, the Edhi family, like millions of others, migrated from its homeland in Gujarat, India to Karachi, Pakistan. The horrors of partition left an indelible mark on the young Edhi and fostered in him compassion for a suffering humanity and reinforced a desire to serve fellow man, irrespective of caste, creed or nationality.
In 1965 Abdul Sattar Edhi married Bilquis Saheba, a pious and God-fearing nurse who worked at the Edhi Foundation and shared with Edhi a passion for selfless service. The couple had four children, two daughters and two sons.

Struggles in Karachi

The Edhi family, now penniless and destitute, started a new life in Karachi. Abdul Sattar Edhi joined a Memon charities organization but was disappointed that the charities served only their own community. He left the organization and obtained work as a salesman for a cloth merchant.

Formation of the Edhi Foundation

The calling to serve the poor and the needy beckoned him to higher horizons. He set up a small medical center to cater to the sick who could not otherwise get help in the established clinics. The Edhi foundation was formed in 1951 to formalize this work. The clinic was expanded to provide round-the-clock medical care for the sick and maternity services for destitute women. This clinic was the first of its kind in Pakistan.
There was a major flu epidemic in Karachi in 1957. Edhi saw people lying on the streets with no one to care for them. He set up benches near his clinic where the abandoned sick could receive urgent care. Relying entirely on voluntary work, he was able to serve thousands of poor patients who would otherwise have been abandoned in the streets.

Expansion of services

The selfless work of the volunteers at the Edhi Foundation caught the attention of philanthropists. Edhi bought its first ambulance in 1957 to provide timely transportation for the sick, the injured and dying in Karachi. Soon, the network expanded to other towns and cities in Pakistan, a vast nation of 200 million. Building upon its success, Edhi built orphanages, hospitals, shelters for abused women and agencies for the burial of unclaimed bodies. The services were free of cost and catered to all people, regardless of their religion or origin. Today, the Edhi Foundation operates the largest network of private ambulances in the world, over 2000 of them. It has rescued and has brought up tens of thousands of orphans who would otherwise have been abandoned. Indeed, Edhi has served as the Angel of Mercy to millions. What is remarkable is that he accomplished this feat entirely through private donations and voluntary work, avoiding the bureaucracy of government machinery.

The illustrative case of “Gita”

The case of “Gita” offers an illustration of the selfless service of the Edhi Foundation. Several years ago, a deaf, mute, unlettered six-year-old Indian girl got disoriented and crossed the heavily militarized border between India and Pakistan and wandered into Pakistan. Since she was mute and unlettered, the authorities in Pakistan were unable to determine where the child had come from. The Edhi Foundation took over the responsibility for the girl, gave her the name “Gita” and took care of her for thirteen years. A separate room was provided for her where she could worship and perform pooja in accordance with her Hindu faith. When her case was discovered, it received wide publicity in the press throughout the subcontinent. Diplomats were stirred into action and finally, Gita was repatriated to India. The Government of India offered Edhi a gift of one crore rupees (about US $150,000) but the Edhi Foundation declined, saying that it was entirely a private charity and did not accept gifts or patronage from any government.


The work of the Edhi Foundation was acclaimed the world over. Honors poured in from all corners of the globe. Abdul Sattar Edhi was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize. Among the numerous international awards received by Abdul Sattar Edhi, the following are noteworthy:
• Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service (1986), the Philippines
• Lenin Peace Prize (1988), USSR
• Hamdan Award (2000) for volunteers in Humanitarian Medical Services, UAE
• International Balzan Prize (2000) for Humanity, Peace and Brotherhood, Italy
• Gandhi Peace Award (2007), India
• Seoul Peace Prize (2008), S. Korea
• UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize (2009), New YIork
• London Peace Award (2011), London

Some of the noteworthy national awards include:
• Nishan-e-Imtiaz, civil decoration from the Government of Pakistan (1989)
• Bacha Khan Aman (Peace) Award,1991
• Pakistan Civic Award from the Pakistan Civic Society (1992)
• Jinnah Award for Outstanding Services to Pakistan,1998
• Shield of Honor by Pakistan Army (E & C)
• Khidmat Award by the Pakistan Academy of Medical Sciences, 2010


Abdul Sattar Edhi passed away in 2013. He was eulogized and honored not only by his countrymen but by millions of people of goodwill from around the world.
Abdul Sattar Edhi was the personification of what is best in humankind. He was a Mohsin in the true sense of the word (one who serves and worships God as if he sees Him…). From humble origins he rose to become one of the most respected philanthropists of his time. He lived a simple, austere life, avoiding the pitfalls of sycophancy, refusing the shallow notoriety that comes with fame. Where others use their God-given gifts to acquire wealth and fame, Edhi used them for what they are meant for, namely, to serve. In a world riven with conflict and divided along the lines of race, tribe and religion, Edhi rose above parochial boundaries and served without regard to origin, color, creed or nationality. The Qur’an declares: “I created not beings of energy (jinns) and beings of clay (humans) except to serve Me”. Abdul Sattar Edhi was the fulfillment of this commandment. He was a servant of God par excellence, worthy of emulation by people of all times. When the world folds up and the angels write the history of humankind, his name will no doubt be high on the honor roll. He was indeed a shining example of Lives That Matter.

Acknowledgements: We acknowledge with gratitude the information about Abdul Sattar Edhi in the open source publications of Edhi Foundation.