Express Tribune by Anam Khalid Alvi on July 7, 2012
Why take pride in his achievements now when he is gone? What suddenly makes him eligible to be a pride for Pakistan? GRAPHIC: SUNARA NIZAMI
Professor John Womersley, Chief Executive of the Science and technology Facilities Council, told reporters at a briefing in London that they have discovered a particle consistent with the Higgs boson.
I’m sure that strikes a nerve with many knowing Pakistani’s. The Higgs’ boson, in Pakistan, is synonymous for Dr Abdus Salam; a scientist who was at the fore of this frontier of discovery in the 1970s. But rather than appreciation for his magnificent achievement, he was shunned and sidelined.
Dr Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s first and only theoretical physicist and Nobel Laureate, was also an Ahmadi.
His grand unification theory of strong, weak and electromagnetic fields opened the gateway for the discovery of bosons and laid down the basis for this quantum electrodynamics project.
Dr Salam would be a very happy man, had he been alive today, as Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam were the first to apply the Higgs mechanism to the breaking of the electroweak symmetry. This showed how a Higgs mechanism could be incorporated into Sheldon Glashow’s electroweak theory, in what became the Standard Model of particle physics.
Dr Salam along with Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg shared the 1979 Nobel Prize for this discovery.
So most of you by now are wondering why so much commotion and celebration over the discovery? What Is this Higgs Boson?
If you go back to the beginning, even before the Big Bang, particles didn’t have any masses, according to our understanding. There was just one very large force that all these particles interacted with. As the universe cooled down, particles gained mass by interacting with the Higgs boson.
So the reason you can’t push a car is because of the mass of the particles in the car interacting with a Higgs field.
The Higgs boson is the final piece of the Standard Model of Particle Physics, a theoretical model which describes the fundamental particles and forces that control our Universe. Finding the Higgs plugs a gaping hole in the Standard Model, the theory that describes all the particles, forces and interactions that make up the universe.
Scientists say it is a five sigma result which means they are 99.999% sure they have found a new particle which unfold many more mysteries about the universe we are all habitants of. This discovery holds colossal value; had the particle was shown not to exist, it would have meant tearing up the Standard Model and going back to the drawing boards for all those physicists who probably gave up more than just time in their lives towards the research.
Boy, won’t that name be attracting the attention of a lot of people out there who already believe science to be in some direct confrontation with god? So for all those who will probably fly off the handle and let their imaginations take over, the fact is, ‘God Particle’ isn’t what the scientists call it, it’s what the media calls it, and Atheism has nothing to do with it.
The name comes from a book which describes the search for the Higgs Boson. This book was originally going to be called ‘God-Damn Particle’– hinting at how elusive it is- but was changed to ‘The God Particle’ by the publishers.
An ironic fact that is worth a mention here is that, most physicists are staunch atheists or at least that is the general consensus, but Salam was one of the few firm believers of God.
Abdus Salam was known to be a devout Muslim, whose religion did not occupy a separate compartment of his life; it was inseparable from his work and family life. He 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.”
For him, there was no such thing as Islamic science, Hindu science, Buddhist science, Christian, Jewish or Atheist science. It was the study of the Laws of Nature and the laws of nature were the laws of God. So he would emphasise not to put science in a box for if you did, then he thought you would not find progress.
Yet, Pakistan didn’t seem to accept him for his grandeur. Even when religion was a fundamental part of his research and the respect he held for it could not be challenged. Likewise was his love for Pakistan.
In 1974, the Pakistani parliament made a constitutional amendment that declared Ahmadis as ‘non-Muslims’.
In protest, Salam left Pakistan for London. Even after his departure, Salam did not completely terminate his connection to Pakistan, and kept close association with the Theoretical Physics Group as well as academic scientists from the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). Leaving Pakistan in protest was something he greatly regretted because he loved his country. Unfortunately his country failed to reciprocate.
Dr Ishfaq Ahmad, former chairman of the PAEC and a lifelong friend of Salam recalls:
“Dr Abdus Salam was responsible for sending about 500 physicists, mathematicians and scientists from Pakistan, for doctorate’s to the best institutions in UK and US”.
How did the nation honour him then? By ostracising him and his faith.
Even the epitaph on his tomb which initially read “First Muslim Nobel Laureate”, because of Salam’s adherence to the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, the word “Muslim” was erased on the orders of a local magistrate, leaving the nonsensical “First Nobel Laureate”.
Despite the immense services he had done for Pakistan and the government, he has been discriminated against because of his affiliation with the Ahmadiyya sect, which the Pakistan Government has formally denounced.
Yet, today, after so many years of controversy, this scientific achievement, set to go down in history, cannot be separated from the name Abdus Salam. That is exactly how Pakistani’s will remember it – as the day a scientific breakthrough made way and a Pakistani physicist had so much to do with it. A denounced Pakistani.
To Pakistan, he was an Ahmadi, deserving of scorn and ridicule. To the world and to me, at least, he was a legendary physicist.
Brilliance with no religion, no creed, no race, no caste and unfortunately, no country. Why call him Pakistani when we drew him away? Why take pride in his achievements now when he is gone? Why claim to have contributed to a discovery by a man you shunned? What suddenly makes him eligible to be a pride for Pakistan?
If only Pakistan had looked upon his achievements and awards without the lens of religious skepticism and discrimination on, we will see that personalities like him that exist amongst us even today, are a matter of pride. They deserve to be recognised, valued and appreciated- not shunned or denounced.