First Pakistani Nobel Laureate Prof Dr Abdus Salam-A Neglected Hero

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Finished off watching Netflix documentary on the first Pakistani Nobel Laureate Prof Dr Abdus Salam and can’t help feeling ashamed of a nation’s treatment to its legendary hero. Rising from a basic middle-class setup and finding his way to the top recognized internationally, Dr Salam spared no opportunity to express love and honor for his country while his fellow countrymen persistently looked down upon him because of his faith. Totally and utterly disgusted on the moral values of a nation who failed to pay gratitude to its champion and instead critically judged his triumphs.

Unfortunately it is not the first time that Pakistan, a country founded in the name of Islam, has dropped so low on its tenets of ethics swaying away from the actual teachings of Islam. Generally very proud of our Muslim identity we, the people of Pakistan, have a history of marginalizing our heroes and undermining high achievers with unfair judgments especially (mis)using the strong religious rhetoric.

First Pakistani Nobel Laureate Prof Dr Abdus Salam-A Neglected Hero

There are pictures of Dr. Abdus Salam in elementary level science books in school but rarely any informative sessions on his achievements are conducted. Instructors also seem biased towards him seldom forgetting to mention that Dr Salam was a non-Muslim. His faith is discussed prior to his accomplishments in the schools and by the time students reach college they have this image of the physicist with a certain dogma attached to it. The founder of several national and international institutions and other education ventures, such as the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Italy, the Space & Upper Atmosphere Research Corporation (SUPARCO) of Pakistan and International Nathiagali Summer College (INSC), is predominantly known for being an Ahmadi or Qaddiyani by the people of his country. He was as young as 38 when he found ICTP in Trieste and missed an attempt at Nobel Prize for Mathematics in 1960s (born: 1926).

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His unparalleled work in particle physics earned him fame globally at an early age and he won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to the electroweak unification theory in particle physics. Unfortunately most Pakistani’s don’t even know what it means but they do know that Dr. Abdus Salam belonged to a heretic sect of Islam.

Dr. Abdus Salam is one of the founding fathers of Pakistan’s vital nuclear programme that perpetually became indispensable for country’s defense and energy needs. He first joined the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) as its technical member during President Ayub’s era and represented Pakistan at the IAEA for over a decade. Dr. Salam also instituted the now internationally recognized Physics department of the Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) in Islamabad. Choosing to return to Pakistan permanently after establishing ICTP in Italy, he accepted the offer of Prime Minister Z.A. Bhutto to work as his advisor for science & technology and superintend the nuclear programme precipitating the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP). His role in making of nuclear weapons, however, remain obscure as he advocated only peaceful use of nuclear technology in the later years.

He fell out with Bhutto and resigned in 1974 after the Ahmadi sect was declared heretic under Article XX with the definition provided in 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan during former’s reign. Nevertheless he remained in touch with his colleagues in Pakistan and continued helping the calculations and discussion on country’s nuclear development. Prior to that he founded SUPARCO during Ayub’s time and helped NASA build a Flight Testing Center (FTC) in the province of Balochistan. No wonder that India almost landed on the moon while Pakistanis fight sighting the moon every month in 2019.

Dr. Abdus Salam also established the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) in Italy for science aficionados across the globe. He served as member of World Cultural Council before being denied nomination for Director General UNESCO by his own country during Zia’s regime despite receiving Nishan-e-Imtiaz in 1979. He received a number of prestigious awards for his contributions towards science

including Sitara-e-Imtiaz in 1959, Hughes Medal in 1964, Atoms for Peace Prize in 1968, and the Royal Medal in 1978 before finally receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979 followed by Order of the British Empire in 1989. Little known is the fact that he missed a Nobel Prize attempt in 1960s as well. The Abdus Salam Award, the Abdus Salam Medal and the Abdus Salam Shield of Honor in Mathematics were initiated in his name to honor his contributions to science. Abdus Salam Center for Physics in QAU, Abdus Salam National Center for Mathematical Sciences in GC University Lahore and the Edward Bouchet Abdus Salam Institute are some of the establishments named to pay tribute to the theoretical physicist.

Talking today it is very unfortunate to see that Dr Abdus Salam is known for being an Ahmadi by the people of Pakistan more than he is ever known for his towering achievements. Sadly, his contributions for the world of science never achieved the tribute it deserved inside the country. His name was deliberately struck from local textbooks and his achievements eventually eclipsed by his birth faith. Salam’s piousness, character, and achievements all succumbed to his religious identity. There are no scripts or sculptures or a portrait of him decorating our educational institutes today but a very few. Needless to state that these are not attributes of great nations as a true one always regard their heroes.

Regardless of reasons in the background of all the obliviousness and ungratefulness the fact cannot be ignored that even the rather sensible educated class of Pakistan failed to get Dr. Abdus Salam the rightful recognition in the Pakistan. Perhaps their minds were also polluted with the idea of discrimination on basis of faith. Or possibly the sane class is scared of the outcome of widespread hateful sentiments of Muslims against Ahmadis.

After failing to pay tribute to a homegrown strenuous protagonist of science and disdaining brilliant minds the nation stands no chance of questioning the prevailing misconstrued image of religious zealotry in the world. Veiling such misadventures under the emblem of Islam is another unfortunate escapade. Neither the script of holy Qur’an & Sunnah nor any historical reference embolden show of impudence towards national heroes on the basis of religion.

Recorded history of Islam, as a matter of fact, carry examples of an ideal Islamic state system developed during and after the life of Muhammad (PBUH) standing on the principals of peace, honesty and justice. Study of the life of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) reflect high regards for educated people regardless of their color and creed. Prisoners including worst enemies of Islam were offered relief upon their agreement to educate children.

Educated people were spared and their skills colossally utilized irrespective of their beliefs. Then there is a popular example of a Jew winning a case in an Islamic court against the sitting caliph who also happened to be a close aide of the prophet (PBUH). Should such examples and blasts from the past not be considered conscripting ‘definition’ of Muslim in the constitution?

No matter who and what pushed Dr. Abdus Salam to leave the country he loved so dearly and unconditionally, the responsibility falls collectively on his fellow countrymen for disregarding his achievements and service. Apparently the people of Pakistan are always ready to die for preservation of sanctity of the name of Muhammad (PBUH) but not interested to act as per his teachings of compassion and amity. Majorly drunk on the idea of grandeur but lost in our own backyard, we the people of Pakistan have produced students who threatened to break the legs of Dr. Salam if he ever stepped inside the Quaid-e-Azam University.

The portion of Muslims filled with hatred against non-Muslims didn’t stop at whitewashing the prefix “Muslim” from his tombstone but ensured disappearance of his name from our books as well as minds. We closed our eyes to his charming gesture of wearing a traditional Punjabi dress with turban to the Nobel Banquet and unremittingly doubted his patriotism even though when he turned down all offers of citizenships from all over the world sticking to his green passport till the very end.

He took his last breath in the UK after a prolonged ailment but burial in his homeland remained his final wish – fulfilled by his sons. He would be remembered as an important science figure across the globe but predominantly a Qaddiyani in his own country. What a pity!


Junaid Rana

Junaid has earned his expertise in International Relations & Affairs from National Defence University Islamabad after graduating from the University of Balochistan with majors in Politics and Journalism. A realist in life but liberal in thoughts, the writer keeps a keen eye on Pakistan's local politics and changing internal dynamics while analyzing its impacts on the country's role as an international actor.

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