Nawaz Sharif just dealt an important blow to extremism

Muhammad Abdus SalamPrime Minister Nawaz Sharif has dealt an important blow to the forces of obscurantism and extremism today by renaming of Quaid-i-Azam University’s (QAU) physics department to the Professor Abdus Salam Center for Physics and creating a new programme named the Professor Abdus Salam Fellowship to grant five annual fellowships for Pakistani PhD students in the field of Physics.

Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam is a national hero, though he has been treated very badly and nearly forgotten only because of his religious sect. By openly recognising Dr Abdus Salam in such a public and lasting way, PM Nawaz has dealt an important blow to extremism in the country. It is a first step only, but it is a crucial one to undoing the normalisation of hate and sectarianism that has taken root in so much of our society.


Honouring Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam (1926-1996)

15th October 1979: Joint Nobel Physics prize winner and Imperial College of London professor Abdus Salam, originally from Pakistan. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

15th October 1979: Joint Nobel Physics prize winner and Imperial College of London professor Abdus Salam, originally from Pakistan. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Today is the 20th death anniversary of Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam, the first Pakistan to receive a Nobel Prize, which he was awarded in 1979. He was also awarded Sitara-e-Pakistan (1959) and Nishan-e-Imtiaz (1979) along with dozens of other honors both nationally and internationally. In a just world, he would be honoured as a hero. But the respected physicist did not live in a just world. He lived in Pakistan.

Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam was not only the first Pakistani to receive a Nobel Prize, he was actually the first Muslim to receive the Nobel Prize. After his death, this honour was noted on his headstone. Today, however, his grave has been defaced and the word ‘Muslim’ removed on the orders of government officials. His crime? He was an Ahmadi Muslim.

Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam grave

Today we express our sadness not only for the loss of Pakistan’s great hero Nobel Prize winner Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam, but for our own country that is so psychologically insecure that we cannot even honour its greatest citizens.

Malala Yousafzai Awarded Nobel Peace Prize

Pakistan’s daughter Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Price today. She was immediately felicitated by no less than DG ISPR General Asim Bajwal.

Malala is the second Pakistani to win a prestigious Nobel Prize, the first being Abdus Salam who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979.

Abdus Salam


Unfortunately, this national honour has been all but erased from the history books due to religious extremism and intolerance. Dr Abdus Salam was an Ahmedi.

Sadly, there appears to be a similar reaction building to the recognition of young Malala Yousafzai. For all the congratulatory messages received, there were also a number of hate messages terming the award as a black day for Pakistan, and accusing the young education activist of being a foreign agent.

It should also be noted that the Nobel Peace Prize was actually shared this year between Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani Muslim, and Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian Hindu. Kailash has been an activist against child labour since long.

Thus today’s award demonstrates not only the power of hope, but the potential of what could be achieved if Pakistan and India could set aside their differences and instead focus on their common goals of peace and prosperity.

Our ‘Bolt’ Moment

As the Olympics comes to a close, a popular newspaper laments that once again we have failed to take home a gold and asks when will we too will enjoy a ‘Bolt Effect’, a surge in national pride as we show the world our greatness. While I understand the longing to see a fellow Pakistani holding the gold medal at the Olympics, I think this editorial deserves some response.

It’s true that we did not shine in this year’s Olympic games. And it is true that “in the midst of political turmoil and the struggle to find a place in the global markets of the 21st century, sports has given the Jamaicans something to be unequivocally proud and happy about.” But I disagree that we need a stack of gold medals to raise our national pride.

The Olympic Games take place only every four years, and they are competitions between individuals who are treated as national symbols. It is a source of pride for the winners, but it is not the only – or even the most meaningful – way to boost the national pride.

Part of my problem with this looking to the Olympics to give us something to be proud of is that it comes from a self-destructive mindset that only finds pride in beating someone else. It makes the failure of someone else a requirement for greatness. That’s not real greatness, though.

Real greatness comes from within, and is impenetrable to attacks from outside. And it is here that we can find that we have not one but many countrymen to take pride in.

Abdus Salam won the Nobel Prize in 1979, and his work contributed directly to the groundbreaking discovery of the Higgs boson earlier this year. Sadly, most of our countrymen have never heard of Dr Abdus Salam or his internationally recognised achievements because he was an Ahmadi.

A Pakistani was at the fore of this frontier of discovery in the 1960s and 1970s. But rather than encourage and celebrate his magnificent achievement, he was maligned and sidelined for his faith. An ironic fact: most physicists are staunch atheists but Salam was one of the few firm believers in God.

Mahbub ul Haq developed the Human development theory and founded the UN Human Development Report. There is even an international award created to honour Mahbub ul Haq that is presented to a leading national, regional or world figure who has demonstrated outstanding commitment to furthering Human Development understanding and progress.

When Mahbub ul Haq died in 1998, none other than UN Secretary General Kofi Annan termed his death as “a loss for the world” and attributed his successful work to his “profound conviction that what matters in development is not quantities produced, but the quality of life lived by human beings” which he took from his Islamic faith.

These are just two examples of Pakistanis who brought international acclaim to our country. They excelled in their fields and showed the world the greatness of Pakistan. With this in mind, the conclusion to the editorial sounds truly strange.

The Olympics are over and another Independence Day is here and there’s much for the Pakistanis to think about: where are our legends? Where is our gold? When, again, will we experience joy in victory? Can we ever see “The Pakistan Effect” on our national pride too?

Yes, it would be wonderful to see Pakistanis take home gold medals in the Olympics, but let’s not pretend that our national pride relies on success in sport. Our legends are here. Our gold is in our achievements. We can see them and experience joy if only we are willing to open our eyes and look within ourselves.