Abdul Sattar Edhi was a beacon of hope in a country too often mired in despair. He was an ascetic in a country where politicians regularly skim millions of dollars through corruption; a humanitarian in a country rife with sectarian hatred and violence; and ultimately the provider of public services in a country where the government often fails to provide even the most basic ones, like adequate hospitals and ambulances.
In the course of his lifetime, he had gone from being a refugee to running Pakistan's most renowned philanthropic organization, the Edhi Foundation. Established in 1951, the foundation currently runs hospitals, orphanages, morgues, legal aid offices, centers for the abandoned and drug-addicted, and has almost 2,000 ambulances, which it dispatches to the scenes of the terrorist attacks that occur with alarming frequency across the country.
The 88-year-old died Friday night in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city. He had been ill for weeks, and had needed a new kidney since 2013, but was too frail for a transplant. His family's announcing of his death led to an outpouring of grief.
Edhi's foundation had no qualms about serving Pakistan's religious minorities. Once, when he was asked why he was okay with his ambulances picking up Christians and Hindus, he snarkily replied, "Because my ambulance is more Muslim than you."
Edhi was well known for his minimalist lifestyle. He reportedly had only two pairs of shalwar kameez, the billowy set of clothing commonly worn by men in Pakistan. He collected much of the operating costs for his foundation through donations from regular middle-class people. He would sit cross-legged and they would leave rupee notes near his lap. He slept in a room attached to his foundation's office for most of his life.
"Social welfare was my vocation, I had to free it," he said in his autobiography, "A Mirror To The Blind."
He avoided controversy, and was seen by many as a hero. Below are photos of the varied services his foundation provided to Pakistan's poor.
Pakistan lost another beloved national unifier recently, though under much more heinous circumstances. The singer of Sufi songs of praise, Amjad Sabri, was gunned down in his car, also in the city of Karachi. His music was immensely popular in Pakistan and his killing shocked many Pakistanis. The photo below shows Sabri and Edhi's portraits painted side by side, on a wall in Karachi, a city they both loved and served. Edhi had not died at the time of the picture's taking, but his illness had caused many to reflect on and pay tribute to his life.