y distributing in a humiliating manner the money collected as sadaqa and alms the country's rulers and maulvi hazarat are producing a nation of beggars while I have resolved to change the existing system." - Abdul Sattar Edhi
WITHIN less than a fortnight of his passing away the mission of Abdul Sattar Edhi, the universally acclaimed friend of human beings in distress, is under threat from both foes and friends. After Edhi's death, the orthodoxy lost little time in unsheathing their daggers. One religious leader reportedly declined to lead his funeral prayers on the grounds that he had fallen out of the Muslim fold. Another scholar heaped anathema on Edhi for putting cradles at all his centres to receive unwanted infants. Finally, a leading authority has denounced Edhi's decision to donate his corneas as a violation of Islamic injunctions on the grounds that any effort to restore the eyesight of a person who is blind under Allah's will amounted to interference in His order. The first two objections can easily be disposed of. Although Edhi had problems with professional clerics, there is no evidence of his having abandoned his faith. The ulema need to think twice before arrogating to themselves the Divine privilege to decide as to who is a genuine believer and who is not. The objection to the cradle scheme, an important measure of social reform started by Edhi, is difficult to follow. The ulema oppose abortion on the grounds that it amounts to extinguishing a life before it is born, and they call for virtually killing a child after it is born in some peculiar circumstances, and this for no fault of the child! Besides, the cradle scheme has helped poor parents to give away babies they cannot nourish for want of economic means, especially if the children suffer from disease or deformity that demands medical aid which is expensive or hard to secure. After Edhi's death, the orthodoxy lost little time in unsheathing their daggers. The third line of attack is likely to start a controversy the ulema would be advised to avoid. Everything that happens in the universe, including, as they say, the movement of a leaf, does so with the sanction of the Almighty. If a person loses his or her eyesight this is in accordance with God's will and if he or she regains his or her eyesight that too must be under Allah's sanction. The implications of the challenge for organ transplant are enormously prohibitive. If this version of religious injunctions is accepted, the entire scheme of hospitals and healthcare will have to be demolished - for treating people who become sick by the will of Allah would amount to interfering in His domain. Besides, the ulema have repeatedly been reminded of the Federal Shariat Court judgment of 2009, whereby it was held that organ transplant with the free choice of the donor is acceptable in Islam, while the sale/purchase of human organs is not. The court's verdict was based on the opinions of OIC, the Shariat Academy, Al Azhar University, the Grand Ulema Council of Saudi Arabia, and the Iranian Religious Authority. All people of goodwill will appeal to the ulema against making their faith controversial and to heed the decision by all members of the Edhi family to donate their organs for transplantation.
On the other side of the spectrum, the friends of Edhi appear determined to idolise the great benefactor of the sick and the needy while ignoring the core of his mission. The State Bank is issuing a coin and the postal department a postage stamp to commemorate Edhi's work. Roads and institutions are being named after him. Efforts are on to give Edhi national awards and to seek international recognition for him. This is not what Edhi wanted. On many occasions he declared that he sought help only for carrying out his work of mercy and no earthly rewards. However, these gestures may be passed over as expressions of people's gratitude to the departed icon and hopefully this will persuade citizens to go on supporting the Edhi network. However, Edhi had set his sights much higher than the traditional dispensation of charity. His target was the system of managing public affairs in a manner that made the rich richer and rendered the poor poorer, and left those without resources to die, unsung, of disease and hunger. He repeatedly declared that he had launched a movement for social change and for the establishment of a genuine welfare state. He referred to the ideal of an Islamic welfare state with much greater sincerity than most of our politicians who tout this expression without realising what it implies. To all the heads and other representatives of government he met, Edhi made only one request: change the system of governance and make it people-friendly. The most unforgettable feature of Edhi's life was the fact that he made the country's civil society proud by successfully setting the state models in the development of disaster relief and health care services. The best homage to Edhi will be to fight the scourge of inequality that is pushing Pakistan into the abyss of backwardness, intolerance and ignominy.