Dr. Abdus Salam: Beyond Physics

Posted on November 22, 2010
Filed Under >Adil Najam, People, Religion, Science and Technology
Total Views: 223746

Adil Najam

Today marks Dr. Abdus Salam’s death anniversary. (See new biography of Dr. Salam here).

It should be a moment of deep reflection for all of us. He would have been as great a man as he was even if he did not won the Nobel Award in physics. But we would have conveniently forgotten him. That he did win the Nobel Award is a source of cosmetic and hollow pride for many Pakistanis. Cosmetic and hollow because it is also a source of visible unease. Even when we acknowledge that he was a great scientist (after all, the Nobel Committee thought so), we are uncomfortable acknowledging that he was a great man whose significance goes beyond his science.

As a brutally honest editorial in today’s Daily Times points out, “we are scared of honoring Dr. Salam.” We must not be.

The Daily Times editorial says all that needs to be said; it is worth reading, worth thinking about, and worth quoting in full:

The tragedy of our treatment of Dr Abdus Salam

Dr Abdus Salam (1926-1996) died ten years ago. He was the first Pakistani to get a Nobel Prize in 1979. But he might be the last if we continue to allow our state to evolve in a way that frightens the rest of the world. Our collective psyche runs more to accepted ‘wisdom’ than to scientific inquiry; and even if we were to display an uncharacteristic outcropping of individual genius the world may be so frightened of it that it might not give us our deserts.

We are scared of honouring Dr Salam because of our constitution which we have amended to declare his community as ‘non-Muslim’. When Dr Salam died in 1996 he had to be buried in Pakistan because he refused to give up his Pakistani nationality and acquire another that respected him more. But the Pakistani state was afraid of touching his dead body. He was therefore buried in Rabwa, the home town of his Ahmedi community whose name is also unacceptable to us and has been changed to Chenab Nagar by a state proclamation. But that was not the end of the story. After he was buried, the pious, law-abiding and constitution-loving people of Jhang, which is nearby, went over to Chenab Nagar to see if all had been done according to the constitutional provisions regarding the Ahmedi community to which he belonged.

And what did the constitution say? It said that the Ahmedis are not Muslims, that they may not call themselves Muslims, nor say the kalima or use any of the symbols of Islam. The original amendments to the constitution were passed by Z A Bhutto, a ‘liberal socialist-democrat’, and subsequent tightening of the law was done by the great patriot General Zia-ul Haq. Thus both the civilians and the khakis had connived in the great betrayal of Dr Salam.

After the great scientist was buried in Chenab Nagar, his tombstone said “Abdus Salam the First Muslim Nobel Laureate”. Needless to say, the police arrived with a magistrate and rubbed off the ‘Muslim’ part of the katba. Now the tombstone says: Abdus Salam the First Nobel Laureate. The magistrate remained unfazed by what he had done but Dr Salam’s grave is actually the tombstone of a Muslim culture that Pakistan had inherited from the founder of the nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. But ironies fly thick in Pakistan. In Jhang, for example, where Dr Salam grew up as a precocious child, the schools that he endowed with scholarships and grants now teach communal hatred rather than the love that he had in mind when he gave them his money.

Meanwhile, the Ahmedi community is under daily pressure and anyone with a twisted mind is free to persecute them.

Abdus Salam was born in Jhang in 1926. At the age of 14, he got the highest marks ever recorded for the Matriculation Examination in Punjab. The whole town turned out to welcome him. He won a scholarship to Government College, Lahore, and took his MA in 1946. In the same year he was awarded a scholarship to St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he took a BA (honours) with a double First in mathematics and physics in 1949. In 1950 he received the Smith’s Prize from Cambridge University for the most outstanding pre-doctoral contribution to physics. He also obtained a PhD in theoretical physics at Cambridge; his thesis, published in 1951, contained fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics which had already gained him an international reputation.

