The Glaring Gap in Canada's Islamic History Month
by Salim Mansur
[CIP Note: Salim Mansur regrets overlooking, in this column, the Nobel Prize shared in Physiology and Medicine by Ferid Murad, an Albanian-American Muslim, in 1998.]
In the book, Einstein Wrote Back, physicist John Moffat devotes a chapter to Abdus Salam. Moffat was one of Salam's students, and fondly recalls the time spent with Salam as a post-doctoral fellow in Cambridge.
Abdus Salam shared with Steven Weinberg and Sheldon Glashow the Nobel Prize in 1979 for Physics. The prize was recognition for their work in unifying the two fundamental forces of nature, electromagnetism that lights our homes and the weak interaction governing radioactive decay. Salam was the first Muslim Nobel laureate followed by only the second Muslim scientist Ahmed Zeweil, an Egyptian-American, to win the Nobel Prize in 1999 for Chemistry.
But Salam is not recognized by those Muslim organizations celebrating the month of October in Canada as Islamic History Month. That Salam's name is missing from the list of Muslim Nobel prizewinners prepared for the occasion is not an oversight. It reveals instead the true and ugly nature of the brand of religion and politics the organizers have imported into Canada and about which most Canadians remain ignorant.
Salam (1926-96) was born in Jhang, Punjab, in British India. The 1947 partition of India made Salam a Pakistani. His family belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect in Islam founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), an autodidact scholar of Arabic and Persian, who claimed to be a messiah or renovator of faith in 1889. The followers of Ahmad grew in number during the British Raj despite the fierce opposition of orthodox Muslims. Their circumstances, however, changed for the worse following India's partition.
During Pakistan's early years Ahmadis experienced hostility, yet the government remained neutral and protective of them. This changed in the 1970s when Ali Bhutto's government under Saudi Arabia's influence declared the Ahmadiyya sect to be outside of Islam, and formally branded Ahmadis as non-Muslims. Since then Ahmadis have faced persecution as apostates and blasphemers in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and wherever in the Muslim world the Wahhabi version of Saudi Islam finds favour among people, as in Afghanistan.
Salam was indisputably the greatest Muslim scientist since the 'golden age' of Islamic civilization ended some 800 years ago. The Muslim world has drifted over the past half millennium into its own Dark Age. Salam often spoke about this reversal in Muslim history when support for science by ruling authorities ended, and freethinking individuals such as Omar Khayyam (mathematician, astronomer and poet), or al-Biruni (philosopher and historian) were hounded by orthodoxy often with the backing of the rulers.
Salam was highly regarded in the West. He occasionally visited Canada, and during one such visit in March 1987 I attended his lecture in Ottawa hosted by the International Development Research Centre. Theoretical physicists from the Third World held him in great affection for mentoring them. He established in Trieste, Italy, with assistance from developed countries, including Canada, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics to support scientists from developing countries.
The Muslim world not surprisingly shunned Salam for belonging to the Ahmadiyya sect. But Salam never doubted Islam, and publicly spoke about how his work as a physicist was inspired by the Koran's repeated instructions for believers to pursue knowledge as a requirement of faith.
Salam reminded his audiences that when science flourished within the Islamic civilization Muslims readily agreed with al-Kindi, an Arab thinker, from the ninth century. Al-Kindi taught, 'It is fitting then for us not to be ashamed to acknowledge truth and to assimilate it from whatever source it comes to us. For him who scales the truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself; it never cheapens nor abases him.' An Islamic inquisition launched in the 10th century by religious orthodoxy, the precursors of Wahhabi sectarianism, banished freethinking as blasphemy and, consequently, brought to an end Islam's 'golden age'.
In airbrushing the place of Abdus Salam in Muslim history, the organizers of the Islamic History Month in Canada displayed their politics. Headed by the Canadian Islamic Congress they are, for the most part, linked with the Saudi lobby, and ostracize Muslims who are opposed to the intolerance and bigotry of 'official' Islam represented by member states of the Organization of Islamic Conference. Muslims denigrated and abused here in Canada, as those persecuted in Muslim countries, know full well the dark side of these organizations pushing their politics disguised as religion.