By Asif Merchant
Dr. Abdus Salam died in Oxford, England on 21 November 1996. He was buried in Bahisht Maqbara in the town of Rabwar. The epitaph on his grave read - ‘FIRST MUSLIM NOBEL LAUREATE’. Two years later, the Government of Pakistan issued a commemorative stamp for him. Even then, on the orders of a local magistrate, the word ‘ MUSLIM ’ was removed from his grave. Now the epitah reads - ‘FIRST NOBEL LAUREATE’. Such is the wisdom of those in authority. 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 Muhammed Ali Jinnah.
For Dr. Abdus Salam, his work as a scientist was entirely in obedience to the message of the Quran, and the injunctions of the Holy Prophet. He would say, “The Holy Quran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah’s created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of his design is a bounty and a grace for which I am my thanks with a humble heart”. He was referring, of course to the recent advances in the Theory of Relativity, and Quantum Theory, which give us a fresh insight into creation.
During his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, he quoted from the Quran; “Thou seest not in the creation of the All-Merciful any imperfection. Return thy gaze, seest thou any fissure? Then return thy gaze again and again. Thy gaze comes back to you dazzled, aweary.”
Then he said, “This in effect is the faith of all physicists; the deeper we seek, the more is our wonder excited, the more is the dazzlement for our gaze”.
For him, spreading the message of the Holy Quran implied spreading the scientific spirit. Whatever money he received from the numerous awards he received, was spent on encouraging young scientists in the furtherance of their careers. So, he was responsible for sending about five hundred physicists from Pakistan to the best institutions in the U.K. and the U.S.A. for their Ph.D. He also set up five Superior Science Colleges in Pakistan.
In 1974 the Parliament of Pakistan declared Ahmediyyas to be non-Muslim. Dr. Abdus Salam left Pakistan in protest, and went to London. Ten years earlier, he had founded The International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. (I C T P ). Now he spent most of his time in research there. He instituted a unique scheme called Associateships, which allowed deserving young Physicists to spend their vacations in the invigorating atmosphere at the ICTP in close touch with their peers in research and with the leaders in their own fields, returning to their own countries after three months refreshed and recharged. Money from his awards was used in setting up a fund for young Pakistani Physicists to visit the ICPT and take advantage of this scheme
He believed that scientific thought was the common heritage of all mankind, but his repeated pleas to Islamic countries to contribute just 1% of their export earnings towards a research fund went unheeded.
In a speech at UNESCO House, he declared, “As a scientist, the Quran speaks to me in that it emphasizes reflection on the Laws of Nature with examples drawn from cosmology, physics, biology, medicine as signs for all men. Seven hundred and fifty verses of the Quran, exhort believers to study Nature, to reflect, to make the best use of reason in their search for the ultimate and to make acquiring of knowledge and scientific comprehension, part of the community’s life. The Holy Prophet of Islam emphasized that the quest for knowledge and science is obligatory upon every Muslim man and woman. He enjoined his followers to seek knowledge even if they had to travel to China in its search.”
His own life exemplified the transformation education can make in a life. Dr. Salam was born in a poor, but educated family in a small place called Jhang. His first glimpse of an electric bulb was when he went to college in Lahore. Though his brilliant intellect was obvious to all who knew him, it would not have been possible for the young Salam to go to Cambridge except for the scholarship given by Sir Chhotu Ram, the then Revenue Minister of Punjab.
Dr. Salam devoted his life to promote peace and bridge the gap between developed and underdeveloped countries. His aim was to establish a scientific platform in Pakistan, but his proposal to General Ayub for setting up an international level research institute in Pakistan was shot down by the then revenue minister who exclaimed caustically that this was just an attempt at making a five-star residence for Salam and his friends.
The problems of poverty and illiteracy were always on his mind. He said that poverty could be eradicated in one generation if the entire country made a firm commitment. In fact he wanted every mosque to display this verse prominently: “God does not change the condition of a nation which does not make an effort to change itself.
Dr. Salam got his Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979. It was a most embarrassing moment for General Zia who had supplemented the Second Amendment to the Constitution with further disabilities against the Ahmediyyas. He had to welcome the great scientist and had to be seen on TV with him. Since the religious leaders in his government were already very much annoyed, he took care to clip those sections of Dr. Salam’s speech where he had said the kalima or otherwise used an Islamic expression.
After winning the Nobel Prize, Dr. Salam was not even invited to his own college. By contrast, when he went to Aligarh Muslim University to receive an honorary doctorate, the whole city turned up and students pushed his car for a mile to the campus. The scene at Guru Nanak University was no less exhilarating. Nevertheless, Dr. Salam remained a loyal and proud citizen of Pakistan, refusing offers of citizenship from Jordan, Kuwait, Britain. Citizenship of Britain was offered along with a knighthood. Salam politely refused both.
On the tenth death anniversary, The Daily Times in an editorial said, “He was the first Pakistani to get the Nobel Prize; he might well 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 rather than to scientific enquiry . . . the Pakistan 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 Chanab Nagar by a state proclamation.
In Jhang, where Dr. Salam grew up, the schools that he endowed with scholarships and grants, now teach communal hatred rather than the love that he had in his heart when he gave them his money.
In all fairness to the authorities at Lahore University, Dr. Salam’s name has not been completely eradicated, indicating perhaps a love-hate relationship. The Abdus Salam Chair in Physics still exists, as does the Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences. The main hall of the University is now named Dr. Abdus Salam Hall.
Nevertheless, Pakistan needs to feel guilty about what it has done to the greatest scientist it has produced, in comparision to the lionization of Dr. A.Q.Khan who has brought ignominy and the label of rogue state to Pakistan by selling the country’s nuclear technology for personal gains.
When Salam came to deliver the Faiz Memorial Lecture in Lahore, many wondered what these two had in common. “We are both persona non grata in our own country. He showed a couplet in his diary, written by Faiz himself, when the two had met at a foreign airport:
“ Nisar mein teri galiyon pe ai watan
Ke jahan chali hai rasm ke koi na sar utha ke chaley”
Biography of Dr. Abdus Salam
Wikipedia - Dr. Abdus Salam
Net – Institutions named after Dr. Abdus Salam