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A posthumous honour

The chief reporter of a leading daily, Ansar Abbasi, reacted to the PM’s decision by asking why Salam was being honoured in Rabi-ul-Awwal, the month the Prophet PBUH was born.

Written by Khaled Ahmed |
December 17, 2016 12:00:04 am
Abdus Salam, Pakistan, muslim, Nobel laureate Physics, Quaid-e-Azam University, Nobel laureate Abdus Salam, pakistan Nobel laureate, indian express opinions, indian express columns, indian express Salam was an Ahmadi, the community Pakistani Muslims hate at a level they can’t fathom. Illustration: C R Sasikumar

In a surprising-for-a-rightwing-leader change of heart, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has renamed the National Centre for Physics at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University after Abdus Salam, who, in 1979, became the Muslim world’s first Nobel laureate in Physics. The Ahmadi community of Salam had been apostatised in 1974 in the second constitutional amendment by a “liberal” prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, himself hanged in 1979 — the year Salam got his Nobel Prize — by General Zia, a truer Muslim than Bhutto.

The chief reporter of a leading daily, Ansar Abbasi, reacted to the PM’s decision by asking why Salam was being honoured in Rabi-ul-Awwal, the month the Prophet PBUH was born. The intent was to highlight that the faith of the community to which Salam belonged had insulted the prophet PBUH by claiming a prophet after him. Muslims don’t like the pagan Nobel statue coming into the hands of their fellow-Muslims. Nobody celebrated Salam, the Nobel laureate, in Pakistan; then an Egyptian stabbed Naguib Mahfouz, the novelist-Nobel laureate, in Cairo in 1994; the youngest Nobel laureate ever, Malala Yusufzai, can’t return to Pakistan because no one likes her here. She was shot through the head in 2012; this time it could be between the eyes.

Salam was an Ahmadi, the community Pakistani Muslims hate at a level they can’t fathom. The state hasn’t been able to resist this primal deathwish, unlike India, where the untouchable is constitutionally an equal citizen. In the UK, where Pakistani Muslims first began to morph into bestiality, an Ahmadi has been killed only recently to put the world on notice about where Islam is going.

Born in 1926, in a village named Santokh in district Montgomery (Sahiwal), Salam was a prodigy, taking after his uncle who had already made a mark in the village becoming an inspector of schools and ultimately Salam’s father-in-law. Salam went to school in Jhang district and was named the healthiest child at the age of three. He was sharp in learning but slow in speech and had to visit a hakim. At eight, he could write and speak Punjabi, Urdu and English; by that time, in fact, his speech was unbelievably elegant. A good debater, he wrote well too.

In class VIII at the age of 13, he wrote an essay on the day’s popular revivalist poet Muhammad Iqbal and was praised by the school. After his matriculation exam in 1940 from Jhang, at the age of 14, the local newspaper announced his standing first after scoring 765 marks out of 800, a Punjab University record to this day. In Jhang College, reading science, he wrote about the classic poet Ghalib in the college magazine which was republished by a literary magazine from Lahore. He migrated to Government College Lahore as a scholarship-holder and took math A and B course together with English Honours and a BA in Persian. He also edited the quarterly journal, The Ravi, mostly writing humorous essays.

At the age of 17, he wrote his first research paper titled ‘A Problem of Ramanujan’, published in the college journal Mathematics Student. His classmate Ram Prakash Bambah, later Dr Bambah, recalled that in 1942 when the unsolved problem of the legendary Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan regarding four simultaneous equations in the four variables was posed, Salam solved it in three days, suggesting that “the four variables were the roots of a quadratic whose coefficients could be found by solving a cubic”. He was only 16 then.

In his BA exam, Salam scored 451 out of 500 marks and stood first in the university. In 1946, after passing his MA in first class, he proceeded to Cambridge where he predictably earned a double first in the mathematics and physics tripos examinations. In 1949, he went to the Cavendish Laboratory to write his dissertation for a PhD on the subject of quantum field theory of the electromagnetic force that was to be recognised as a major contribution in the field.

In 1951, Salam went to Princeton as a visiting scholar and met Einstein and Oppenheimer there, before returning to his alma mater, Government College Lahore, to head the department of mathematics, doubling as chairman of the mathematics department at Punjab University as well. He was nostalgic about his Cambridge colleagues and bemoaned the fact that in a country of 90 million, including East Pakistan, there was only one physicist he could talk to. In 1955, Cambridge chose him as professor of theoretical physics at the Imperial College of Science, at the age of 30, the only South Asian to attain that status after Dr Radhakrishnan, earlier at Oxford.

He was ousted from teaching at Government College Lahore after the principal, Siraj, refused him a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to visit Calcutta to attend a meeting of Nobel laureate scientists. He defied the ban and went anyway and was served with a chargesheet.

After getting the 1979 Nobel Prize for Physics, Salam explained his achievement while speaking at the University of Islamabad: “The theory for which I have been honoured concerns the fundamental forces of nature. We were searching for a unity, in the tradition of Newton, Maxwell and Einstein, and the uniform theory was formulated in its final form in 1967, at Imperial College London, and the International Centre for Theoretical Physics at Trieste, Italy, with which I have the privilege of being associated, and also independently at Harvard.”

Gordon Fraser records in his book Cosmic Anger: Abdus Salam — The First Muslim Nobel Scientist (2012) writes about the 1953 ant-Ahmadi riots of Lahore: “Salam as Ahmadi head of a university department certainly stood out during these troubles. There were rumours that he had been a victim of mob violence, and to prevent the rumours from becoming facts, Qazi Muhammad Aslam a fellow-Ahmadi, smuggled Salam and his family from their spacious university bungalow into a safe house away from the mobs. Salam said later: ‘I saw scenes that would never forget — corpses, houses burned down, all because of my Muslim compatriots.’”

Salam died in 1996 and was buried in an Ahmadi graveyard in Rabwah with a headstone saying, “First Muslim Nobel Laureate”. The police from his hometown, Jhang, came and rubbed off “Muslim” from it, thus leaving intact the absurd announcement, “First Nobel Laureate”.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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