The Shunned Hero

Doctor Abdus Salam, a profound name in the world of theoretical physics, a name which won the Nobel Prize for the grand unification theory, was, unfortunately, a Pakistani. Salam was 14 years of age when he rode his bike to his home after scoring the highest score in matriculation ever recorded, published his first research paper at the age of 17. And what fancy school did he come from? It was Jhang’s local government school, where he received his education from while sitting on the floor and paved his way towards the Nobel prize, the highest of the accolades.

Receiving accolade

He received scholarships for both Government College University and University of Punjab and received his MA in 1946, the same year he was awarded a scholarship to St. Johns’s College, Cambridge from where his completed his BA (honors) in mathematics and physics by 1949. In the years 1950 and 1951 he won the Smith’s prize for the most outstanding pre-doctoral contribution to physics and also completed his doctorate in theoretical physics from Cambridge University. His thesis comprised of outstanding work on quantum electrodynamics which gained him an international reputation.

After coming to Pakistan in 1951 he taught mathematics at GCU Lahore and in 1952 he was appointed the head of the department of mathematics at the University of Punjab. He created an institute for “Assosiateship” which allowed young physicists to work in their field in a better environment.

Salam was a member of the Pakistan atomic energy commission and a member of the scientific commission of Pakistan and then was the scientific advisor to the president from 1961-1974. He also went for a lectureship at Cambridge in 1954. He was appointed a professor of theoretical physics at imperial college London and was the director of ICTP (International Centre for Theoretical Physics) Trieste.

In the year 1979, Salam was awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, along with Glashow and Weinberg, for their contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including, inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current.

He persuaded the president of Pakistan to acquire Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) – the first commercial nuclear reactor of Pakistan. He also served as a founding director of Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), worked for the establishment of Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) and The Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH). Not to mention that he mentored the scientist who designed the atomic bomb for Pakistan.


He received peace medal award from Atoms, and spent that money on setting upon a fund for young Pakistani physicists to visit ICTP (International Centre for Theoretical Physics). His Nobel Prize winnings were spent on the physicists from the developing countries.

Not only was his unification theory a major contribution to the world of modern physics, he also laid the groundwork work for the discovery of Higgs boson in 2012 which happens to be the most important discovery in Physics in the last four decades.

For over forty years he worked and allowed for many others to work in the field of theoretical physics and used his academic reputation to add weight to his participation in global scientific affairs.  He worked a number of United Nations committees for the advancement of science and technology in developing countries.

Salam once wrote,

“The Holy Quran enjoins us to reflect on the verities of Allah’s created laws of nature; however, that our generation has been privileged to glimpse a part of His design is a bounty and a grace for which I render thanks with a humble heart.”

His religion was not separate from his work and he derived inspiration to work from the religion.

Abdus Salam passed away on 21st, November 1996. Salam was a man who not only revolutionized and contributed to science and education in Pakistan but had worldwide influence.

When upon his death, Switzerland and Canada named roads to commemorate this outstanding human.


Abdus Salam library was built in Iran,

library in honor

IAEA Bangladesh and Austria displayed Salaam’s statues and ICTP was named after him.  Pakistan honored Salam in a manner that upon his death, no government official attended his funeral in Rabwah,  when he returned to Pakistan after receiving the Nobel prize, no one received him at the airport. When invited to QAU for a lecture, the right-wing inspired students threatened him. Zia ul Haq refused to accept the candidature of Salam as the Director-General UNESCO even though he had visited almost 30 countries in 1987 and had their support, in 1987 the prime minister Benazir Bhutto refused to meet him after making him wait for two days in a hotel and Nawaz Shareef casually forgot to mention him in the list of distinguished alumni of GCU at its convocation (even though GCU has displayed Salaam’s picture in one of their main auditoriums)

Salam’s beloved country removed the word “Muslim” from his tombstone, rioted when the name of the physics department at QAU Islamabad was changed to honor him.

The textbooks refuse to embrace him as anyone worth mentioning, all due to his religion and the nationwide hatred for the Ahmadi community, amidst all of this what baffles me the most is that a country that strives for recognition in almost all spheres of life refuses to claim the one prodigy to receive the highest accolade in the world of science. While the entire world applauded him, he was shunned by his homeland and he became Salam, the shunned hero.

Salam's tombstone

While the entire world applauded him, he was shunned by his homeland.

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