Salam, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan – A Disgrace (by Faheem Hussain)

A recollection of Abdus Salam and His mistreatment in the Muslim world by Faheem Hussain. It is such a tragedy that we did not recognize a real hero while he was still alive. Now, as we rcome close to remembering his 10th anniversary, may be there can be some hope that the next generation of Pakistanis will learn to have a passion for science, knowledge and general curiosity like this man from Jhang, Pakistan.

Photo of Dr. Abdus SalamThere were two bits of news during the last month which got me thinking of the nature of the Saudi Arabian and Pakistani states. The first was that the website of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy, announced that its Director, Prof. K. R. Sreenivasan, recently visited Saudi Arabia. Why should this news be of interest to readers of this newspaper in Pakistan?

Sreenivasan is the third Director of the ICTP after Prof. Abdus Salam, the Pakistani Nobel Laureate, the first and founding director of this world famous physics research institute. It’s good news that Sreenivasan went to Saudi Arabia to promote cooperation between the ICTP and the scientific community of that country. But what readers will perhaps not know is the shabby treatment that Saudi Arabia gave to Prof. Salam.

Saudi Arabia always refused entry to the premier scientist of the Islamic world because he belonged to what they (the Saudis) considered a heretic sect of Islam. I knew Salam very well and all of us who met him recall how this refusal really hurt him. Throughout his life he wanted to visit Saudi Arabia and to perform Hajj and Umrah. This wish was denied to him. Let alone perform Umrah he was not even allowed to set foot on Saudi soil. Of course a non-Muslim like Sreenivasan is ok with the Saudis. Contrast the treatment of Salam with the way Jewish, Christian and scholars of other religions were treated in the heyday of Islamic culture way back then a thousand light years ago.

As an aside let me also recall that many of our so-called Muslim physicists from Pakistan and other Islamic countries, who do not consider Qadanis as Muslims, would say their Eid prayers with Salam as Imam in Trieste (I won’t name names!). This because he was the Director of the Centre and would invite all Muslims for Eid prayers in his room and the visitors from Islamic countries did not dare refuse because Salam was the boss and controlled the purse strings. They were afraid of offending him and thus losing the privilege of visiting the ICTP. As always Mammon is stronger than God.

The Saudi fear of Salam went all the way to actively discouraging Saudi Universities from establishing cooperative links with the ICTP. I know of a specific case of the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran trying to establish a cooperation programme with the ICTP during Salam’s lifetime. The faculty and the head of the university had agreed to this programme, which would have enabled their physicists to improve their research activities. The ICTP, under Salam, had no objection to this. But when this proposal went to the higher authorities it was quashed and no links were established. It was if just establishing links with Salam’s Centre would somehow have contaminated Saudi Arabian scientists. Perhaps the contamination the authorities feared was that their scientists may have become good scientists by which I mean that they could have developed critical thinking, which was a hall mark of Salam as of most good scientists.

But Saudi Arabia was not the only Islamic country to treat Salam in this shabby way. The worst offender was his own country,
Pakistan. The second relevant news this last month was the visit of three Nobel Prize winners to Pakistan. These three distinguished scientists were given royal treatment. They were flown in on government expense and stayed at the luxury Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. While here they gave public lectures and met young students to inspire them to do science. This is all very laudable. I am sure that hearing and talking to these distinguished scientists must have been quite inspiring to the young minds, although what these scientists themselves thought of the low level of questions (mostly about religion and science, some of these questions coming from some of our so-called renowned scientists) put to them at one of these meetings is better left unsaid. But my point here is to contrast their visit with the treatment meted out to Salam whenever he visited Pakistan.

