Dr. Abdus Salam: Some Reminiscences

By: Imam B.A. Rafiq

When I reached London in the early part of 1959 Dr. Abdus Salam lived in Putney, about a mile and a half from the Fazl Mosque. At that time he was serving as a Professor of  Theoretical Physics at the Imperial College. I had had the opportunity to meet him whenever he visited the London Mosque. He occupied a very high position and I was a mere young Missionary. He would often invite Hadhrat Sir Chaudhry Zafrulla Khan Sahib and some other friends for breakfast at his house. It was always an informal affair and I too would be invited on such occasions. Along with other admirers, I would also benefit from his discourse. Poetry, literature and current events would normally form subjects of discussion on such occasions. Dr. Sahib would be the soul and spirit in such assemblies. Later on, when Hadhrat Chaudhry Muhammad Zafrullah Khan Sahib settled in London permanently, Dr. Sahib would often invite him for breakfast at his house. He would also send invitation to me on such occasions.

Allah had blessed Dr. Sahib with an amazing brain conducive to conducting scientific research. Apart from that he also evinced a great deal of interest in Urdu and Persian poetry. He was a great admirer of ‘Hafiz’ the famous Persian poet, in particular. He had many of his verses, on the tip of his tongue which he would recite on appropriate occasions. He dearly loved ‘Maulana Rumi’ and had memorized many of his verses. He would also recite the verses of the Promised Masiaha.s during his discussions to illustrate his point of view. Dr. Salam revered Hadhrat Chaudhry Muhammad Zafrulla Khan and always consulted him, even about his personal and private matters. He would act in accordance with the advice tendered.

Shortly after my arrival in London his father, Hadhrat Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain, also came over to London. Naturally, Dr. Sahib was devoted to his esteemed father and held him in very high regard. Famous politicians and eminent scientists who came to meet him were always introduced to his father. When it was arranged for Dr. Sahib to meet the Duke of Edinburgh he took his father along with him and introduced him to the Duke.

Once he came to the Mission House and said to me that his father was getting bored sitting alone in the house. He wondered if it would be in order for him to drop his father at the Mission House in the morning and collect him again in the evening on his way back from the college. He thought that in this way his father would remain involved and would have an opportunity to meet other Ahmadi friends. I replied:“It would give me a great pleasure to have your father at the Mission House. In this way the Jamat will benefit from him in the field of Tarbiyyat.”

Thereafter, Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain started visiting the Mission House every day. He would spend a lot of time with me in my office discussing various educational and Tarbiyyati matters. Once he asked me to pray that his son may be awarded the Nobel Prize. I said: “You yourself are an extremely pious person. Therefore, compared with me, your prayers will have a more ready acceptance.”

I promised to pray myself and I also promised to request some other friends to pray for him. Some days later I saw a dream in which I heard somebody telling me: “Dr. Salam will surely be awarded the Nobel Prize. He is still very young whereas much older scientists are waiting in the queue. They will be awarded the prize first and then it will be Dr. Salam’s turn.”

The next day I related this dream to Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain. The following day when Dr. Salam came to the Mission House to fetch his father he wanted to hear the dream from me directly; I recounted the dream to him. He said: “It is strange that a few days ago someone close to the Nobel Prize Committee said the same thing to me.”

Dr. Salam used to be among the first persons to reach the Mosque for Friday prayer and he normally sat in the front row immediately behind the Imam. While I delivered my sermon, Dr. Salam would make certain notes in his notebook. One day, I said to him jokingly: “Perhaps you like my sermons so much that every now and then you feel the need to take notes!”

Dr. Sahib burst out in a spontaneous laughter and said: “The truth is that every now and then I feel in my mind as if I receive an electrical impulse which is often brilliant and concerns some scientific issues. I make an immediate note so that in the future they would form the basis of my research. Unless I make a note of them immediately there is a danger of them being lost.”

This was his routine day and night. Even while he was eating, he would suddenly open his notebook and write something in it. He would then resume the conversation in which he was engaged.

He was ardent in his love of Ahmadiyyat and had a great sense of honour for it. In 1974 when the Pakistan National Assembly unanimously resolved that Ahmadis were non-Muslims, Dr. Salam was the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government of Pakistan holding the rank of a Minister. When he heard the terrible news, he came to the Mission House and showed Hadhrat Chaudhry Zafrulla Khan a letter of resignation that he took out of his pocket. He said: “How can I serve a government that has, exceeding all limits, taken an unjust and shameful decision?”

