2000 Balzan Prize for Humanity, Peace and Fraternity among Peoples
Abdul Sattar Edhi in Milan: speech by Tehmina Durrani – 17.11.2000
Honourable Mayor of Milan, members of the Balzan Foundation, Mr. Abdul Sattar Edhi, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As salam alaikum.
I would like to thank the Balzan Foundation for appreciating my controversial initiatives to further the evolution of Muslim women, and I especially thank them for giving me this opportunity to speak about a direction, that is in my opinion the only possible way to achieving world peace.
But first, I will briefly introduce myself, for by knowing my journey it will be easier to understand why I am speaking of the issue I intend to raise today.
My Feudal Lord and Blasphemy, or Schiava di mio marito and Empietà in Italian, are my first two books. Both are true stories about women married into the oppressive feudal system, waging a personal war against gender discrimination; one of those women is me.
If I believed that I was one woman fighting a family, a society, a tradition, as well as centuries old conditioning, very soon I found out that I was not one, but all women.
That experience is my qualification.
The experience of belonging to the oppressed class. To that part of society that cannot cry out, the one I could not leave behind when I walked away. The one I have since had a deep desire to free.
And as politics is the usual way to serve people, further to holding my political ex-husband accountable in My Feudal Lord, I demanded the accountability of all public servants by observing a hunger strike that lasted for seven days in 1993.
In 1999 the demand I made as a lone voice, has become an uproar.
But in the process of raising awareness to accountability, I realized that neither I nor anyone else visible on the political scene understood the core issues of the people; suggesting solutions to their woes was therefore meaningless and unqualified.
I also recognized the importance of preserving the two assets I had attained from my struggle, courage and the freedom of speech. Both, I concluded, would dilute if I lent them to any existing political sector.
That politics gave me no scope to serve the people became clear, and the need to understand the core problems of the people became the road that led me to Mr. Abdul Sattar Edhi. A man perceived by most as a simple social worker.
I recognized him as a role model for the world.
With him, I stepped onto the other side of the divide, the side on which the people lived instead of the one on which the leadership basked.
Practical involvement in Mr. Edhi’s work is natural to anyone in his presence. Bathing corpses and wrapping coffins, spending entire days at collapsed building sites, in psychotic centres and orphanages, was very much a part of writing his narrated autobiography, A Mirror to the Blind.
Mr. Edhi’s book was therefore the outcome of my own search for the truth.
I delved deep, to find the motivations and inspirations that guided one of Islam’s finest examples. I searched and studied the personal philosophy of a man who had donated his life to its purpose. A man who had not taken a single day’s vacation in his entire lifetime. A man who spoke of a hundred years ahead, instead of the next two.
A man, who conceptualized, created and sustained a welfare network that covered the length and breadth of a nation where every other institution was failing. A man who, without education, affluence and power, laboured ceaselessly to one day convert a third world country into a welfare state; a model for underdeveloped countries to adopt at low cost and high profit.
But My Feudal Lord is translated into 35 languages, and Blasphemy has taken the same course, while A Mirror to the Blind has only been published by the Edhi Foundation in Pakistan.
By which example we can observe the world’s trend.
Whereas literature about “good” people is buried under the thrill and excitement of evil, heroes like the ones in My Feudal Lord and Blasphemy attract an enthusiastic readership.
This worldwide ignorance to the dangerous direction the human race is taking needs deeper examination. We already know that as much as the last century was devoted to scientific growth and technology, that much the spiritual evolution of the human race was neglected.
While warring nations, easily available nuclear explosives, terrorism, environmental destruction, illiteracy and overpopulation threaten the world across all national boundaries, a clash of civilizations is imminent.
Today, every Muslim poses a threat and every westerner feels hunted. This, despite the fact that more than ever before, Muslims, Christians, and Jews all over the world share the same neighbourhoods while their children are students of the same schools.
At the same time, Islam’s heroes are today, ALL Militants, and Jihad is their instruction.
Militant activism has taken a forefront position in Islam. Jihad is at its most popular. Holy wars are fashionable. Muslim immigrations are at there highest and conversions to Islam are at their peak.