Of course he would be treated well, would meet the President and Prime Minister, would meet some scientists and so on. But he was never allowed to address a public meeting and he was never allowed to interact with young students. Meeting him would have inspired young Pakistanis more than meeting European or US scientists. This was denied to them. I remember, that after Salam got his Nobel Prize in 1979, my university, at that time, QAU, decided to give him an Honorary Degree. The degree awarding ceremony should have been held on the QAU campus but, coincidently or not so coincidently, the Jamiat students started an anti-Qadiani campaign on the campus and gheraoed the head of the Economics Department at that time. This led to a flare-up between the Jamiat and leftist students involving a shooting and police being called to the campus. The end result was that Salam could not be invited to the campus and he was given his Honorary Degree at a ceremony in the National Assembly! In contrast Annemarie Schimmel received her honorary degree on the campus. The fact is that although the Department of Physics at QAU was set up by a large number of his students he, himself, could never visit the campus for fear of student unrest. Ironically, Prof. Gerard ‘t Hooft (one of the Nobel Prize winners referred to above) was able to visit the QAU campus as he was one of the invited speakers at the 12th Regional Conference on Mathematical Physics which was held on the campus. Ironic because ‘t Hooft proved a fundamental theorem (for which he received the Nobel Prize), which established the correctness of Salam’s unification theory.

The instances of the shabby treatment meted out to Salam by the Pakistani state are many. An outstanding example was the story of the successor of Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow as the Director General of UNESCO in the mid 80s. Salam keenly wanted this position as he believed that he could have used it to further the cause of science and culture in the developing countries. Many of us thought at that time that he would have made an excellent Director General of UNESCO. Not only did Pakistan not present him as its candidate (in fact he was proposed by Jordan) but it proposed its own candidate (Sahibzada Yakub Khan of all people!) for the position. This effectively killed Salam’s chances of becoming the Director General because the argument given by other countries was that if even your own country does not support you how can we vote for you. As a result Federico Mayor of Spain was selected as the Director General.

This year, 2006, is a particularly significant year for Salam. He was born on 29th January 1926 and died on 21 November 1996. There were no articles in Pakistani newspapers, let alone other celebrations, to mark the 80th birth anniversary of
Pakistan’s greatest scientist. In fact all major English language newspapers refused to publish an article written by Prof. Riazuddin, the Director of the National Centre for Physics (and one of Salam’s first students), commemorating his birth anniversary. This article was sent to major English dailies before 29 January but the response was totally negative. Also there are no plans afoot to mark the 10th anniversary of Salam’s death which falls on the 26th of November of this year.

Whether in life or in death Salam was not honoured in his home country. Many of us recall the leading role played by him in setting up and strengthening the PAEC along with I.H. Usmani and Munir Ahmed Khan. Nobody from the PAEC or from the government went to Salam’s funeral in Rabwah in 1996. It is worth recalling that it was Salam’s wish to be buried on Pakistani soil. I organised a memorial meeting for Salam in November 1997 at the ICTP in Trieste and no one from the PAEC attended this meeting or even expressed an interest in attending it.

It is not too late to make amends posthumously. Perhaps the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and other scientific institutions can organise a grand memorial meeting for Salam this November 21st. This would go some way to repaying our debts to his contributions to the development of science in Pakistan. But given the present atmosphere in the country I very much doubt if they will have the courage and honesty to do this.

Faheem Hussain
Foreign Faculty Professor
COMSATS Institute of Information Technology
National Centre for Physics, Islamabad



23 Responses to Salam, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan – A Disgrace (by Faheem Hussain)

  1. Amir Zaki says:

    Thank you for sharing this. It is such a wonderful reminder of th egreatness that Pakistanis are capable of reaching. I hope and pray that our nation realizes the worth of such individuals, and starts to pay respect to them in order for our youth to learn from them. Inshallah.

  2. ME says:

    that’s rreally great

  3. حامد says:

    Really nice article that demonstrate one of the main cause of problems in Muslim world: self-hatred. You can see it all around yourself if you live in an Islamic society. They do their best to find any reason to hate each others and sometimes this hatred gets really brutal: Iran-Iraq war, Iraq at present, The attitude of Islamic countries toward Lebanon and so many other examples. God bless us.

  4. Ghasem says:

    Thanks Prof. Faheem Hussain.

  5. Hi there brother.

    Congrats on writing such a great article.
    I reside in London, however please make the effort and send this article to the President’s office somehow. I’m sure he will look into this if bought to his attention.
    Also contact the private tv channels in pak. They will promote and help organise an event in Nov.
    good luck

  6. Muzaffar Ahmad says:

    Indeed a wonderfull reminder, at least today we find some people like Faheem Hussain who dare to speak truth, the need is to place this truth in front of people of Pakistan.
    I totaly agree with mubashir malik to promote dis artilcle in Pakistani Newzpaper and Tv channels, though it seems impossible but it can be done

  7. Yahya says:

    Mubashir you can try writing to the president here;

    Let us know if the miracle happens.



