It would have made perfect sense for Ansar Burney to skip or even postpone a visit here last week after the Ansar Burney Trust office was completely gutted in a raging fire resulting from a short circuit on March 28. But such is the commitment of the champion human rights lawyer, activist and world renowned social worker that he simply smiled through the adversity of losing all data pertaining to his work in Karachi and flew into Doha a day later to attend a book discussion.

Held at the Club House, Ewen Gardens, the event drew hordes of fans on a fasting day, who were excited to meet the man whose just released official autobiography 'Awaaz: Echoes of Freedom and Justice' has been co-authored by two prominent Doha-based Pakistanis, Shehar Bano Rizvi, an award winning Amazon best-selling author, and Tasneem Premjee Chamdia, a Special Needs Educator. The memoir was launched in Karachi late February with the first print selling out within days.

Moderated by Mohsin Mujtaba, who impressed both Burney and the audience with poignant couplets and wit-laden conversation, the book discussion took on a flavour of its own with frank admissions of the stellar stature of a wife in the life of a husband. This drew much amusement for teenage sweetheart and later accomplished better half, Shaheen Burney – his pillar of strength – who, on a more reflective note, told the audience that supporting her husband given the challenging nature of his work was the least she could have done for him.

Shehar Bano and Tasneem Chamdia said they felt privileged to bring Burney’s story to the world after a chance encounter the former had with Burney where she admitted being embarrassed at how little she had known about the human rights icon.

Burney’s engagement with the audience was a rendezvous to remember, where he opened up on difficult and often challenging subjects and views related to fundamental human rights with the benefit of often disturbing firsthand experience. He recalled being jailed for 10 months on an unfounded charge of inciting the people against military dictatorship at a venue where he wasn’t even present!

This was just the beginning of a life of trials and tribulations, but which made Burney determined to do something for the thousands of people he felt were actually innocent or unfairly prosecuted for minor crimes whilst languishing in jails under abysmal conditions.

Burney, Pakistan’s first human rights minister, recalled a handful of cases from memory details of which appear in 'Awaaz', the memoirs currently making the rounds. The sheer scale of injustice in the narrated cases shocked the audience despite the understood public lack of distrust in the system back home.

Regardless, and in the face of huge odds – the pursuit of which also put his life on the line several times – the indefatigable Burney went on to fight these cases, leading to the freedom of 900,000 documented prisoners – a parallel hard to find in modern history.

So what led the man with over 250 awards, including the Paul Harris Fellow Award, Mother Teresa Memorial Award and two of Pakistan’s biggest civilian awards, Sitara-e-Imtiaz and Hilal-e-Imtiaz, to take on the impossible with such uncanny determination and gumption?

“I have always sought (service to humankind) as a service to God. Mother Teresa, who inspired me, had once said as much when she was asked what led her to humanitarian work,” Burney recalled. “I’m (also) doing this for God.”

He said along the way, attempts were made on his life and on a number of occasions, he was warned that he wouldn’t survive the wrath of the powerful people he would be taking on in his attempt to help and rescue folks who were said to be their victims.

Burney, who was elected unopposed as Expert Advisor on Human Rights in the UN, said he never wavered in his faith in Allah and it came as no surprise that those very powerful people later met him to settle disputes.

A strong theme of the discussion remained his single-minded focus on 'Huqooqul Ibaad' – the rights of human beings, which Allah has ordained even over and above rights of Allah that His beings are obligated to.

In response to a question whilst talking to Gulf Times, Burney said the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was his greatest inspiration in life, emphasising however, that his strong faith meant he or any human being was not supposed to discriminate against any on the basis of religion. He underlined that service to humankind was paramount.

Burney however, lamented the degradation of values in society and said despite being on the right side of humanitarian causes, it was never easy for him to follow the path, and which, at an early stage, led him to officially establish the Ansar Burney Trust – because his name was being misused for vested interests and thus damaging the cause.

Dilating on his strong faith, Burney said there were times in his journey when he was at the end of his tether with no resource or solution in sight, but somehow help would arrive at the eleventh hour and things would move. This strengthened his resolve to continue the journey, which he felt was a reward in itself.

The premier advocate for victims of human trafficking, bonded labour and other forms of exploitation, recounted his often daring – and, at times, life threatening – drive to have child jockeys banned in the Middle East whilst rescuing a large number of them and reuniting them with their families back home. For this, he was honoured as an Anti-Human Trafficking Hero by the US State Department.

Burney concluded with a note of thanks to his co-authors for going out of their way to research and piece together the details and highlights of his fulfilling journey. Later, he signed dozens of copies for the audience.

• 'Awaaz' is available at all Liberty bookstores in Pakistan and on worldwide.