Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Who Do Pakistanis Turn To?

... besides God, that is.

In spending time on the Earthquake page I am administrating (hate that word) on WikiPakistan, (see previous post), and monitoring what has been happening around that whole mix, I had the following outburst on a mailing list I am on.

In Pakistan, for direct, on-the-ground information, about the best sources are Lahore and Karachi's "Metroblogs" at:

http://lahore.metblogs.com/ and
http://karachi.metblogs.com/

If you want to see a Muslim nation come together in a time of need; a nation that others have dismissed as a "failed state" and one of the "Least Developed Countries" and on and on, read those blogs. This disaster has brought Pakistan and Pakistanis together like never before. (One poster on one of those blogs pointed out Pakistan's winning of the '92 World Cup of cricket as the only other time he felt a similar spirit).

And in this day and age, there is much talk about "secularism"--and the "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" is often under discussion in that context. But think about this:

Take as one example, Canada, arguably is one of the shining examples of the success of secular, liberal democracy. (I mean that without sarcasm; I have come to have great respect for that country and its social order.) But on the list of charities provided by "Foreign Affairs Canada" on their website for Canadians to consider donating to, 10 were based on one religion (never mind which one; I'd be raising the issue if they were all Sunni Muslim agencies approved by my mother); one's address doesn't work; and the 12th was the Red Cross.

On the other hand, we have Pakistan, so often in the news in connection with religious fanatics. And which is the Pakistanis' favorite charity--to a man, woman and child around the globe? Who do the denizens of this "breeding ground of terrorists" turn to in our time of need as our FEMA, our Salvation Army, our Red Cross, and our Mother Teresa rolled into one? Not a religious organization. Just one founded and run by an simple, God-fearing, unassuming, plain-spoken man in rubber slippers and basic kurta-pyjama (the dress that is the origin of our modern sleepwear, our pyjamas) who often drives the ambulances himself. We turn reflexively to the Edhi Foundation and Abdus Sattar Edhi. A man that is no Jamaat-i-Islami leader, no Franklin Graham, no Mother Teresa-equivalent. (And believe me, we have those, too.) Just a volunteer worker who now heads an organization that, as unassuming as its founder, and to the frustration of thousands of expats over the last few days, still does not have an official website touting, for example, that they run the largest volunteer ambulance service in the world, or asking for money. For information on the man and the organization, see

http://www.contactpakistan.com/socialwork/Edhi/
http://pakistan.wikicities.com/wiki/Edhi_Foundation

The rest of us mortals are demeaned devils (and I do mean that in the theological sense) compared to this man--a man who has, over the years, run afoul of every religious and ethnic organization in Pakistan--probably bar none--with his simple-minded insistence on doing the right thing; whether it was providing decent burial for the bodies of heathens, or putting a cradle outside the Foundations' Welfare Centers for abandoned/unwanted children. In the troubles that have engulfed that region over the last three decades, it was often the shield of an ambulance with the Edhi name on it behind which innocent bystanders were shepherded to safety--including at least once in this writer's life. And again this was often unsung: in my own case, it was amusing to hear on the BBC that evening that the Police had apparently rescued us.

That is humane leadership. And that's what matters in the end. As far as I am concerned, Edhi--often referred to by Pakistanis as "Maulana Edhi", a title reserved for the most respected of religious leaders and which literally means "My Lord"--is living proof that terms like "secularism" and "Islamic Republic" are distractions from the real work, that of doing well by the rest by His Creation.

And, to quote the Jewish sage, "the rest is details", or, in the words of an Urdu--the official language of Pakistan--poet:

mazhab thoe buss mazhab-e-dhil hai; baaqee sub gumraahee hai
(the only (true) creed is the creed of the heart; all else is heresy)
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