Pakistan plans to rename a university centre for physicist Abdus Salam, its first Nobel laureate, after more than 30 years of all but disowning his achievements, as a member of a minority sect barred from identifying itself as Muslim. Salam, the first Muslim to win the prize for science, was a member of the Ahmadi sect, which is considered heretical by law in Pakistan, denounced by Muslim leaders and targeted by violent extremists.
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The office of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said it had given approval for the National Centre for Physics at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, the capital, to be renamed after Salam. “The prime minister has directed the ministry of federal education to put up a formal summary for renaming the center, for approval of the president,” it said in a statement on Monday.
Salam shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics with Sheldon Glashow and Steven Weinberg for helping to pave the way to the discovery of the “God particle,” one of science’s greatest achievements in the last 100 years. However, under pressure from right-wing clerics and students, Salam was banned from lecturing at public universities during his lifetime, and even after winning the Nobel.
The Ahmadi minority holds that a prophet followed the Prophet Mohammed, who founded Islam. But that view runs counter to the Muslim religion’s central belief that Mohammad was the last of God’s messengers. Killing Ahmadis earns the assailant a place in heaven, say some clerics, who distribute leaflets carrying the home addresses of sect members. In 1974, a Pakistani law declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims and in 1984, a new law made it possible to jail Ahmadis for “posing as a Muslim” or “offending a Muslim’s feelings”.
Salam is buried in the Pakistani town of Rabwah, a major centre for Ahmadis, where his gravestone was defaced by local authorities who removed the word “Muslim” from an inscription that called him “the first Muslim Nobel laureate”.
“All his life, Professor Salam wanted to set up an institution for physics in Pakistan but no one let him,” Saleemuddin, the Ahmadi community’s Pakistan spokesman, told Reuters. “They didn’t honour him in his life but we are happy they have finally done so now, better late than never,” added Saleemuddin, who uses only one name. “Only when we begin to honour our true heroes will Pakistan be on the right track.”