Remembering Dr Salam


The man we did not (and do not) honour

So many Pakistanis are delighted that our criminal neglect of Dr Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, is not continuing. Pakistan’s premier academic institution, Lahore University of Management Sciences, with Dr Adil Najam as its vice chancellor, has launched a fundraising campaign to establish the Dr Abdus Salam chair to honour Pakistan’s brilliant physicist. What a tragic abandoning of a son who crowned the nation as he excelled globally in the task that Allah most preferred for his creation – the task of acquiring and indeed creating knowledge!

Little surprise that the amazing Dr Salam had so profoundly said of the Holy Quran that “more than anything else I know of, it speaks of the eternal wonder I have personally experienced in my own science” and then quoted this verse from Surah Luqman: “And if all the trees on earth were pens and the ocean (were ink), with seven oceans behind it to add to its (supply), yet would not the words of Allah be exhausted (in writing): for Allah is Exalted in Power, full of wisdom.” (31-27)

Genuinely great people have millions of stories about their greatness that do the rounds. But if you are lucky to have one that you personally witnessed then that’s what really stays with you. It’s fate’s gift to you, for life and I can boast of one such gift! In May 1989, barely a year into journalism, my editor Arif Nizami told me one morning that I had to interview the noble laureate the next day. Those weren’t Google times so for research on the grand doctor, I rummaged through the mega files. Next morning dressed in my best, deeply nervous and desperately trying to wear an intelligent look, I arrived at Dr Salam’s door. Welcoming me warmly with an innocent, endearing smile was Dr Salam sahib himself.

The 63 year old Dr Salaam showed signs of deteriorating health. “I have always wanted to come back to Pakistan, I am an old man and I would like to die here.” he said wearing a pained look. At that time, Dr Abdus Salam was the founder-director of the prestigious International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. It was founded in 1964 in response to Dr Salam’s proposal as Pakistan’s delegate to the International Atomic Energy’s Conference in Vienna in 1960.

Dr Salam helped create several institutes of excellence including the Third World Academy of Sciences at Trieste in 1983; an Academy where Indians and Iranians, but no Pakistanis, were enrolled in large numbers.

After being awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979, Dr Salam devoted his time largely to fundraising activities to bridge the technology divide between the developing and the developed countries by stopping the brain drain.

Dr Salam was very concerned about the adverse influence of Indian military build-up on Pakistan and said he would take up the issue with Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi. In his meeting with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, he strongly advocated increased allocation of funds and setting up of centres of science and technology in every province.

Virtually no interest of Pakistani rulers, entrepreneurs, economists and planners in science-based technology of the day, he argued, led to the slow scientific development in Pakistan. Dr Salam believed the private sector could play a major role in the area but recognised that investors mostly looked for attractive return on investment. He recalled bringing an entrepreneur from London hoping to encourage Pakistani businessmen to invest in high technology based on assurances of six percent return on capital in the initial stages. The return was considered too meagre by investors who suggested that investment in real estate gave them capital gains between 40 and 60% annually without the slightest effort. An anguished Salam sahib had exclaimed: “Now you can’t think of the country and at the same time think of 40 per cent and six per cent.”

He made an interesting observation regarding the reason behind India’s clear edge in the field. “In Indian character, there is more inclination towards embracing poverty than in Pakistani character. They are willing to do things for small sums of money but here we are not. Our attitude has always been that of the sahibs.” Then India has had from the outset the advantage of having Nehru, who was greatly interested in scientific development and got the right people and had laboratories built right away, as its leader.

When asked whether he would give up his position at Trieste if Pakistan government were to set up a science institute and sought his services, his immediate response was: “I will give up anything. Returning to Pakistan has been very important to me.” But the hostile environment in Pakistan prevented his return.

Dr Salam talked of his pain at being unable to be of service to Islam and to Pakistan. Although disillusioned with the state of scientific research in Pakistan, his message was one of hope as he said, “Optimism is very important. I was recently reminded that when the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was pelted with stones in Taif, he was not disappointed. Instead he prayed and said: ‘Oh God this nation has not understood me today, give them the realisation.’ So that’s the way I think about the matter.”

His message for the young Pakistanis who aspired to be great scientists was that “They should not lose hope and should get their science from whichever source they can. Then they should pursue it and, InshaAllah some day Pakistan will need them.”

Towards the end of the interview, Dr Salam’s friends arrived. He was to depart for Delhi and just before leaving Dr Salam said: “Now let us pray” and quietly we all did.

Seven years later, when Dr Salam died in England after a prolonged illness so many Pakistanis cried at our loss and no less over our national guilt of not honouring him while he lived. On November 24, 1996 his mortal remains were brought to Pakistan for burial at his ancestral graveyard in Rabwah. Sadly there was reportedly no government functionary at the funeral of the country’s lone Nobel Laureate, this icon in science, who won the world’s most prestigious award and earned international acclaim for Pakistan in one of the most challenging domains of science.

Yet today as LUMS makes the commendable effort there is reason to be hopeful. One aspect of Pakistan’s own Arab Spring would be to battle away from hate and ignorance to embrace the humanism and dedication to brilliance that the Holy Quran and our Prophet (pbuh) taught us and what Jinnah’s Pakistan was meant to be – and will InshaAllah now be.

