Why Pakistan abandoned its Nobel laureate

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The two-room bungalow, the birth place of Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, today stands empty, testament to the indifference, bigotry and prejudice surrounding the country’s greatest scientist.
Professor Abdus Salam, the child prodigy born to a humble family on the sun-blasted plains of Punjab who won accolades all over the world for his ground-breaking research in theoretical physics, is all but forgotten.
He was the trailblazer who helped pave the way to the recently hailed discovery of the “God particle” — one of the greatest achievements in science for the last 100 years — but as the world went into overdrive, Pakistan stayed largely silent.
Not even boasting from India, whose late physicist Satyendra Nath Bose also contributed to the discovery, snapped Pakistan out of lethargy.

Photo by AFP

And the reason? Because in the eyes of the law, Salam was a heretic.
“Our people are not educated. They just know this is the house of Dr Salam, who was a scientist, and they, including me, are unaware of his contributions. They also know he was Ahmadi,” said local resident Kamran Kishwar, 23.
One of the most religiously polarised towns in Pakistan, Jhang, 188 miles (300 kilometres) southwest of Islamabad, is home to thousands of Ahmadis and tensions run high between the community and mainstream Muslims.
Ahmadis were declared non-Muslims in 1974.
In 1984, they were banned from calling themselves Muslim. They are banned from preaching and even from travelling to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage. Their publications are prohibited.

Photo by AFP

Dashed Dreams
Salam’s portrait hangs in his old school and he paid for a block to be built in his father’s name in the 1970s, but locals are still fighting to have any connotations with him wiped from the premises.
“Elements are still trying to remove Dr Salam’s name from the school,” said Rana Nadeem, an Ahmadi who lives near Salam’s house.
It wasn’t like that when Salam was born in 1926, under British rule. The entire town turned out to welcome him after he scored the highest marks ever to get into the University of the Punjab.
After a PhD at Cambridge, he returned home to teach and determined to set up a centre to encourage world-class science from the developing world.
But his dreams were dashed. Associates say ignorant bureaucrats rubbished his ideas and to pursue an international career he returned to Britain in 1954.
In 1957, he was made professor of theoretical physics at Imperial College, London and in 1964 set up the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste in an effort to advance scientific expertise in the developing world.
He continued to advise Pakistan on science and atomic energy, and was chief scientific adviser to the president from 1961-1974. But after the law changed in 1974, he found an increasingly hostile reception on visits home.
After winning the Nobel prize for physics in 1979 with American scientists Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Lee Glashow, he was banned from lecturing at public universities under pressure from right-wing students and religious conservatives.

‘Victim of narrow-mindedness
On the other hand, he was given a rapturous welcome in Bangladesh and India.
“Dr Salam is a great hero and possibly the most famous Pakistani in the world but he became victim of the narrow-mindedness of our society,” says Hassan Amir Shah, head of the physics department at Government College, Lahore.
Even in 1989, the world’s first Muslim woman prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who herself knew prejudice, refused to meet him, recalls nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy.
“That day I was with Salam in his hotel in Islamabad and he had come all the way from Trieste. Salam was very disappointed when her personal assistant rang up to say the prime minister did not have the time,” he told AFP.
Although Salam’s achievements far outstrip those of A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and a Muslim, it is he who is revered as a national hero, despite Khan’s alleged role in nuclear proliferation.
“Ninety-eight percent of people in this country are Muslim but still they are insecure and intolerant to the two-percent minority,” said Shah.
It took until 2000 for Government College to establish a physics chair in his name. The university has also named one of its halls after Salam.
Salam’s colleagues also wanted to get the National Centre for Physics in Islamabad named the Abdus Salam Centre for Physics, whose first director had been a PhD student of the Nobel laureate, but Hoodbhoy said the authorities refused.
The Ahmadiyya community certainly feels he was betrayed.
“Even after he was buried, local administration asked the Ahmadi community to remove the word ‘Muslim’ from the inscription on the grave which said ‘the first Muslim Nobel laureate,” said Shah.
The word has been painted over, leaving just: “the first Nobel laureate”.


Photo by AFP

36 COMMENTS

  1. lets see it that way if i am doing something wrong and it has nothing to do with your belief then it’s fine but if all ‘m doing is going against your ideology then you would definitely be disturbed, wouldn’t you?

