Eighteen years ago on November the 21st with the death of Dr Abdus Salam, though we physically lost Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, a physicist and a mathematician par excellance. His mertits were not confined to this only, he was also a man whose passion and deep love for Quran and Pakistan was manifested in both his words and deeds, but the spirit of his legacy is alive and cherished in many parts of the world as the institutions he established continue to benefit millions of human beings.
Salam was a multidimensional individual and so is his legacy. His scientific contribution remains influential even today. His contribution and prediction for Higgs-boson particle- a discovery that earned Nobel prize for physics this year is well recognized by the scientists. However, his achievements in the fields other than sciences and sometimes in the realms considered contrasting to sciences are equally fascinating and motivating. Thus, we have all the reasons to remember this role model more often than on birth and death anniversaries.
Most of us are aware of traditional conflict between faith and reason and religion and science. A general view is that these streams cannot go hand in hand. They are rather seen as opposing each other, sometimes, deemed fatal to each other’s growth. Salam successfully busted this myth and established reconciliation between the two by achieving the heights of excellence in Mathematics and Physics while retaining deep connections with faith and religion. He rather proved both supporting each other. For him Holy Quran and his firm belief in unity of Allah were his biggest guiding principles in widening his vision of scientific inquiry.
Salam understood meanings of Holy Quran and found it great source of guidance and motivation for his scientific work. He made huge efforts to introduce to the world, the, often forgotten, intellectual side of the Holy Quran. He tried to make people aware of Quran’s injunctions for quest for knowledge; a book not in conflict with reason but one that is truly compatible with reason, knowledge, scientific thinking and the one that guides people to avoid conflict on earth.
Anyone who would have tried to understand meanings of Holy Quran must be aware of the fact that the book is full of wisdom and knowledge and covers besides morality and philosophical issues a much wider range of guidance on different spheres of life including sociology, economics and even touches upon many scientific concepts, some of which were not even talked about just a few centuries ago.
Salam stated many a times and proved through his works that he derived motivation for scientific achievements by reading and contemplating on the verses of Holy Quran. He stated, “The Holy Quran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah’s created laws of nature”. During his acceptance speech for the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on unification of weak electromagnetic forces, Salam quoted the following verses from the Quran.
“Thou seest not, in the creation of the All-merciful any imperfection, Return thy gaze, seest thou any fissure? Then Return thy gaze, again and again. Thy gaze, Comes back to thee dazzled, aweary”. He then added “This, in effect, is the faith of all physicists; the deeper we seek, the more is our wonder excited, the more is the dazzlement for our gaze”.
Scientific achievements of Dr Salam are well known and well acknowledged around the world as he remains one of the most influential physicists even today, and accounts of those could be found in books, articles or even on internet. Some aspects of his equally enlightening non-scientist’s life were shared by his family members and friends in a symposium that I organized at the imperial College London in March this year, revealing astonishing facts which could be a source of motivation for every Pakistani.
Salam’s younger brother Abdul Rasheed informed that he had firm belief in the unity of Allah and his work on unification of weak electromagnetic forces derived inspiration from belief in one ness of God.
Raheed further told that during his days in Italy where he was Director of International Centre for Theoretical Physics, an institution created by him for the benefit of scientists from developing countries, Salam personally managed to get copies of Holy Quran translated into Italian language for circulation among friends and colleagues and also presented a copy to Pope of that time.
Salam’s firm belief in existence of an unseen God helped him in finding answers to unseen particles purely on the basis of mathematical calculations. He was so sure about the existence of Higgs-Boson particle on the basis of his mathematical findings, 35 years in advance of experiments that proved existence of this particle in 2012.
He was passionate about Pakistan and besides establishing most of the scientific institutions of his country he made efforts to arrange scholarships for Pakistani scientists in world’s leading academic institutions and helped more than 500 Pakistani scientists attain scholarships for higher education.
Rasheed also revealed that many people probably don’t know the fact that Salam preferred to retain his Pakistani nationality and green passport over Knighthood that was offered to him, as British citizenship , was one of the conditions to qualify for knighthood. He loved to travel on his green passport despite difficulties he sometimes faced on entry points on the airports. Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK HE Wajid Shamsul Hasan who had an opportunity to see Salam several times during his last days, shared that whenever he visited him, Salam cried for Pakistan and always wanted an assurance to be buried in the soil of Pakistan.
Salam was huge Philanthropist too. His Son Ahmed Salam remembers his efforts for not only setting up schools for education of children in Pakistan but also in London. He had set up voluntary system to help children with Mathematics and Physics and free buses were arranged to bring children to the Imperial college for free coaching in these subjects as it is here at the Imperial college London Salam spent most of his academic life as founder of the theoretical physics group.
You enter the Physics department of this world leading institution and the first thing that treats your eyes is the portrait of Dr Abdus Salam decorating the wall of fame with two other Nobel laureates of Physics. This view makes you really proud of your heritage. Salam believed in taking pride in his heritage and compiled a book on the contribution of Muslim scientists to the modern science.
Salam is no longer physically present in this world but his living legacy in the form of what he achieved in the scientific and non- scientific spheres and the institutions that he created in Pakistan and world over place him among best role models to follow. Today, if we have to break out from the vicious circle of low achievements in education, knowledge and discovery combined with internal conflict and practice of killing each other we have to look into the meanings of Quran and remember the verses that emphasize knowledge, care, and wellbeing of humanity. Salam is an example who benefitted with guidance from Holy Quran. If he could excel in science through wisdom of Quran why not us?