Abdul Sattar Edhi- Humanitarian, dubbed ‘The richest poor man’

A calm figure with a composed temperament, often pictured with his long beard and Karakul hat, Edhi was a symbol of wisdom and humanitarianism. You could almost say that his face had the words ‘just leave it up to God and everything will be fine’ on it. This contentment and acceptance of one’s destiny in the face of despair are truly Pakistani modes of thought. Even though Edhi was not celebrated in the rest of the world like he was in Pakistan, his image is still ubiquitous in Pakistan and his compassion is still alluded to amongst circles of Pakistanis, young and old, regardless of where those Pakistanis happen to reside. In one of Edhi’s most famous quotes, he states that no religion or belief system can trump humanity. It was this defiant approach as well as his outstanding social activism which made him so popular amongst all Pakistanis. Although Edhi is not a household name outside of Pakistan, the Edhi foundation along with the hospitals, animal shelters, homeless shelters, rehab centers and orphanages that are still going, all constitute a part of Edhi’s monumental humanitarian work within Pakistan. Edhi passed away in 2016 but images of the great man, especially in the latter years of his life are comforting to many and represent everything good about Pakistani culture such as fortitude and forgiveness even if one’s own circumstances are unfavorable.

Shahid Afridi- Beloved, trailblazing Pakistani cricketer

The road to becoming a Pakistani cricketing god began around the time a sixteen year old, fresh-faced Afridi stunned the cricketing world with his 37 ball century against the Sri Lankans, employing a type of fearless pinch-hitting that was just emerging at the time. The image of a young, unfazed Afridi breaking the record of the fastest century in One-day International cricket against a world cup winning, Sri Lankan side that included the likes of Murali et al. will forever be etched in my minds of those who were fortunate enough to witness the innings. It was the type of batting display that made Pakistanis feel like they were capable of anything. Since that time, Afridi has had cricket stadiums packed full of fans with high expectations, many of whom prefer to leave the stadium if Afridi is dismissed by an opponent. Many all-rounders could change a game of cricket within in an instance but can you think of a more dangerous or skilled spinner/all- rounder in cricketing history? Can you conjure up a more frustrating opponent that one might encounter on a cricket field? Afridi was and still is a big hit in the sporting world but he was also a frustrating teammate. His single-mindedness with the bat was part of what made him the special talent that he was, but this disappointed many who believed that we never saw the best of Afridi due to his hurried batting approach. Afridi was by all accounts a powerful and respected figure, on and off the field but he is often left out of lists that include cricketing greats and overlooked by commentators who justifiably believe that Afridi was too careless at times, whilst claiming that Pakistan would win more games if batsmen like Afridi would play themselves in and bat for longer. In spite of this kind of criticism, Afridi continues to be a beloved icon who is known for redefining the game of cricket with tons of quick runs and a legendary legacy that is continued through his extensive charity work and includes the Shahid Afridi Foundation, an initiative that allows girls living in rural areas of Pakistan free access to education.

Sabeen Mahmud- A fearless female advocate of democratic values and freedom of expression

Prior to her assassination, Sabeen hosted talks in her Cafe T2F. A democratic space which Journalist Sabrina Rose Bhatti has described as ‘a safe haven for artists, writers, poets, activists and thinkers’. Sabeen was a woman of great strength in the way that she spoke and conducted herself but it was her talks on the strained region of Balochistan which made her a target. Yet, it is claimed that after her murderers were prosecuted, she had paved the way for the next generation of liberal thinkers. During an interview, Sabeen was profoundly characterized by journalist Zarrar Khuhro as a woman with insane courage who spoke up for the voiceless. Of course, Sabeen was renowned for having a bold personality and being someone who was on a determined mission to ‘unsilence’ Pakistanis and in reply to interview questions by journalists who asked her if she was afraid, Sabeen would assuredly state that she was not at all afraid. For anyone in doubt about whether Sabeen was a valiant figure, ought to understand that Sabeen would do everything in her power to make sure that values like tolerance would prevail, our rich cultural scene in Pakistan would not wither away and those without a voice would be heard no matter what.

Karen Armstrong- Founder of Charter for Compassion

Karen is a comparative religion expert and a philanthropist with a clear and distinct voice, along with sound and profound theological and philosophical arguments that role off her tongue as she speaks. When Karen won the 2008 Ted prize, her wish as the winner was to launch Charter for Compassion, a charitable organization which would promote a global network of understanding between faiths. Karen is someone who immediately strikes you as being a pastoral figure that exudes empathy. Even whilst narrating to her avid listeners, Karen practices what she preaches and conducts herself in accordance with Charter for Compassion’s golden rule, based on selflessness and principally, treating others how you wish to be treated yourself. Empathy and compassion are values that Karen proclaims are rooted in all three of the monotheistic faiths. This belief in the purity of religion and compassion as a tool, used to counter ideological dogma and the contamination of religion for selfish gains, led Karen towards a path of helping others on the back of her own success. Without Charter for Compassion, countless numbers of stranded and marginalized Pakistanis would be left without a lifeline and no chance of achieving social mobility, unlike the abundance of individuals in Pakistan and around the world who have engaged with CfC and have been granted a new lease of life as a consequence. The movement that Karen started has alleviated suffering on a massive scale and emancipated people to the point that they feel capable of reclaiming their own destiny as well as their own religious faiths from those who use religion to control others and those who have made religion a source of conflict.

Iqbal Masih- Pakistani Christian child laborer from Punjab

Iqbal’s story is one of resilience in the face of hellish deprivation and virtual enslavement by his employers. At the age of four, Iqbal had to start working in abysmal conditions to avoid an even more devastating existence and to pay off his family’s debts. Using figures to emphasize Iqbal’s dreadful situation, the young child had to borrow 600 Pakistani rupees (just under four dollars) from local carpet weavers in the village of Muridke, who Iqbal would have to work for in order to pay off debts that would keep increasing due to the interest that his employers would demand from him. Not only that, Iqbal would have to work all day and all week, whilst being chained up by his employers to prevent escape, as if his journey to the carpet factory at dawn in the dark wasn’t tedious enough for someone of his age. In an attempt to escape a life of child slavery and after years of plucking up the courage to do his own research on bonded labor, which is actually illegal in Pakistan, Iqbal attended the Bonded Labor Liberation Front for former child slaves. He completed his education at the BLL ahead of schedule and was able to help thousands of children find a way out of slavery, whilst travelling around the world to hold talks and fight for the abolition of bonded labor. Iqbal had dreams of studying at university and even becoming a lawyer which would allow him to assist even more children, caught up in the viscous cycle of bonded labor. Unsurprisingly Iqbal’s captors caught up with him and murdered him at the tender age of twelve, before Iqbal was able to get going. Iqbal was not the notable figure he was destined to become and despite his fate, those who have heard his story know that fear of reprisals did not deter the child from Muridke who was wise beyond his years. Let Iqbal’s struggle serve as a brutal reminder that many economically disadvantaged Pakistanis face an uphill struggle and find themselves in an almost impossible situation from the start of their lives. In many cases, circumstances like these can haunt people like Iqbal for a lifetime.