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Dr. Abdus Salam, Nobel Laureate

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    Dr. Abdus Salam, Nobel Laureate

    A Complex, Gifted Man
    Pervez Hoodbhoy
    reviews an important book on Pakistan’s greatest scientist





    Enigmatically titled Cosmic Anger: Abdus Salam – The First Muslim Nobel Scientist , a new biography of Pakistan’s Nobel Laureate has hit the book stores. Authored by his former associate, Gordon Fraser, this immensely engaging book on Pakistan’s scientific genius informs, titillates – and provokes. Indeed, I am told, the “Muslim” in the title has caused it to disappear from the shelves.

    Strong, assertive, enthusiastic, vibrant, bluntly authoritarian, and with a mind sharp as a razor’s edge, Abdus Salam was a most remarkable person. Born in a lower middle-class family in a village near Jhang, he went to a perfectly ordinary Urdu-medium school. “There was no electricity in the town of Jhang in those days, so I would fill the oil in the lantern as bhaijan (elder brother) studied for his matriculation exams”, mused Salam’s younger brother, now dead, as he recalled to me in Islamabad several years ago the humble semi-rural origins of Pakistan’s greatest scientist.

    The studious young Salam, was to see an electric light for the first time when he left to study in Lahore. An unsophisticated home and environment notwithstanding, this child prodigy quickly mastered his studies and rapidly outpaced his teachers who recognised and respected the young boy’s talent. They bore him no grudge and, after winning his Nobel Prize decades later, he was to return to thank those old teachers who were still around.

    By the early 1960s, Salam was already among the world’s top authorities on particle physics. At thirty one he was the youngest-ever professor of theoretical physics at London’s prestigious Imperial College which he began to push into the forefront of research. Under his prodding, his students applied group theory for the first time to classify existing particles and predict new ones. One of Salam’s students, Yuval Ne’eman, proposed the “eight-fold way” of classifying baryons, a method independently discovered (and named) by Murray Gell-Mann. Another student, Ronald Shaw, discovered the non-abelian gauge theory independently of C. N. Yang and Robert Mills. Salam’s own research ranged far and wide, covering such topics as electroweak unification, proton decay, and supersymmetry.

    Well stocked with vignettes, Fraser’s book brings up anecdotes that will surely amuse physicists. For example, Wolfgang Pauli, the universally acknowledged Chief Justice of Physics, peremptorily rejected the young Salam’s proposal that parity could be violated and neutrinos were left-handed. His condescending advice that Salam should “think of something better” was ultimately retracted. But his apology came too late; T.D.Lee and C.N.Yang had already got their Nobel Prize for parity violation.

    We learn that Salam’s Nobel winning work – electroweak unification – caused barely a ripple initially. His talk at the Nobel Symposia in 1968 was considered so unremarkable that Murray Gell-Mann, probably the smartest possible conference rapporteur, did not bother to refer to it. Steven Weinberg, who had published an essentially identical work in 1967, faced a similar situation; the Science Citation Index records zero citations for the next three years with the only citation in 1970 being Salam’s.

    Until a neurological motor disease put an end to his life in 1996, Salam was relentlessly driven by three passions: an urge to excel in physics, the desire to put Pakistan on the high road to prosperity through science, and a missionary zeal to revive the sciences in Islam. With prizes, awards, seminars and meetings, the world of physics immortalized Salam. But with his country, and the world of Islam, it turned out to be very different.

    In earlier years, Salam had been hugely influential in Pakistan. Seen as a kind of cultural amphibian equally at home in Pakistan and in scientific circles of the West, Salam became the chief scientific adviser to the President. He labored hard to set Pakistan on the road of high science. But 1974 marked the turning point when, by a decision of the Pakistan’s national assembly, the Ahmediyya sect was declared heretical. Salam, a strong believer, resigned his official position. His influence in the Pakistani establishment waned rapidly.

