In what is perhaps a sign of growing Islamic extremism in the country, Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, Dr. Abdus Salam, who played a pivotal role in developing the theoretical framework that led to the apparent discovery of the subatomic ‘God Particle’ last week, is being largely scorned in his homeland because of his religious belief and affiliation. The physicist who died in the year 1996 was once hailed as a national hero for his pioneering work in physics and his contribution to Pakistan’s nuclear program.
Now his name has been stricken from school textbooks merely because he was a member of the Ahmadi sect, a sect who believes that Hadrat Ghulam Ahmed was their spiritual leader as opposed to Prophet Muhammad. The religious group has been facing persecution by the government and Taliban militants who view them as heretics and claim that killing of these people is in accordance with Islamic injunctions.
After winning the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his work on so-called standard model of particle physics, he along with Steven Weinberg predicted the existence of a subatomic particle now called the Higgs boson after the British scientist Peter Higgs who said that the particle was responsible for endowing other particles with mass.
According to Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist who once worked with Salam said: 'He went from someone who was revered in Pakistan, a national celebrity, to someone who could not set foot in Pakistan. If he came, he would be insulted and could be hurt or even killed.'
In the 1960s and early 1970s, Salam wielded significant influence in Pakistan as the chief scientific adviser to the president, helping to establish the country’s first space agency and institute for nuclear science and technology. He was also involved in the early stages of Pakistan’s effort to build a nuclear, which was eventually tested in 1998.
However, like the 3million other Ahmadis in Pakistan, Salam’s life and fate drastically changed in 1974 when the constitution of Pakistan declared that people of this sect are not Muslims. Salam resigned from his government post in protest and eventually moved to Europe where he pursued his research.
Although, Salam was also presented with the highest civilian honor by then-president, General Zia ul-Haq, the overall response in the country was muted. Despite all his achievements, Salam’s name appears in few textbooks and is rarely mentioned by Pakistani leaders or the media.