Yesterday was the 37th Birth Anniversary of Preity Zinta. I was never concerned with her age or her work but almost every ‘notable’ Pakistani News Channel made it a point that along with all other cable tv viewing Pakistanis I am made aware of this important development in Ms. Zinta’s life. This week also marked the 87th Birth Anniversary of Dr. Abdus Salam. However, unlike Ms. Zinta ‘s special day I was not informed of the news by the tv media as perhaps they did not see any point celebrating it. I learnt about Dr. Salam’s birthday on my own initiative and out of my own curiosity about Dr. Salam and because unlike 82% population of Pakistan, I have access to the internet.
My curiosity was sparked by one of the most beautiful yet tragic videos I saw on Facebook. It was a teaser of a docufilm on the science and life of Dr. Salam produced by two young Pakistanis. It was beautiful to me because it was a Film about Pakistan’s first and only Noble Laureate. It was tragic because the filmmakers had made the teaser to interest the viewers in funding the post production phase of the Documentary Film. They are seeking monetary support to celebrate the life of a man, a Pakistani, who literally changed the way mankind conceptualized the universe. As it was just a teaser it left so many questions unanswered and as I didn’t really know anything about Dr. Salam besides his Nobel Prize I took to the internet.
The more I read about the many achievements of this brilliant mind the more ashamed I was of my ignorance and the more frustrated I felt that I am a product of the Pakistani education system. How come this man was never presented as a role model in any of my physics and chemistry lectures in school? How come this illustrious name was omitted in our glorified history books which I studied while taking Pakistan Studies? Why was I made to rote learn the name of every single Soldier who was decorated with the highest medals in our wars with India but never educated on the life of a man who earned Pakistan the greatest medal in Science, the world had to offer.
Almost every Pakistani knows that Imran Khan used his World Cup victory to generate support for a cancer hospital. But how many know that Dr. Salam used his Nobel Prize to gain support for his dream project, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy which is at the forefront of serving scientists for developing countries by providing them continuing educations and skills. Or that Dr. Salam was instrumental in getting over 500 physicists, mathematicians and scientists placed for doctorates in prestigious universities in the UK and USA.
And I am baffled by the irony that we celebrate Dr. A. Q. Khan, the father of the Atomic Bomb of ‘Pakistan’ and the world condemns him whereas the world celebrates Dr. Salam for literally changing how mankind conceptualizes the ‘Universe’ and we condemn him. Why don’t we remember Dr. Salam like we cherish Dr. A. Q. Khan despite that he fact the Dr. Salam was dubbed the ‘Scientific Father’ of the Pakistani Nuclear Programme for having established the Theoretical Physic Group within the Pakistan Atomic Commission. I am not the only one. The whole world is as baffled on how Dr. Salam’s motherland shunned him while this son continued to serve her. How many times had it been that foreign countries specially Western countries have advocated the appointment of a Pakistani to an international office. While the world endorsed Dr. Salam’s candidacy for the post of Director General of UNESCO, the Zia regime refused to put his name forward.
Is it because he was an Ahmadi? Is our country’s prejudice against this minority sect so deep, so preposterous and so insulting of the teachings of Mainstream Islam that we chose to condemn a man for his personal beliefs over celebrating him for his contributions to science and humanity?
Were leaders and people of this Islamic Republic so insecure about their religion that they could not afford the question of how someone so genius and informed on the subject of the evolution of the Universe prescribe to a different interpretation of Islam? They did not even need to answer this last question as Dr. Salam was not awarded honorary Doctorate of Science by 36 universities in 23 countries for the way he offered his prayers perhaps because the way Dr. Salam approached God affected only him, but the way Dr. Salam approached his work affected the world.
Dr. Salam lived as a Muslim for the first 48 years of his life during which Pakistan loved him and decorated him. He was declared a Non-Muslim for the remaining 22 years during which he was shunned by liberals and conservatives alike. His faith did not change for the entire duration of 70 years nor did his services to the Nation stop. What changed was the power dynamics in Pakistani politics; what changed was the ideology of Pakistan and what changes was Jinnah’s vision that religion was not the business of the state.
The filmmakers of the docufilm are Pakistanis so how come were they bothering themselves with this tribute to the legacy of Dr. Salam? How come they did not hate and condemn him? My instant reaction was they must be Ahmadis living somewhere in self-exile and trying to highlight the persecution of their sect and politicizing Dr. Salam’s memory. What I learnt when I made the effort of actually finding answers out myself, an act which Pakistani’s (including myself) rarely indulge in, was quite the contrary. Both Zakir Thaver and Omar Vandal are non-Ahmadis and both of them as young Pakistani science majors in college felt betrayed by the country’s history books. They met at the College of Wooster in the U.S., the year Dr. Salam passed away and it was there outside of Pakistan where they discovered how well respected by the rest of the world, well received and influential was Dr. Salam/
These two individuals with their limited resources started work on the docufilm in 2002. The Documentary which took them to various countries to capture Dr. Salam’s life on camera. Thu far it has not been funded by any Ahmadi Institution but by individuals belonging to various sects and religions. They have dedicated the past 10 years in trying to research and develop the story, locate archives and film interviews pay a sincere homage to a man who to them was first and foremost a scientist, a teacher, a philanthropist an innovator, a patriot and a first-rate mind who challenged the limits of what was defined ‘humanly possible’; he challenged the status-quo.
If this initiative had been taken by our Government, this docufilm could have been completed in months if not weeks. In an era where Pakistan is globally perceived as a savage country and Pakistanis as regressive people what have our Government and our civil society at large done to celebrate those who thought and achieved things deemed beyond their times. Dr. Salam was a man who championed the cause technological and scientific advances in third world countries; a man who was not schooled at Aitcheson or Karachi Grammar but received education a government school in Jhang; a man who belonged to a lower middle class family and had to fight economical and social pressures of taking conventional jobs such as the civil service to stick to his love, Mathematics and Physics. Dr. Salam’s journey is a beautiful romance between a student and education and given his socio economic background it is a journey with which every poor but eager student of this country can empathize with and get motivation from. It is a story every young Pakistani should be made to study and realize the power of the words of Dr. Salam’s spiritual mentor Allam Iqbal:
“Jo Ho Shauq-e-Yaqeen Paida, toh badal jaateen hai taqdeerain”
The Government did not adopt any such initiative to pay him tribute but the Government did not forget him either. On the orders of a local magistrate Dr. Salam’s grave stone was effectively desecrated by removing the word ‘Muslim’ removed from his epitaph.
But what to say of the religious persecution of this tragic son when Pakistan is a country where the Superior Court occupied themselves for more than 30 years after the death of Quaid-e-Azam debating whether the Father of the Nation was a Sunni or a Shia.
Hoping that one day even though the Government may not be able to offer free education it can offer children the freedom to choose their role models. Dr. Salam, thank you and rest in peace Sir!