    Somewhat paradoxically, Salam enjoyed better relations with General Zia, who received him as a state guest and awarded him the Nishan-i-Imtiaz in 1979. However, Salam was carefully excluded from exercising any real influence over scientific matters. Subsequent Pakistani leaders were even less keen about him. I was with Prof. Salam in 1989 when Benazir Bhutto turned down an appointment after having initially agreed to it. Nawaz Sharif topped it all by reading from a list of high-achieving Government College alumni – many were mentioned but the most distinguished one was excluded.

    In the post-1974 climate, Salam’s efforts to bring science to Pakistan and to Islam were doomed to fail. The Islamic Science Foundation, a grand scheme for scientific advancement with a projected endowment of $1 billion collected from oil-rich countries, came to nought after he was banned from ever setting foot in Saudi Arabia. Kuwait and Iran did give some money for supporting their scientists at the ICTP, but the amounts were niggardly. Promises by kings, princes, and emirs remained promises. Salam is virtually uncelebrated in Pakistan today.

    For all its marvellous anecdotes, Fraser’s book has a definite hagiographic tinge. Difficult issues have been skipped.

    For example, the book does not explore Salam’s relationship with the development of Pakistan’s atom bomb. This relationship was, in fact, deeply ambiguous. On the one hand, his public profile was that of an internationalist and a man of peace. Indeed, many Pakistanis – such as Dr. A.Q.Khan and fundamentalists of the Jamat-i-Islami party – directed virulent propaganda against Salam both for this reason and because of his Ahmadiyya faith. They alleged that he had done nothing to help make the bomb and, in fact, had tried to subvert it. A cover story in the weekly Takbeer accused Salam of selling out Pakistan’s nuclear secrets. Laced with crude insults and abuse, this incredible concoction has been tirelessly repeated in the right-wing press.
    But the fact is that Salam had played a central role in setting Pakistan on its nuclear trajectory. In the early 1970’s he organized a group of Pakistani physicists to meet and had set them different tasks related to the physics of nuclear implosion. His help extended even beyond 1974 although it eventually petered away. In the late 1980’s he became a member of the Pugwash movement which advocates the end of all nuclear weapons.

    Some future biography should also take up seriously the relation between Salam as a scientist and Salam as a believer. Did he take science and religion to be separate, or inextricably intertwined? Certainly, Salam’s integrity and intelligence did not permit his beliefs to determine the outcome of his scientific work. He certainly had no patience for the antics of “Islamic scientists” of the Zia era who had come up with bizarre theories that violated both science and common sense.

    Nevertheless, I feel that some of Salam’s writings and speeches must be faulted because they leave room for ambiguities. For example, in a popular essay, he refers to the sufi concept of wahdat-ul-wajood while discussing the unification of forces. Then, in a television interview he speaks of how he was inspired into the concept of SU(2)xU(1) symmetry by the stately minarets of Lahore’s famous Badshahi Mosque. I can remember attending a lecture (c. 1987) in Wah where he talked about the world being quite probably 11 dimensional, and then hinted that 7 of these dimensions might belong to the ghaib . Time has effaced the words from my memory, but I do recall feeling quite uncomfortable.

    Salam’s religious beliefs and cultural background deeply influenced the course of his life as he grew older. Dr. Ahmed Ali, a leading physicist at the DESY electron accelerator in Hamburg, and a close associate of Salam, reminisces:
    “I remember a flight from Geneva to Rome, sitting next to him, during which he hardly talked to me and continued reading Quran until we were in Rome. Harry Lehmann, with whom I had friendly relations, told me that it was not like this during the 50s and the 60s. Harry had a completely different memory of Salam’s personal inclinations in those days. I think that Salam’s interest in religion was partly a protest, triggered by the anti-Ahmediyya legislation by Bhutto, partly a product of his social milieu (his family background, but also friends like Zafrullah Khan, his mentor-cum-friend), and partly by his failing health. Many see religion as the last straw to hang on to. Salam was not an exception in this regard.”