  8. […] But that trend of Muslims not winning Nobel prizes may be changing. Among Muslims, the name that stands out for me is of course that of Abdus-Salam (also see my post here). He was a Pakistani muslim, who won the Nobel prize in Physics in 1979. However, how sad that internal squabbles within Islam in Pakistan prevented him from ever really getting the recognition he deserved in the Muslim world. […]

  9. Yahya says:

    Came across this biography of Yuval Ne’eman;

    Apparently he was a student of Salam.

    “in 1958 he was nominated as the Military Attache in London. This nomination gave him the opportunity to renew his academic studies in physics at the London University. He has gained his Ph.D. under the supervision of Prof. Abdus Salam, one of the great physicists of the 20th Century.”

  10. […] I have written about Salam before, and Adil has just posted a terrific piece on on Salam’s 10th death anniversary. Below, I reproduce the speech that Salam gave at the banquet in honor of his Nobel Prize. His Nobel lecture can be seen here. It is said that when Salam went to India to meet his old high school Mathematics teacher, who was still alive at that time, he took off his Nobel prize and put it aroundhis teacher. The thought of that humility, that respect, and that realization of the real success in this world and hereafter, brings tears to my eyes. I wish I had met him, just to know I had seen into those eyes and known for sure that a better Pakistan can exist as long as better pakistanis exist. […]

  11. Haroon Amin says:

    I am very pleased to see such a great article on a Hero who was never been recognized in his own country. HE was only denied because his believes were different than others. God knows who is right or not. I peronally know his family who lives in America. you can see that how well they are in the field of education. it must be only because of the mission of ISalm taht he has carried throght his life.
    May Alla bless on those who do not think right.

  12. immy says:

    Before writing all these big letters of praise, have you ever wondered if he was such a big well-wisher of Pakistan then why he didn’t open his institute in Pakistan, instead he opted for Italy. (A Stupid Justification could be: He might have thought one day Pakistan will rule Italy ans it will indirectly benefit Pakistan).

    It was only him who helped start the Indian Nuclear program. (What a great service for Pakistani public – should have been awarded Biggest Patriotic Award)

    And I am starting to wonder what’s the FAITH of the Blog writer. a Qadiani or a Modernized Muslim Pakistani.

    And to my dear friend Haroon:

    “If education is the only thing then I must say TONY BLAIR or GEORGE BUSH are well educated too, so I think they must have done some good for Islam, or what about Salman Rushdie, he is well educated too.”

    And if people still keep thinking he was a HERO then some people might change your thinking to make you believe that yazeed wasn’t bad either.(I hope you know who he was, or you might need some teaching of Islam for yourself too)

    I reckon, I needn’t say anymore, you all are wise enough to decide.

  13. javeria says:

    thanx fro such agr8 abt such a gr8 scientist it it our bad luck that we never appreciated gr8 people of pakistan the people like dr abul salam ,dr abdul qadir,hakim mohammad saeed ,sattar edhi are the precious gift of Allah for us who work continously for their country and country men progress and may Allah give us the strength to follow the path of these people

  14. Muhammad Adeel Ajaib says:

    That was a really good reminder of some past events that I didnt knew about. I think that our treatment with Dr Abdus Salam was unfair. I am a deeply religious person and I understand that there are some really grave differences between the qadianis and other sects of Islam. But I think that this is no way of treating a man who has honored our country and has contributed to science in a very beautiful way. I always feel proud when I talk about Dr. Abdus Salam. He is a source of inspiration for me and I often quote his sayings.

  15. Sarfaraz Ahmed says:

    He was not a muslim rather he was qadiani so thats why he was refused to enter saudiya.

  16. afzalw says:

    I surely think Quaid will be crying in his grave when he will read this article how we treat with our genius

  17. Shahkar says:

    The word ‘Qadiani’ is a derogatory term so if you want to pay Dr. Abdus Salam respect refer to him as an ‘Ahmadi Muslim’.