In 1954 Dr Salam left his native country for a lectureship at Cambridge University. Before the Pakistani politicians apostatised him, he was a member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, a member of the Scientific Commission of Pakistan and Chief Scientific Adviser to the President from 1961 to 1974. Pakistan’s space research agency Suparco was created by him and it is only symbolic that a group of Shia workers of Suparco were put to death in Karachi in 2004 by sectarian terrorists. Like Dr Salam, a lot of gifted Shia doctors have had to leave Pakistan because of the state’s twisted policies.

Dr Abdus Salam got his Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979. It was a most embarrassing moment for General Zia who had “supplemented” the Second Amendment to the constitution with further comic disabilities against the Ahmedis. He had to welcome the great scientist and had to be seen with him on TV. Since the clerical part of his government was already bristling, he took care to clip those sections of Dr Salam’s speech where he had said the kalima or otherwise used an Islamic expression. It was Dr Salam’s good luck that one of the believers did not go to court under Zia’s own laws to get the country’s only Nobel laureate sent to prison for six months of rigorous imprisonment. Dr Salam then went to India where he was received with great fanfare. He had gone there to simply meet his primary school mathematics teacher who was still alive. When the two met, Dr Salam took off his Nobel medal and put it around the neck of his teacher.

Let us admit in a whisper that Pakistan did issue a stamp commemorating Dr Salam years ago lest the government come under pressure to remove it from circulation. It is also true that his alma mater, Government College Lahore, now a university, has named certain ancillary departments and academic sessions after him following a long period of obscurantist domination. But Pakistan needs to feel guilty about what it has done to the greatest scientist it ever produced in comparison to the lionisation of Dr AQ Khan who has brought ignominy and the label of “rogue state” to Pakistan by selling the country’s nuclear technology for personal gain. Can we redeem ourselves by doing something in Dr Salam’s memory on this 10th anniversary of his passing that would please his soul and cleanse ours?

Repost: This post was originally published at ATP on November 22, 2006, on Dr. Salam’s 10th death anniversary.

475 responses to “Dr. Abdus Salam: Beyond Physics”

  1. Ahmee says:

    The Disowned Son of Pakistan, the Mystic Scientist
    Let Me Tell You About The MAN they Called ABDUS SALAM…I hail from the same land JHANG (Sial) and follow the same Religious Sect i.e. Ahmadiyyat and have family ties to Late Mr. Salam’s Family…

    I believe it is beyond doubt that He was a PAKISTANI, He Believed in GOD/ALLAH and Believed on the Holy Book Quran, asked many times in personal discussions he used to the say the Idea of Unification Theory was inspired by his thoughts about One GOD/ALLAH (Unification of all Powers with ALLAH). He wore a Traditional Pakistani Dress and recited the verses of the Holy Quran while starting his speech at the Laureate ceremony.

    This Disowned Son of PAKISTAN, use to cry in loneliness for his beloved Motherland, people say he used to talk about Pakistan whenever a cherished memory was asked for. I once read JHANG’s soil has a curse for lovers (Love and solitariness) so Abdus Salam Hailing from the area hankered (Tarapna) for his beloved Motherland so was the case with HEER years before.

    Mother’s never disown their children but the brothers (WE ALL) were too cruel to let a son meet his motherland PAKISTAN so Abdus Salam longed (Tarpa) for the soil, the land and the nation but we could not do nothing than and sadly we are not doing nothing now. We celebrate many days but none named after ABDUS SALAM, we celebrate the Atomic YOOM-E-TAKBEER day but we don’t pay homage and respect to its founder.

    Indians wrote a letter to him, saying “Come on your terms and we’ll accept/embrace you” but we could not, we rather pushed him away while he was crying and saying “Let me be a mason let me construct this building of Pakistan, let me add some bricks” but we denied him.

    To put it in short, I will not add religious discrimination factor here but we as a nation don’t have the courage to with stand with truth, justice and righteousness so we ought to suffer. Greatness requires no attestation; it is a vision beyond any capture. We as a nation have taken the matters of ALLAH in our own hands we stand in between Allah and his creations and we defy righteousness so we ought to face the wrath.