Dr. Salam was deeply shocked when General Zia promulgated the notorious ordinance prohibiting Ahmadis from carrying out Islamic injunctions. After a lapse of some time, I asked him if he had met General Zia ul Haq after the promulgation of the Ordinance. He said he had met him and told me in some detail what had transpired during that meeting.

He said: “When I was at Trieste I received repeated calls from General Zia asking me to come and meet him. I made certain excuses but then I had to go on a visit to Pakistan. The General called me and I went to meet him in the President’s House where many other scientists were already present. The General came out of his office, opened the door of my car, embraced me and took me along to his room where there were some others present. During our conversation, I expressed my disgust on the promulgation of the Ordinance. The General held my hand and invited me to move to another room so that we could talk in private. The Minister for Scientific Affairs also joined us.

The General said;  “The truth is that a delegation of some Ulema came to see me and told me that the Ahmadis had made certain interpolations in the Holy Quran. I was extremely hurt to hear this. They told me that because of these interpolations Ahmadis should be excluded from the fold of Islam.”

I said to the General;  ‘A promise to protect the Holy Quran is present in the Quran itself where the Almighty, addressing the Holy Prophet said that He Himself would protect the Quran. Because of this Divine Promise how can an Ahmadi possibly make any interpolations in the Holy Quran?”

The General got up, walked to a bookshelf and picked up ‘Tafseer-e-Sagheer’.He said;‘This contains the Urdu translation of the Holy Quran by Mirza Mahmmod Ahmad. In it the Ulema have marked those verses which have been interpolated by Jamaat Ahmadiyya. I will show you some.”He opened the ‘Tafseere Sagheer’, put his finger on a spot, which was already marked and said; ‘Here you have made an interpolation.’ I said; ‘the verse has been produced in its entirety, where is the interpolation?’ The General responded by saying: ‘Look here, in this particular verse you are guilty of interpolation as you have translated the verse containing the words ‘Khatam un Nabiyyeen’ as ‘Seal of Prophets’ instead of ‘The Last Prophet’. We cannot possibly bear this.”

I said; ‘The word Khatam used in the Quran is neither a Punjabi word nor an English word and in the Arabic language it means a ‘seal’. I do not wish to be involved in an argument. Do you have a translation by some other scholars?’ The General rose and brought a copy of the Holy Quran with translation by Allama [Muhammad] Asad, which had been published from Mecca. I opened the Quran and found that the word ‘Khatam un Nabiyyeen’ had been translated in it as ‘Seal of Prophets’.

The General seemed flabbergasted. I said; ‘General! Allama Asad was not an Ahmadi and his translation has been published by the Saudi Government. Would you then hold the Saudi Government guilty of interpolation?’ The General responded by saying;  “I am only an illiterate General and whatever the scholars told me I accepted it as the truth.”

I said; ‘You are not just a General but the President of a country and as such it is your responsibility to protect the rights of all sections of the citizens. Here in Islamabad itself the Jamaat Ahmadiyya has a representative (Murabbi). Many members of the Jamaat also live here. Was it not your responsibility to send for some Ahmadi scholars and satisfy yourself? Should you not have heard both sides before taking a decision?’ On this, the General read ‘Kalima Shahadah’ aloud and invited me to do the same. In a loud voice I read the ‘Kalima Shahadah’. Then the General said; ‘Salam, I swear by God that I regard you a better Muslim than myself but what could I do when I was pushed into a corner by the Ulema?’ Then he switched over to another subject.”

Dr. Salam was wholly and utterly devoted to Pakistan and loved his country. When I obtained my British passport, I suggested to him at the breakfast table that he should also apply for British nationality and get a British passport, as on a British passport he would find traveling in foreign countries a lot easier. I offered to bring the application form for a British passport across for him. He remained quiet for a while and then said:

“I will never abandon my Pakistan nationality. I am hopeful that before long I will be awarded the Nobel Prize and on my account I would hate to see a country other than Pakistan to be recipient of that honour. I am a Pakistani and I will always remain a Pakistani even though I may have problems in my travels.”

Therefore, throughout his life, he remained a Pakistani and died a Pakistani.