  2. ‘my’ ideology has nothing to do with yours and yours has nothing to do with mine. Belief/faith is an individual thing, even if you make it societal.. if you disagree, think about it, you talk about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), do you think he would have done the same? please stop being ignorant and hypocritical .. we have a lot more problems than fighting and segregating over religion! humanity comes over any religion!

  3. “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

    ― Muhammad Ali Jinnah

  4. A sad but true stroy. we call ourselves muslims but such treatment absolutely negates the teachings of Islam which so strogly protect sand safeduards the rights of minorities . Unfortunately the minorities in Pakistan are being treated worse thamn any country . Thats why most of the people of minorties are leaving this country althougg they are as loyal to Pakistan as anybody else is.

  5. ^ if i tell you today that the religion you follow is wrong, this country is not for you, and you cannot do things you would do for your belief/faith.. what would you do?

  6. Dr. Salam was the best son of Pakistan ever produced. No one can take this distinction from him.

  7. lets see it that way if i am doing something wrong and it has nothing to do with your belief then it's fine but if all 'm doing is going against your ideology then you would definitely be disturbed, wouldn't you?

    • :-)….because we have closed minds…and we have sentries standing on our free thinking…that is mullahs and religious hypocrates..and our heroes are Dr Amir Liaqat Hussain…??

  8. 'my' ideology has nothing to do with yours and yours has nothing to do with mine. Belief/faith is an individual thing, even if you make it societal.. if you disagree, think about it, you talk about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), do you think he would have done the same? please stop being ignorant and hypocritical .. we have a lot more problems than fighting and segregating over religion! humanity comes over any religion!

  9. well very true story well as i believe we pakistanis are confused nation and this whole story is result of this confusion some are rigid some are not, state is not clear what to do. we need to share thoughts and get together to form one nation irrespective of caste, religion and ethnicity.

  10. Professor Salam is an outstanding scientist of international repute. He does not need Pakistan to honor his contribution to Science, It is rather Pakistan that needs Salam as a role model for this nation which is academically dead and has lost the faculty of rational thinking.

  11. I think its all down to igonrance of Pakistanis at large! Even though he was Ahmadi, He was a Pakistani! Each and every Pakistani should be same regardless of what the believe in. He is the one great physicist Pakistan has ever produced. All the educated people in the country do respect him.

    Very core Islamic value to treat everyone with humanity is not seen in Pakistani communities. We also more hate preachers than leaders who can create harmony between people of different sects or faith!

    Let them believe what they believe in – you have already declared them non-Muslims! So be good Muslims, treat all others with respect!
    All are Pakistani for Allah's Sake!

  12. The article says it all. I am both ashamed to be a pakistani and a moslem in this context. We are the masters of definations. I saw him in Stockholm accepting the Nobel prize. I felt proud and humble that he had made my country famous. Tears of joy ran down my cheeks until a bigot standing next to me pointed out that he was not a moslem! My answer in anger was- Does it matter? Do we have to be in a reactive mode all the time? Let all the talent blossom. All this happened because of ZAB. Zia completed the task!

  13. “You are free; you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

    ― Muhammad Ali Jinnah

  14. lets see it that way if i am doing something wrong and it has nothing to do with your belief then it's fine but if all 'm doing is going against your ideology then you would definitely be disturbed, wouldn't you?

  15. 'my' ideology has nothing to do with yours and yours has nothing to do with mine. Belief/faith is an individual thing, even if you make it societal.. if you disagree, think about it, you talk about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), do you think he would have done the same? please stop being ignorant and hypocritical .. we have a lot more problems than fighting and segregating over religion! humanity comes over any religion!

  16. Its such a shame what we as a nation did to Dr. salam. We need to learn how to be a tolarent society. We should leave it to Allah to judge who is a muslim and who isn’t.

    • Well said but actions speak louder than words. I am surprised to see all of the prominent politicians or the so called leaders are conspicious by their silence. We are ready to harvest the fruits of his labour without having to laud him. We are dysfunctional at all levels other than distorted vision of religion. Saleem Taseer,s assasination is a living example of legal profession gone mad. Who throws rose petals at a murderer and a judge flies the country after passing the sentence?
      I salute your comments.

  17. He was a true Muslim and a true Pakistani. Government has no right to declare someone as non-Muslim if one says about himself as Muslim.

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