The writer is a senior journalist and has been a diplomatic correspondent for leading dailies. She can be reached via email at [email protected]


  1. Great article, Qudssia. Hats off to LUMS as well for breaking the stigma of hate and prejudice.

  2. Well written. Dr Salam's work for the third world was very appreciable. Sadly, we (Pakistanis) don't get any thing from him.

  3. It was one of the proudest days of my life when i saw Dr Abdus Salam receive the Nobel Prize in Stockholm. He was dressed in traditional Pakistani dress and i felt guilty at not wearing one. He robustly defended Pakistan. The history moved on.Later on i learnt to my grief that he had passed away–Surely he would be given a state funeral! Nothing of that happened and i learnt that his grave had been desecrtated! I came to learn the reasons later on. This is how we reward our great pakistanis. What a shame. I meet a lot of well qualified Pakistani scientists in europe and USA all with a burning desire to surve their country but scared for their safety.
    I congratulate you for righting for writing this article and making us aware of contradictions which exist in our miserable society.Being Pakistani is not enough!

  4. I agree with the scientific work he has carried out and should have been honoured, but so far as references from Quran are concerend, sorry AHMADIS or QAIDYANIS are non Muslims and have nothing to do with Islam and its teachings. Do not try to portray Qaidyanis as muslims just because he was a scientist.

    • well said . Religion and society are two different things. dont mix them to prove the wrong Right

    • Do you find it sacreligious that a non-Muslim studies the Quran and seeks
      inspiration from it ? I believe the Quran was revealed for the entire mankind . By the way , where should we go to seek true Islam—to Muslim societies like Pakistan steeped in universal corrution and moral turpitude .

      • Quran is for the whole humanity till the last hour there is no doubt about it. Reading Quran and taking inspiration and guidance from it is one thing and using Quran and islam to deceive others is another aspect. Qaidyanis are non muslims, they can read and take guidance from the Quran and come back to the mainstream faithfuls of muslims but do not try to present them as msulims simply because they give references from Quran. Simple, Scientific achievments of DR. Salam are great and should be recognised but please do not try to present him as Muslim.

        • Alhamdolillah..he was a Muslim-as per the strict definition of Rasoolallah(sw) and the quran . Any spiteful bigot braying to the contrary is doing so out of ignorance and blind hatred . And yes he and Ahmadi Muslims in general don't need a certificate from the godforsaken mullah or any corrupt government to declare them as Muslims. They already have the full certification of Rasoolallah(SW) and Allah with them. And that is all that we need.

  5. Excellent post Qudssia Sahiba commemorating the life of Dr.Salam and his services to Pakistan.LUMS should also be commended.
    I am glad that Jamshed has also commented so we can see the true nature of blind,ignorant,intolerant hate.It is people like Jamshed with his narrow intolerant views that have been our biggest hurdle to success!

  6. Very good written. There is small light in the end of tunnal.With the light of knowledge we could change our country.The Holy Quran and the Holy Prophets saws is for whole mankind and was marcy.We need now love and rahmat.Enaugh is enaugh.Withe hearted we gained nothing . Lets try with "Rahmat"

  7. Jamshed, how dare you. Who the yell gave you the right to determine who is a believer and who is not. Only Allah has that right, if you think you or Zia ul haq or some hate mongering mullah has this right as well, if you think you can give yourself that kind of right then my friend you need to figure out if you are really Muslim. Only Allah is the ultimate judge, not me and not you. So pipe down and let these people believe what they think is right and stop disturbing the peace. Spread love, not ignorance.

  8. Samia, if Allaah states categorically in the Qur'an who is a believer/Muslim or not than how did you come with this argument leave it to Allaah for final judgment regarding this issue. From the last days of the life of Muhammed (SAW) there was this a group known as the Khawarij. They existed in that time even they exist today, and Muhammed (SAW) told his Companions (RA) to ''leave them…''

    The matter is not what Zia did or Z A Bhutto did to this group or that group. The crux of the matter over here is common citizenry taking the matter of life and death in their own hands.

    Killing, unjustly, someone just because one doesn’t agree with them or don’t like their caste, race, creed or tribe is in essence starting fasaad which in return afflicts everyone living in the proximity.

    The difference here is clearly between correct knowledge and ignorance, i.e., understanding of the Quran by the way taught by the Muhammed (SAW) and someone else.

  9. Qudsia, how can I be a practicle part of this fund raising campaign ! Practicle means I contribute (whatever willingly and happily i can each month or yearly) and also bring in people who understand this noble cause and are ready to contribute…. even a rupee matters "katray katray say darya banta hai"

  10. Great article for a great man. We r proud of him.
    Barhi mushkil se hote hain chaman main deedawar paida..

  11. Excellent. Great initiative by LUMS. I'm an Ahmadiyya follower and I am a passionate Pakistani. I personally know hundreds of Shias, Ahmadis and Christians (all Pakistanis) who were forced to migrate like Dr Abdus Salam and who want to return to their homeland to serve it but the mullah is just too powerful.

  12. after his study study he want serve pakistan but the mullahs {sadly} didnt alow him to work in pak , very very sorry , when he got the noble prize , people asked him how did the idea or concept came to his mind he told that he got the idea from holy quran so he was also a religious person , really miss him

  13. Excellant..and thanks to u!! We need people like u to highlight the lost talent of Pakistan..whom Pakistani's have forgotten or don't want to hear about them to whom people around the world have recognized!!

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