Dr Abdus Salam, forgotten but not forgiven by Pakistan

A selfless man, Doctor Salam dedicated all of his Nobel Prize money towards the betterment of underdeveloped countries

Asad Mustafa Kahlon November 22, 2016
The hush silence that marked Doctor Abdus Salam’s death anniversary this year was palpable. It is fairly difficult for most of my compatriots to honour the services of a Pakistani if he happens to be an Ahmadi.

However, there is a lot more to Salam than merely winning a Nobel Prize or being ostracised as a pariah for his religious affiliation. A befitting gesture on my part would be to clear some of the hazy aura and the lesser known Sisyphean struggle that makes him unique and inspirational.

Missed out on a Nobel Prize, but never gave up

Where the world is still in awe for Salam winning a Nobel Prize in Physics, the lesser known fact is that he would have won the coveted accolade twice in his lifetime, had it not been for the short-sightedness of the quantum Physicist, Wolfgang Pauli.

During the 1950’s, Salam presented his findings on ‘neutrinos’ to Wolfgang Pauli, who quizzically rejected the research as futile. Whereas two scientists, T D Lee and C N Yang won the Nobel prize over the exact research a few years later.

But that snub didn’t deter Salam. He bounced back even stronger to win the laurel in 1979 along with Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow of the United States, for the unification theory.

Wrangler at college

Not only did Salam win a scholarship to study at Cambridge for an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Physics, he finished his Tripos in two years with a distinction, hailed as an unprecedented feat by the institution. Due to that prodigious achievement, he was titled ‘the wrangler’ on campus.

Dreamer of symmetry

Salam yearned for symmetry and, as a student of science; the equilibrium in nature is what inspired him most. The International Centre for theoretical physics, Trieste celebrated this unwavering belief of his in a documentary titled The Dream of Symmetry. It was not only in academic research he followed that mantra, in fact he considered it a priority while selecting institutes for higher studies.

Upon graduating from Cambridge with high honours, he was privileged to get offers from both Cambridge and Oxford University simultaneously to complete his Master’s program on a full scholarship. But Salam opted to stick with Cambridge, primarily on the basis of the symmetry of trees on campus.

Connection with football

After completing his higher studies from abroad, Salam came back to imbue a culture of research and development in Pakistan. He joined Government College Lahore as the head of department, but his hopes were shattered upon discovering the research adverse culture. Reduced to a mere administrator, he preferred presiding over a football club over warden ship or post of a treasurer, during his brief stint at the institute before he flew back to Britain to pursue his dream.

Snubbed by premiers

Needless to say, most political leaders gave Salam a cold shoulder; unfortunately, his faith proved to be excess baggage in post 1974 Pakistan. Ziaul Haq for one, not only failed to honour him upon winning the Nobel Prize but also refused to endorse him as the candidate from Pakistan for the UNESCO leadership program.

Unmatched patriotism

As Abdus Salam won the Nobel Prize, the government of India unlike the state of Pakistan wasted no time to invite him. On his visit to India, he was given the state welcome. Five Indian universities offered him honorary PHD degrees, even the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, seized the opportunity and gave him an offer of citizenship that the stalwart plainly refused.

It is interesting to note that despite living most of his life outside Pakistan, he rejected all offers of nationalities from various countries and died as a patriotic Pakistani in his homeland.

Strong faith in God

His fellows who had worked with him in Trieste, Italy, acknowledge the fact that his research on the Unification of Fundamental forces was inspired due to his sheer belief in the concept of wahdat or the ‘one-ness’ of God. This belief of Deism was quite unique for his foreign colleagues who predominantly espoused Atheist ideology.

Hallmark of altruism

A selfless man himself, Salam dedicated all of his Nobel Prize money towards the betterment of underdeveloped countries. One scientist below the age of 35 has been selected every year from Pakistan since 1981 as the Abdus Salam scholar to carry out research at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trestie. Interestingly, Pervez Hoodbhoy is the first scholar to win the Salam award.

Being a pioneer of the Higgs boson (God’s particle) research is just a small facet to the story of this man. Rather than shoving his name under the rug, hopefully one day the state of Pakistan will recognise his true struggle and honour him in letter and spirit.
Asad Mustafa Kahlon A social entrepreneur and minority rights advocate, who likes to write. He blogs at http://asadmustafa15.wordpress.com and tweets as @asadkahlon
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Rajesh Kumar | 7 years ago | Reply Ahmadiyya in Pakistan Approximately 2–5 million Ahmadis live in Pakistan, which has the largest population of Ahmadis in the world. It is the only state to have officially declared the Ahmadis to be non-Muslims as they do not consider Muhammad to be the final prophet;and their freedom of religion has been curtailed by a series of ordinances, acts and constitutional amendments. In 1974, Pakistan's parliament adopted a law declaring Ahmadis to be non-Muslims;the country's constitution was amended to define a Muslim "as a person who believes in the finality of the Prophet Muhammad". In 1984, General Zia-ul-Haq, the then military ruler of Pakistan, issued Ordinance XX. The ordinance, which was supposed to prevent "anti-Islamic activities", forbids Ahmadis to call themselves Muslim or to "pose as Muslims". This means that they are not allowed to profess the Islamic creed publicly or call their places of worship mosques. Although a derogatory religious slur, the term Qadiani is widely used in Pakistan to refer to Ahmadis and is the term used by the government in its constitution. Ahmadis in Pakistan are also barred by law from worshipping in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer rooms, performing the Muslim call to prayer, using the traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quoting from the Quran, preaching in public, seeking converts, or producing, publishing, and disseminating their religious materials. These acts are punishable by imprisonment of up to three years. In applying for a passport or a national ID card, all Pakistanis are required to sign an oath declaring Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to be an impostor prophet and all Ahmadis to be non-Muslims. The word "Muslim" was erased from the gravestone of the Nobel prize winning theoretical physicist Abdus Salam, because he was an Ahmadi. As a result of the cultural implications of the laws and constitutional amendments regarding Ahmadis in Pakistan, persecution and hate-related incidents are constantly reported from different parts of the country. Ahmadis have been the target of many attacks led by various religious groups All religious seminaries and madrasas in Pakistan belonging to different sects of Islam have prescribed essential reading materials specifically targeted at refuting Ahmadiyya beliefs. In a 2005 survey in Pakistan, pupils in private schools of Pakistan expressed their opinions on religious tolerance in the country. The figures assembled in the study reflect that even in the educated classes of Pakistan, Ahmadis are considered to be the least deserving minority in terms of equal opportunities and civil rights. In the same study, the teachers in these elite schools showed an even lower amount of tolerance towards Ahmadis than their pupils. Ahmadis are harassed by certain schools, universities and teachers in Pakistan's Punjab province. The harassment includes social boycott, expulsions, threats and violence against Ahmadi students by extremist students, teachers and principals of the majority sect. 28 May 2010 saw the worst single incident of violence against Ahmadis to date (see May 2010 attacks on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore), when several members of an extremist religious group (allegedly Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab) entered two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore and opened fire; three of them later detonated themselves. In total, the attacks claimed the lives of 86 people and injured well over 100. The members were gathered in the mosques attending Friday services. In response to the attacks, Pakistan minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti visited the Ahmadi community.
Rajesh Kumar | 7 years ago | Reply The word "Muslim" was erased from the gravestone of the Nobel prize winning theoretical physicist Abdus Salam, because he was an Ahmadi.
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