‘I won’t beg like my father’
Faisal Edhi believes he has miles to go before matching up to his father’s legacy
“I won’t beg”.
Faisal Edhi, the son of late philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi (hereafter referred to as ‘Edhi’), admits there has been a sharp decline in donations given to the Edhi Foundation since his father’s demise last year. Despite this, he is certain he will not beg for money on the streets like his father used to.
Not yet, at least.
Younger, with a tinge of fieriness, Faisal is a man of ambition but knows he has miles to go before matching up to his father’s legacy. “Edhi sahib had been working since 1951 and he worked extensively for 10 to 15 years, after which he took to the streets to beg,” he explains. “If I start begging without doing that kind of work people will think that this is just another beggar.”
Faisal wants to work on some projects first and build trust in the eyes of the public. “I have sat next to Edhi sahib on the streets to beg in the past 20 years. I have no qualms about begging but I will beg after having accomplished something.”
Faisal is no epitome of perfection; yet, he makes it a point to get his message across through his candid and no-holds-barred talk. He does not shy away, be it a question of countering fatwas leveled against his family or criticising the media.
While his father was also quite clear in his ideas, the difference with Faisal is that he is incredibly vocal about his opinions.
The hand that doesn’t shake
Perturbed by the socio-economic disparities within Pakistani society, Faisal is blunt when he blames the country’s state of affairs on the elite class.
“The elite class of our country is pretty selfish,” he says. “They are the reason behind all the problems in the country. Everything has been turned into a marketplace. From health and education to water supply, everything has become a business.”
He does not expect anything from the media, TV channels in particular. Talking about why none of the TV channels sponsor coverage for the largest welfare organisation of the country, Faisal does not hesitate in pointing out how journalism has fallen prey to commercialism. Edhi Foundation does not have money to spare for extensive advertising campaigns like other charity organisations do. “TV channels are commercial entities, which is why sincere organisations are neglected by them,” he says.
The younger Edhi says the foundation does not need charity from those who donate just for the sake of publicity. “We don’t want donations from those who just come to get their pictures clicked,” he says, his voice firm with conviction.
He goes on to say that “mafias” control the city as the state provides them a space to operate. “The government absolves itself of responsibilities by placing the burden on NGOs,” he adds.
Meanwhile, there are the banned or religious outfits that are competing with Edhi Foundation to glean what they like to believe is their share in charity collection, he adds. “[Banned organisations’ charity wings] have support on international and local levels and are promoted,” says Faisal. “In the last 15 to 20 years, a large number of sectarian-based charity organisations have sprung up.” He declines to name any of these organisations.
Sajjad Haider, spokesperson of the Jafaria Disaster Cell (JDC), another welfare organisation, agrees with Faisal. “NGOs and welfare organisations like us have to provide those basic services that are the state’s responsibility.” He adds that mafias and banned outfits collecting charity are also provided patronage by the state. “The government allows them to set up checkpoints for ambulances.”
The head of the Edhi Foundation does not dismiss the general public’s role in further deteriorating the state of affairs either. “Pakistanis lack enthusiasm towards serving the people,” he says. “Most of them think that two Friday prayers will teleport them straight to the heavens.” He shares 50% of the foundation’s annual donations, which stand at around Rs1.5 billion, come from expatriates.
The ‘kafir’ who was loved
Upon entering the Edhi Foundation office in the congested lanes of Mithadar in Karachi, where Faisal operates from, a large portrait of Edhi, cradling an infant, welcomes you.
David Murad, 48, started painting portrait about 10 days after Edhi passed away. Five days after the painting was completed, he gifted it to the Edhi Foundation. “I don’t care if people called him names for taking care of the children; to me, Edhi is the hero of Pakistan,” he tells The Express Tribune.
Edhi was targeted many a times by the clergy for “promoting fornication”. Videos of a mufti can still be found on social media, censuring those who donate to the Edhi Foundation for funding the fostering of what he calls “illegitimate” children.
Passing by the Edhi jhoola, a cradle where people leave their unwanted offspring or other helpless children found unattended on the streets, Faisal reflects on how the family has been attacked repeatedly for this very service. “This jhoola (cradle) has made us kafir (infidel) many times.”
David’s love for the Edhis, however, remains unaffected by such name-calling and propaganda. “My message was to spread love,” he says. “Painting is my source of income but I gifted this portrait to the Edhis out of love and service. I love and respect them because nowadays everyone loots the country but these people serve mankind. There are many people besides me who love him.”
Talking about the painting, David says that he replicated the image printed on a Sunday magazine. “I don’t remember the name of the paper,” he says. “But I had to paint it because Edhi lives in our hearts.” David adds that even though Edhi never served him personally, he has served millions, and the portrait was his way of paying his respects to the late philanthropist’s generosity and all-encompassing love.
Photos edited by Zoral Naik