It is not unlikely, therefore, that suicide squads can explode in the hearts of the world’s cities, in department stores, cinema halls, market places and children’s parks.
Therefore, the Muslim world can no longer be fought; it has to be understood and integrated.
But for the West, to deal with something as complex as the Muslim equation, a deeper understanding of the Muslim religion has now become imperative.
In these times of misunderstanding, misdirection and miscommunication among the peoples of the world, understanding Islam through the life and message of Abdul Sattar Edhi, a man of current times, will make the differentiation between the essence of Islam and its common perception possible. Otherwise, without a current parallel, a living example, it seems impossible to understand the other way of Islam. At least that way has not been understood thus far.
Mr. Edhi’s interpretation of Islam as humanitarian instead of militant is the fastest, simplest and perhaps only way presently available for promoting peace between the Muslims of the world and the peoples of the West.
Above the rituals and the dogma, Mr. Edhi has practised his faith by living it like an open book for fellow men to study. He offers in his way of life an old direction lived anew; a direction that will soften the hearts, and change the stances of the Muslim people towards their brothers and sisters in the West.
In my opinion, Mr. Edhi, as Islam’s role model for the twenty-first century, is the most likely way to awaken the Muslim people to the other, kinder, face of Islam.
The one that lies dormant while militancy grows rapidly.
When the Muslim people understand Mr. Edhi’s life and message, instead of joining the militant quarter they will follow the humanitarian way.
When the environment is congenial to charity the promotion of war will become a contradiction. In an environment that prioritizes human rights there will be less Muslim soldiers with guns and more with compassion and aid.
But only IF the Muslim People HAVE that choice.
Nations, searching for ways to promote world peace, must help the Muslim people to recognize that choice.
Muslims who wish to live in peace should have a choice between Jihad for humanitarianism as opposed to Jihad for hegemony, the humanitarian way instead of the militant way. Those who want to serve in holy wars should have a choice between war for humanity and war for blood. Those who wish to contribute to the growth and prosperity of Islam should have a choice between narrow views of destruction and grand visions of universal peace.
Mr. Edhi presents that choice.
The choice of a role model from among the people, not one that the majority cannot emulate.
For the Muslim world is unfortunately by and large illiterate today, and an example of commitment and perseverance from among the deprived majority will make the achievement of great goals a possibility, instead of an illusion.
Just as commitment of purpose made up for the lack of a formal education in Mr. Edhi’s case, so it can be for them.
The obstacles faced by women in achieving justice will also ease when Muslim society is influenced by Mr. Edhi’s philosophy. Radical laws for women will be seen in the spirit of humanity instead of in the throes of anger and fear. Bilquis’s support to her husband’s vision, in Mr. Edhi’s own words is 70% of his success. This gender balance is the direction that the Muslims of the twenty-first century will take if they follow in the direction of Mr. Edhi.
Administring the right medicine at the right time is in the hands of those who know the ailment. Building bridges is in the hands of those who know what to build them with.
An understanding of Mr. Edhi’s life and message cannot be overemphasized and must not be underplayed.
And I quote Mr. Edhi in his autobiography, A Mirror to the Blind,
“Whereas the entire meaning of the Koran must easily be interpreted by the lives of Muslims, Islam’s followers abandoned its essence.
I concluded that this is the actual starting point. But how could I teach the people Islam? I was not a religious scholar, and yet, how could I promote humanitarianism unless the Muslim people understood the message of the Koran? The two were so integrated.
Nor was the essence achievable by words and declarations, writings and proclamations, khutba’s, and debates.
The essence was in the example.
I would have to interpret the message with the way I lived my life. I would set a personal example of Islam’s practice and that, one-day, would become its simple interpretation….But, it was a journey traversing a life time.”
Before I end I’d like to say, that Mr. Edhi has now made that journey. And it is my hope that if what I have advocated, is not trivialised, we can still point towards a new alternative and steer the people of our planet towards harmony, love and peace.
For which reason, capitalizing on Mr. Edhi’s life and message, is just as much your need as it is ours.
To conclude, I quote Victor Hugo, with belief, that “There is nothing as powerful as an Idea whose time has come.”