    If we don’t mend our way’s History will have us in its folds like many before are lost in the dust of time, Oh Ma Nation with eyes in tears I seek forgiveness for us, I pray guidance for us. May we all turn to righteousness: Let’s not defy what is righteous lets pay homage to our national hero’s, let’s be reasonable, let’s be spread a message of love, peace and Humanity as this is what Islam stands for and Pakistan was founded.
    May PEACE and HUMANITY Prevails, Love for ALL, Hatred for None!!!

    Many Of Us, Our Children and Elders today know about Justice Bhagwan Dass, My respect for him as for what he stands for must be respected, honored and cherished.

    Do your children know there was a Man called Abdus Salam, whom the World cherished and we dishonored and disowned? Do they know he was the NATIONAL HERO? THEY MUST KNOW!!!

  2. Mukhtar says:

    Lots of sentiments are expressed on the treatment meted out to
    Salam. What about Faiz, Sahir, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan,Minto,and Quratul Ain Haider? None of them were Ahmadi- Right . Why were they treated so badly? All were dragged in the courts of law for one reason or the other and subjected to physical as well as financial hardships. Salam was installed as Chairman of Mathematics Departments of Government College and Punjab University at a young age of 26 years. He was terribly discriminated and was denied residence on the campus. He went through lots of frustration for four years. His agony was psychological and not physical or financial. That kind of environment is counter productive to intellectual and scientific contribution. He realized that his fertile brain is ensconced in a barren field and in that atmosphere he will rot and will not be able to contribute either for himself or for Pakistan. For he did not want to be like an other Allama Mashraqi, who was far brighter and practical than him. Salam was a thorough gentleman and not boisterous like Mashraqi. So he ran away from Pakistan (yes) and got a job in UK. As they say: Ezat Usay mili jo watan sey nikal ghia;

    His former adversaries in Pakistan were now his friends. Time is a great healer and Salam managed to publish his doctoral research in International Journals and attracted the attention of world scientific community. It was the Western environment that freed him from agonizing Roti,Kapra and Makan worries of his native Pakistan that his intellectual prowess was able to demonstrate its potentialities with singleness of mind. On the home front, the political chaos resulted in the military takeover and Ayub Khan appointed him as his Chief Scientific Adviser and Sitara Imtiaz with a sum of Rs 10,000. All fences were lowered for Salam and all doors were opened for him. He regularly visited Pakistan and lectured at different institutions. People appreciated his concern for the development of science and technology of Pakistan but as soon as he left Pakistan the business was as usual. This circus continued from 1958 to 1974 and scientific dwarfs and dead woods like Salimuzaman and Raziuddin Siddiqui continued trumpeting their slogans of reaching new heights of science. Salam knew all this but as a gentleman he looked other way. His contribution for Pakistan is just Nobel Prize and that’s all. It is very distressing that people did not allow the word “Muslim” as epitaph on his grave. This shows the mind set of brain damaged people.

    One has to see the end result of a person’s product. What are the product of Salam for Pakistan- free advice for 16 years. Comparing with AQK and Chaudhry Rahmat Ali, we find all these dwarfs and hyperbole. We do not acknowledge our heroes because our priorities are wandering in the dark clouds of smoke and ignorance. That is our history-period.

    Qais paida hun teri mehfil main ye mumkin nahi,
    Tung hai sera tera mehmal hai bey laila tera—-Iqbal

  3. Parvez says:

    As long as we do not start appreciating that each individual must have to righ to his/her own faith and the state must never interfere in this matter, we will continue to get the likes of Haq Nawaz Jhangvi instead of likes of Abdus Salam Jhangvi. What has Physics to do with which sect or religion one is following? Only a sick mind will mix the two.

  4. he was one of my favourite scientists from pakistan !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *