The unsung Prof Salam by Farhatullah Babar
The News, November 22, 2008
Twelve years ago Pakistan’s only and the Muslim world’s first Nobel laureate Professor Abdus Salam passed into eternity on November 21, 1996. Salam was chased and hounded both in life and in death. Even when dead and buried the pious ones could not tolerate the tombstone inscription that read, "Abdus Salam the First Muslim Nobel Laureate". A brigade of the pious performed the holy task of rubbing off 'Muslim’ from the tombstone as a magistrate dutifully looked on.
When alive he was shunned and his achievements ridiculed. His admirers had organized a function in Islamabad to honour him on his seventieth birthday as he lay on his deathbed in London. The pious ones protested. "Any function held to honour Salam would amount to defaming Pakistan", the Aalmi Majlis-i -Tahaffuz-i-Khatm-i-Nabbuwat warned. They also demanded that a case be instituted against Salam for 'ridiculing Pakistan’.
When the press clippings were put up to the then prime minister, Shaheed Mohtarma Bhutto, she simply wrote on it 'rubbish’ and asked that the function be held. Not only that, she also wrote a personal letter to Salam on his 70th birthday recalling his services to science and Pakistan and the honour he had brought to the country, which 'will never be forgotten’ and asked the then high commissioner in London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, to personally deliver the letter with a flower bouquet from her.
The custodians of morality also greeted with contempt the Nobel Prize that was awarded to him in 1979. In the Eid sermon that year the imam of the Lal Masjid in the federal capital, said that Salam had been honoured by the Jews and the enemies of Islam because he was a non-Muslim.
After the Nobel Award the Physics department of the Quaid-i-Azam University wanted to invite him but was not allowed by the administration fearing extremists’ reaction. He gave the lecture at the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH) far away from the reach of detractors. The special convocation for awarding him doctorate degree was also not held in the university campus, but in the old parliament building in Islamabad. Islamic expressions in his address were deleted from the reports by the official media as that was the norm under Zia’s bigoted dispensation.
After a long period during which extremists played bluff and bluster a commemorative stamp has finally been issued and a department in his alma mater, the Government College Lahore, now a university, is also named after him.’
Professor Salam took all criticism of the fanatics in normal stride. "If you consider me to be a non-Muslim, it is your problem", he once said. "But permit me to lay a brick in the mosque you want to build." But they did not want him to lay even a brick.
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