    Sometime in the 80s Salam began signing himself as “Mohammed Abdus Salam”, as in his preface to my book on Islam and science. He increasingly sought peace and tranquillity in contemplation and prayer.

    As the end approached, his faith grew stronger. But so did his distress and difficulty in coping with death. His former student Fayyazuddin told me: “Each of us is a dot on the fabric of time. Each of us dies alone…After seeing Salam, I had a feeling that somehow inner peace has eluded him.” Clearly, religious faith brings peace to some in their final moments but not to all.

    This is a wonderful book about a complex, gifted man. Even if incomplete, it is strongly recommended.

    The author teaches physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad
    Jeevay Jeevay PAKISTAN

    #2
    Moderator's Warning:
    Please add link and your comments to clarify what you want to discuss in this thread
    Only sheep need a shepherd

    Comment


      #3
      Originally posted by yazdi View Post
      Moderator's Warning:
      Please add link and your comments to clarify what you want to discuss in this thread
      You may remove my thread...please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      Jeevay Jeevay PAKISTAN

      Comment


        #4
        Re: Dr. Abdus Salam, Nobel Laureate

        excellent thread arjay....great to know this book is out...i shall try to order my one soon.
        Love for All Hatred for None
        P.S What I write above in post are my personal views only.

        Comment


          #5
          Originally posted by yazdi View Post
          Moderator's Warning:
          Please add link and your comments to clarify what you want to discuss in this thread
          I can see with my open eyes that he is informing us of a great Pakistani Hero and how book is written about him...thats what the thread is about.
          Love for All Hatred for None
          P.S What I write above in post are my personal views only.

          Comment


            #6
            Re: Dr. Abdus Salam, Nobel Laureate

            Moderator's Warning:
            interesting read. . .
            "I'm not normally a praying man, but if you're up there, please save me, Superman!"

            Comment


              #7
              Moderator's Note:
              I am sorry for my earlier warning... the link and comment is already there. You may proceed with the discussion on the topic.
              Only sheep need a shepherd

              Comment


                #8
                I just did search on amazon and found it here:

                http://www.amazon.com/Cosmic-Anger-A...8036370&sr=8-1

                Comment


                  #9
                  Re: Dr. Abdus Salam, Nobel Laureate

                  and the british version:

                  Cosmic Anger: Abdus Salam - The First Muslim Nobel Scientist: Amazon.co.uk: Gordon Fraser: Books
                  Love for All Hatred for None
                  P.S What I write above in post are my personal views only.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Re: Dr. Abdus Salam, Nobel Laureate

                    Dr. Salam was great Pakistani. He is Pakistan national Hero.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Originally posted by yazdi View Post
                      Moderator's Note:
                      I am sorry for my earlier warning... the link and comment is already there. You may proceed with the discussion on the topic.
                      Hey friend...no need to apologise! You are doing your job....and i may have acted the same way if I were in your boots--

                      On Dr. Salam...I could be one of those fortunate ones who has actually met Dr.Abdus Salam in late 70's and mid 80's with my Dad..as my dad was his close friend and specially visited him in Triest-Italy for the love of his work.

                      He was a soft spoken genius and I can never forget him!
                      Jeevay Jeevay PAKISTAN

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Originally posted by arjay View Post
                        Hey friend...no need to apologise! You are doing your job....and i may have acted the same way if I were in your boots--

                        On Dr. Salam...I could be one of those fortunate ones who has actually met Dr.Abdus Salam in late 70's and mid 80's with my Dad..as my dad was his close friend and specially visited him in Triest-Italy for the love of his work.

                        He was a soft spoken genius and I can never forget him!
                        Would you mind sharing some details of your meeting with Dr Salam sb. What did you guys talk about etc etc?

                        I unfortunetly never met him.
                        Love for All Hatred for None
                        P.S What I write above in post are my personal views only.

                        Comment


                          #13
                          As a Pakistani I am proud of Dr. Abdus Salam!

                          Comment

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