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Abdus Salam was the only scientist from Pakistan who won Nobel Prize. Not only that, he is one of the only two Muslim ever to have won this prize in science category.

But wait. Who said he was a Muslim? At least Pakistan government didn’t consider him to be a Muslim. Salam was Ahmadiyya Muslim. In mainstream Islam, Ahmadi Muslims aren’t considered as true Muslims. For this reason, Pakistan cleared a bill in 1974 which declared Ahmadi Muslims as Non-Muslims. Salam protested and left Pakistan and spent rest of his life out of Pakistan. But Pakistan and rest of Muslim community didn’t bother. He went on to win Nobel Prize in 1979. His religious identity continued to haunt him even in his grave. “The first Muslim Nobel laureate” on his grave has been changed to idiotic “The first Nobel laureate” by defacing the word ‘Muslim’. But despite all of these, Salam was a devout Muslim. He was also a top class physicist. In these days, when religions are seen as enemies of science and knowledge, he went on to extol rich Islamic tradition of scientific exploration.  For example, he gave this eloquent speech in 1984 wherein he described how Islam had actually embraced and promoted science, though he has been careful to recognize the fact that religions have become orthodox in their approach toward science.

1979, Stockhom, Sweden --- Left to right: Sheldon Lee Glashow, USA, Abdus Salam, Pakistan, and Steven Weinberg, USA, before receiving this years Nobel Prize for physics in Stockholm. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1979, Stockhom, Sweden — Left to right: Sheldon Lee Glashow, USA, Abdus Salam, Pakistan, and Steven Weinberg, USA, before receiving this years Nobel Prize for physics in Stockholm. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

On the other hand, Steven Weinberg has not been so kind toward religions. In fact, he has been an active atheist all his life. In his speech titled A Designer Universe?, he went on to say:-

Where religion did make a difference, it was more in support of slavery than in opposition to it. Arguments from scripture were used in Parliament to defend the slave trade. Frederick Douglass told in his Narrative how his condition as a slave became worse when his master underwent a religious conversion that allowed him to justify slavery as the punishment of the children of Ham. Mark Twain described his mother as a genuinely good person, whose soft heart pitied even Satan, but who had no doubt about the legitimacy of slavery, because in years of living in antebellum Missouri she had never heard any sermon opposing slavery, but only countless sermons preaching that slavery was God’s will. With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil–that takes religion.

“….good people to do evil- that takes religion”. Salam seems to be a counter-example of that. He was a perfect gentleman and a devout Muslim. At one point, he credited his religion for his inclinations toward science. Despite being a top rated scientist, his religious dedication didn’t diminish. In fact, during later part of his life, he started signing his name as Mohammad Abdus Salam. This somehow reminds me of Ramanujan – Hardy pair. While Hardy was a staunch atheist, Ramanujan was an orthodox Hindu who claimed he had visions about mathematical results due to the blessings of goddess Namagiri. To this day, how Ramanujan really came up with so many intriguing results remains a mystery.  Although, unlike Ramanujan and Hardy, Weinberg and Salam worked independently and weren’t really in touch.

Both Weinberg and Salam, jointly with Sheldon Glashow, went on to win Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979.

Also read: Fascinating encounters: Prof Abdus Salam

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