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Tens of thousands attend Pakistani philanthropist’s funeral

The announcement of his death triggered a wave of accolades on TV and social media

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Tens of thousands of people attended the state funeral for Pakistan’s legendary philanthropist, Abdul Sattar Edhi, in Karachi on Saturday, officials said.

The 88-year-old charity worker died Friday after a prolonged illness.

Thousands more couldn’t get to the stadium where the funeral was held with a military honor guard, said local government official Nasir Habib.

Pakistan’s top civilian and army leadership offered funeral prayers at the stadium, as the country mourned the loss of a man commonly known as the “Angel of Mercy” for his internationally-acclaimed social work.

The announcement of his death triggered a wave of accolades on TV and social media. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif paid tribute to him as “a great servant of humanity,” and said he would receive a posthumous presidential medal and a state funeral.

A 19-gun salute was given, Pakistan’s army spokesman, Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa, tweeted.

In Pakistan, tributes poured in for Edhi. “We the poor lost our father today,” Rafiq Ahmad, a 45-year-old who attended the funeral, told reporters.

Edhi’s last years

The 88-year-old’s reputation for austerity and generosity resonated deeply in Pakistan, a country of 190 million people whose government is riddled with corruption and where public health and welfare services are weak.

“There are few men who have done as much good, and made as much a difference to the lives and livelihoods of the Pakistani people as Abdul Sattar Edhi,” Sharif said hours before Edhi’s death.

Edhi, a short man with a long white beard who often wore a traditional cap, had been ill for several years after suffering kidney failure, Edhi’s son Faisal told journalists in Karachi.

Sharif’s government had offered to fly Edhi abroad for treatment, but he refused, saying he wanted to be treated at a public hospital in his own country.

The Edhi foundation

The foundation owns and runs Pakistan’s largest ambulance service, nursing homes, orphanages, clinics and women’s shelters, along with rehabilitation centers and soup kitchens.

Last year when a devastating heat wave struck Karachi - a city of about 20 million people - the foundation was at the forefront of the response: its ambulances tended to the sick, the Edhi morgue was used to store the dead and many of the poor buried their family members in the Edhi cemetery for free.

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 never finished school but later said that the world of suffering became his tutor.

He established the foundation almost six decades ago that he oversaw with his wife, Bilquis Edhi.

Edhi’s foundation has provided relief in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, Croatia, Indonesia and in the United States after Hurricane Katrina.

‘Pakistan’s Mother Teresa’

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.

Edhi lived in a bare room in Karachi, alternating between his two suits of black clothes and occasionally listening to recordings of Koranic verses on a battered old tape recorder.

“When my ambulance takes a wounded person who is in pain to the hospital, when people reach the hospital, I find peace in knowing I helped an injured person who was in pain,” Edhi told Reuters in an interview in 2013.

“My mission is to love human beings ... Each day is the best day of my life.”

Edhi was well-known for berating Islamist groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for their attacks on civilians, criticising the government for incompetence and corruption and denouncing the elites for dodging taxes.

His wife, Bilquis, a nurse, oversees the women’s shelters and the adoption of orphans. They have found homes for about 25,000 children.

A simple life

Edhi donated his eyes and asked his family to bury him in the clothes he wore at the time of his death, his son Faisal Eidhi said.

As part of his commitment to living simply, Edhi would never own more than a few items of clothing and a pair of shoes, his son said.

Despite the vast sums of money that passed through his charitable foundation, Edhi lived modestly with his family in a two-room apartment adjacent to the headquarters of his foundation.


(With the Associated Press and Reuters)

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