Suspense over. Yes, so many of you were right. Our mystery man IS Abdul Sattar Edhi.
I have really enjoyed this ATP Quiz thread (here and here). I had hoped that this method will get people more engaged than just writing a post on Edhi sahibs work. I also really wanted people to read and think about the passages that I had included from his autobiography – Edhi: A Mirror to the Blind. They are thought provoking passages and worthy of our attention. I was surprised by many things in the book, and it is obvious from the comments that so were you. A lot of you actually got the answer fairly early on but it was interesting to see how some of the facts were so surprising and so contrary to our popular perception of the man that it kept many others wondering. So, first of all, thank you for your participation and your patience.
For those who have not read the book, this should be an invitation to read it. It is compelling reading. I should say, however, that I find the book (written by Tehmina Durrani, who had earlier written My Feudal Lord) to be rather badly written. This is a pity. Because the material in the book is quite spell-binding. For those who have met or talked to Edhi sahib, the most wonderful portions of the book are the passages where you can actually see him talking. In your mind’s eye you can see him waving his hands, that twinkle in his eyes, that polite smile hiding a resoluteness and firmness that is now legendary amongst those who have worked with him. However, there are also long passages that read much more like ‘Tehmina Durrani’ than ‘Abdul Sattar Edhi’ (in terms of diction, style, and form). I do not mean to be harsh, but I do think that the book needed a better editor and Edhi sahib needed a better biography.
That said, for the content alone it is still a spell binding book and most highly recommended.
- I did not realize how much he dislikes being called ‘Maulana.’ There are so many times in the book where he explains that he does not consider himself worthy of that title and how he stops his associates from using it, but they do anyhow.
- He seems to have a rather nasty temper. But he knows it. And he knows that he is a tough task master on those he works with. He recounts incidences where he literally throws things in the room and at walls and shouts at people because they did not follow instructions or indulged in waste. But as he points out, he never asks others to do any more than he does himself.
- The accounts of his romantic side. Including his falling for this Turkish girl on a train.
- How his distractors have always been out to malign him. First the “memon seths” who did not like his style of self-help social work. Then the religious leaders who did not like his style of, what he calls, “ijtihaad” and “sufiism” and who tried to drive him out of the lucrative hide-collection business. Then the MQM folks. And more.
- By far the most riveting part is where he recounts how some military people (intelligence agencies) – he seems to be saying Hamid Gul’s people – tried to use him as a front man for a counter coup and ultimately things got so bad that he had to leave the country and take temporary exile in London.
Personally, I find his interpretation of the meaning of religion to be both practical and deep in meaning. Here are some excerpts from the book:
[While performing Hajj] I refrained from symbolically throwing stones at Satan and gave my pebbles to a traveling companion to throw on my behalf, keeping a few with myself: “Stoning of selfish desires is the demand. I stone mine all the time. I will throw the stones in Pakistan where there are many Satans.” … [On sacrifice after Hajj] It is a sacrifice not of a goat, or a cow or a camel but of need, love, desire, habit, greed and a thousand other obstacles in the way of submitting to truth. It represented the death of ego, whereas Muslims merely slaughtered an animal. Bilquise [his wife] commented, “You are even stranger than I thought. Standing here before the house of God, you have an opportunity to be with Him, but you are still involved with your dispensary, as if you still stand in Mithadar. Why do you not pray all the time?” I told her, “I am praying.” More than ever before I was praying now. Working for Him with the labor of mind and body. By submitting to his demand of practical devotion, I was becoming worthy of having been created. [I asked Bilquise], “What do you think He feels about my form of prayer? Is it not the best way, if not the only way?”
There is so much more that I could, should, want to write from the book. But let me stop here so you can read the book yourself.
But this is not the end of my Edhi binge. Later today, I will have one more post on Edhi sahib and nominating him for the Nobel Award. The Edhi Foundation has set up a nomination page and is asking people to sign the petition. Please do so. A number of Paksitani bloggers have already joined in the call to do so (here, here and here) and I want to join them in this call.
However, I have another idea too for how we can, maybe, do something even more. And I will need all your help on that. So, please, stay tuned. Come back and join me in that. I really need your help there.