He was deeply devoted to his parents. When his father passed away, he was extremely grief stricken and confined himself to his house. A few days later, I heard from his wife, that he had taken the event to heart and could not devote his mind to any other subject. She said: “Kindly ask Hadhrat Chaudhry Sahib to visit and console him.”

When I mentioned this to Chaudhry Sahib, he visited Dr. Salam who was sunk in an inconsolable grief. Hadhrat Chaudhry Sahib made an effort to console him and said: “Grief beyond a certain degree is liable to become shirk (idolatry).”

He cited his own example and said that although he was devoted to the memory of his own mother, on her demise he patiently became reconciled and submitted to the Will of Allah. After talking to him for a while, he held Dr. Salam in a long embrace. Dr. Salam broke down and wept bitterly. That was how he lightened the burden of his grief. Both his parents were ‘saintly personages’ and were recipient of visions and true dreams. They were prayerful. They dearly loved God’s creation and came to the assistance of the poor.

Mrs. Salam, his wife served as Sadar (President) of Lajna Imaillah UK for a great number of years. She was a lady of great dignity, and charm and a gracious hostess. Mrs. Salam was a lady of great learning in her own right and she was held in great esteem by all members of Lajna young and old. Throughout the period when I was the Imam and Missionary in charge in the UK, I received complete co-operation from her in all matters relating to that of Lajna. She always remained engaged in service to the community,and in particular taking care of, and showing hospitality towards the guests of her husband.

Dr.Salam was a man of great learning and most nations would have been honoured to have had such a man of such distinction as one of it sons. Yet, despite all his services to Pakistan he was denied the respect that he deserved by virtue of his many achievements. Despite this, Dr.Salam remained a loyal Pakistani till the end of his days, but far more than that he remained a loyal servant of Allah.

جزاك اللهُ خيراً

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12 thoughts on “Dr. Abdus Salam: Some Reminiscences

  1. I was wondering how long it would be before “Aalu Anday” (“Potatoes and Eggs” – going viral on YouTube) made it to this post… Well, it finally made it :o)

  2. Seems like even the youth of Pakistan are questioning why their own people don’t show appreciation to Professor Abdus Salam and this is being vocalised in their music which is often used as an outlet in Pakistan for youth to voice their opinions about politics and social issues. Here’s a punjabi boy band, listen out at 1:34 http://youtu.be/ZEpnwCPgH7g

  3. A personal view through a window into a room full of light . An amazing article and inspiring for all ages.

  4. Pingback: Dr. Abdus Salaam the Nobel Laureate | Revelation and Rationality

  5. A lovely post. JazakAllah. You are very correct in your description of Mrs Salaam in that she was loved by the young and old members of the Jamaat and held in great esteem. I was much younger when I had been in her company and she treated me with great love and respect. May Allah bless her and her capable husband with lofty stations in paradise, Ameen.

  6. Truly inspirational.
    Always felt that pre 1974 pakistan sounded quite modern and progressive from the images and stories I hear.
    No doubt in my mind that this ordinance contributed to steady decline we see pakistan in now.

  7. JazakAllah excellent post to encourage others and some information that i did not know before about him.

  8. JazakAllah for this excellent post. Gives a true insight into the greatest Muslim scientist of this age. I will ensure speedy circulation of this post among Ahmadi students and researchers in the UK.

  9. I must say that this is an excellent snippet of our history. Please circulate it widely. I am thankful to Almighty Allah that good men, such as Imam Rafiq Sahib, who have been blessed with many extraordinary experiences in their lives, understand the benefit of, and need to document history so that it can be of benefit to the future. Such stories of courage strengthen the heart and increase ones wisdom.

    I encourage all those reading this blog to visit your family members who had such experiences and note down their experiences or even take a camera and film them.

  10. What a wonderful post! Dr Abdus Salam was a true Mujahid of the highest order, according to the Hadeeth:
    “The best jihad is to speak the truth before a tyrant.” (Mishkat, Book of Rulership and Judgment, ch. 1)

  11. I remember once seeing a portrait of Professor Abdus Salam up in the canteen of Imperial College whilst visiting a friend. I became so excited and jumped for joy. I think muslim role models in our era are important in all fields be they sciences or arts, both in the western and eastern hemisphere.

    Mrs Salam also served the jamaat with much humility.

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