Prof Abdus Salam, an unrecognized genius

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By Nasir Rather, Kashmir

If Science is the shared heritage of mankind as Prof Abdus Salam rightly believed, so is His own legacy a shared heritage of world.

Three years ago when Nobel Prize in Physics was announced, I was as usual attending a dull and insipid lecture on Nuclear Physics. As soon as I came out from my lecture hall a friend from the same department shouted from a distance ” Nasir, Nobel Prize in Physics this year has won by Three Physicists for their contribution to LIGO and detection of Gravitational waves”. I was thrilled with excitement and joy as the prize was won by the three physicists who specialized in one of my areas of intrest.

Then as we were coming out of the university and on our way towards Sir Syed Gate (Aligarh) we started talking of scientific backwardness in the Muslim world and the reasons for it as such. All of a sudden I asked my friend  I he had heard of Prof  Abdus Salam? No, I have not heard of him, he answered. The answer left me shocked. How a student pursuing masters in physics could know not Prof Salam! This experience of ignorance on part of students in particular and people in general about Prof Abdus Salam was anyway not first of its kind for me. Prior to joining Kashmir University for my masters I had the same experience in a local Private School of my area where I taught for more than 6 months. The students and teachers there had heard names of Einstein, Newton and Hawking but not of Prof Abdus Salam.

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So this article is an attempt on my part to introduce the physicist to general readers, whose  legacy by and large is unrecognized and unheard of in Muslim Countries.

Prof Abdus Salam was born on 29  Jan 1926 in a middle class family in Jhang Punjab. He began his primary school education at the age of six. For his higher education his father enrolled him in Government College Lahore.At Lahore college  Prof  Abdus Salam continued with English and Urdu alongside mathematics. In Lahore he enjoyed classical Urdu poetry and it was during this  period he wrote his first literary paper on Ghalib which appeared in “Chenab”. In English he enjoyed the rapier wit of Oscar Wilde and heavy stuff such as T.E Lawrence’s ” The seven Pillars of wisdom”. He pursued his masters in Mathematics from Punjab  University and not only topped the exam but as he has done before also set a new record by scoring 573 Out of 600,an extraordinary milestone and achievement by any standard. This extraordinary milestone won Prof Abdus Salam a scholarship in Cambridge for his further studies. Unlike Oxford, a city big enough to engulf it, Cambridge is dominated by its ancient machinery of learning. Prof Abdus Salam loved it, and flourished there. It was at Cambridge that he came across so many heavyweights in physics like Freeman Dyson, Fred Hoyle, Paul Dirac etc. Unlike many scientists who do their best work in solitude, Prof Abdus Salam was otherwise. He was to become a highly imaginative scientist, sometimes almost too imaginative and learned that he functioned best when he worked with a partner with whom he could argue out his ideas and who could spur his raptness.

Scientific Contribution:

Prof  Abdus Salam’s work in physics has been for reaching and highly influential. He made a fundamental contribution to Theory of Unified Weak and Electromagnetic interaction between elementary Particles, including the prediction of weak neutral Current for which he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979  with other two Physicists, making him only the 2nd Muslim to win this prestigious award and so far first Muslim in the field of physics to have won it. Apart from it he made a major contribution in Quantum field theory, Neutrino Physics and Super-geometry. Among his notable achievements include his work on Grand Unified Theory, Super Symmetry and Renormalization. Because of his Pathbreaking Work  in the vast domains of Physics Prof Abdus Salam was invited by Cambridge University to deliver Third Paul Dirac memorial lecture in  1988.He also made a significant contribution towards the 2012 success in the search for the Highs Boson.

Prof Abdus Salam’s legacy:

Prof Abdus Salam was quite keen on seeing science flourishing in the Muslim world and Muslims contributing to this mankind’s endeavor in its pursuit of truth and exploration of reality as was the case in Islamic Golden period. For Prof Abdus Salam the creation of Physics was a shared heritage of mankind and not of East or West. He almost Singlehandedly established ICTP, a research center in Italy which brings together Physicists from the developing Countries. Prof Abdus Salam  also played a huge role in the advancement of Mathematics Department at prestigious Imperial College London. In Pakistan Prof Abdus Salam contributed to developments in Theoretical and Particle Physics. He was the founding director of the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), and responsible for the establishment of the Theoretical Physics Group (TPG) in the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission. Prof  Abdus Salam also played a monumental role in the development of Pakistan’s first Atomic Bomb Project. Prof Abdus Salam’s legacy as a teacher and mentor is unparalleled in Muslim World.

Among his notable students include Pakistani’s nuclear physicists  Pervez Hoodbhoy and Ishfaq Ahmad among many others .The recognition of Pakistani physicists at the world level also owe much to Prof Abdus Salam under whose dynamic and vibrant mentorship Pakistani Physicists tackled and solved some of the outstanding problems in Physics and Mathematics. In the field of mathematics and Physics, Prof Abdus Salam in the words of Ishfaq Ahmad send almost 500 student’s to best western universities for higher education on Scholarship. Prof Abdus Salam’s legacy continues to inspire many students to excell in the field of Physics. In 2019 a young Kashmiri researcher Mohsin Ilahi at Aligarh Muslim University dedicated his Ph.D thesis to Prof Adus Salam.In short If Ibn Hathyam was a face of Physics in  Islamic Golden age, so is Prof Abdus salam face of modern Muslim world.

The last paragraph brings me back to the question on why a physicist of  Prof Abdus Salam’s stature with such illustrious legacy remains unheard of in muslim world?

The answer lies in sectarianism. Prof  Abdus salam belonged to marganilized  Ahamdiya Muslim community. The sectarian strife and divide has taken a heavy tool rather it has  blinded the Muslim community from recognizing their own legends and brilliant minds. Though it is still not  too late to celebrate the legacy  of this  physicist who did so much for the advancement of science in the Muslim world in particular and developing nations in general but one remains skeptical of things changing for good on ground. But If science is the shared heritage of mankind as Prof Abdus Salam rightly believed, so is His own legacy a shared heritage of World that we need to celebrate and feel proud of.

Conclusion:

In order to revive a culture of Science and critical thinking back in the Muslim world the understanding and reading of Muslim history is must for that would provide much food for thought on what had gone wrong and what needs to be done.

The first step in that direction would be the recognition of the legacy of physicist like Prof AbdusSalam. Unless we celebrate minds like Him, the revival of Scientific culture in the muslim world is a distant  dream.

In this connection, Canadian historian of science respected Zakaria Virk’s biography of Prof Abdus Salam titled as “Musalmano ka Newton” and Cosmic Anger: Abdus Salam, the first Muslim Nobel scientist by Gordon Fraser are two important reads for any student or teacher interested in knowing Prof Abdus Salam’s Life and legacy in detail.

(The author is student of physics and hails from Kashmir. He can be reached at nasirrather45@gmail.com

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