    I am a born Pakistani and my family was forced to move out of Pakistan due to being Ahmadis Muslim. I have cried tears of blood for Pakistan over the years. I have seen my family cry for Pakistan and the situation it’s in today. Frankly, I’m tired of crying for Pakistan. I wish I had the love for the country that Dr. Abdus Salam had until his death but I’m just not that strong. I will still pray for Pakistan but I won’t cry anymore.

    For immy: Dr. Abdus Salam refused to help India, Pakistan or any other country in nuclear arms. He believed it would not lead to any thing good. The rumor of him starting India’s nuclear operation is a farce and nothing more than comical.

    He desperately tried to open his scientific research institute in Pakistan so that it would benefit Pakistani students first and foremost but I think you are intelligent enough to understand how far that effort went for a man who wasn’t even allowed to give a public speech. The thought of starting it in Africa was also there but the goal for ICTP was to withstand the test of time and benefit students scientists especially from the 3rd world countries for a long time to come. Therefore, proper funding has to be considered along with total government co-operation.

    Your answer to the reason why he was not allowed in Saudi Arabia because he was a non Muslim show that you either don’t read much or you don’t think much. Please read the article above that talks about the irony of a Hindu director Sreenivasan (NON MUSLIM), the third Director of the ICTP (started by Dr. Salam), that was allowed in Saudi Arabia.

    It is people of your mentality that hold Pakistan back. Imagine if Pakistan had embraced him as a great scientist how it might have benefited the scientist of Pakistan??? I am an Ahmadi Muslim and have met Dr. Salam when I was very small at a family gathering in England so my opinion of Dr. Salam is truly bias so please ask his non-Ahmadi colleagues, friends, associates if this man loved Pakistan with all his heart? if he loved Islam with all his heart? if he loved helping humanity with all his heart?

    I believe Dr. Abdus Salam’s greatest contribution to this world and to Pakistan was not his Unification Theory (which won him the Noble prize). I believe his greatest accomplishment was to frantically adopt measures to help scientists who otherwise would be forgotten and help humanity in general.

    I have no doubt in my mind that if Dr. Salam lived for another few years he would have received another Nobel prize for his humanitarian work! Allah (God) knows best!

    How ironic, here is the first Nobel prize winning Muslim who started his speech with the verses of the Holy Quran and told the world in his Nobel prize speech that his guidance for scientific achievement came from the Holy Quran. The best scientist of the Western and Eastern world wanted to be in his company just so they may learn from him. Who got honorary citizenship from so many countries. This great man is dishonored by a country that has not even invented something as small as a ‘NEEDLE’!!!

    WAKE UP PAKISTAN !!! Your son’s and daughters are decimating in front of your eyes. God has sent you assistance after assistance but you YOURSELF cut yourself off from it. May Allah protect Pakistan.

    Shahkar Lone.

  18. our country needs more genious leaders soo plz don’t mistreat with them …. thankx for sharing this informative article ….

  19. Rashed Khalid says:

    A great article by Mr Faheem. It is a great tragedy the way Pakistan has treated its most illustrious scientist.
    What Pakistan most desperately needs is more tolerance towards minorities and awareness of basic human rights for all, so the country can become progressive. Religion should always be a private matter because it is a matter of belief and cannot be proven or dis proven in a rigorous scientific way.
    The great advantage of a scientific education is that it teaches creative and critical thinking, something which the country needs a lot of. We can only overcome our poverty and backwardness by developing a school curriculum which emphasizes math and science. This was the vision and hope of Dr Salam.

  20. Rajiv says:

    This is what happens when each time you put your religion(?) in frint of every other thing in the world.Pakistan is going down-down-down…thanks to your agressive nature and 7th century mindset.
    Keep it up Pakis

  21. The Mindset says:

    FYI the other two Noble Winners :
    Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed in neck by a Muslim and was hence paralyzed until death. He stopped writing after that.

    Ahmed Zewail lived mostly in US and became a naturalized US citizen at the age of 36. So no credit for being a Muslim.

  22. Afya says:

    I think we should all look towards future rather than focusing on the past issues…

  23. wajid says:

    MashaAllah one of the great articles I have ever read.

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