Published in the Daily Times on March 119th 2012
The LUMS Abdus Salam Chair, once established, will be responsible to work in the spirit of everything that embodies Dr. Salam, who was inspired by the Quran for his ideas on the electro-weak theory and ‘Theory of Everything’ — excellence, tolerance and peace
Eqbal Ahmed, renowned Pakistani intellectual and writer, may God rest his soul in peace, in an interview with David Barsamian talked about prejudice, extremism and violence and about how his father was murdered over a land dispute in Bihar. He said something profound during this interview: “It is what you choose to do with your experience that matters.” When Daniel Pearl was brutally murdered in Karachi in 2002, his family “chose” to use that horrific experience to dilute hate that is pervasive in the world. They have formed the Daniel Pearl Foundation that performs peace concerts all over the world, and has launched an interfaith dialogue series between Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl’s father and Dr. Akbar S Ahmed, the Chair for Islamic Studies at the American University. This dialogue helped to alleviate the growing mistrust and resentment between the Muslim and Jewish communities, and between Pakistanis and Israelis in the US and weave commonalities between the two Abrahamic faiths.
An even more significant step has been taken by Dr. Adil Najam, Vice Chancellor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) for launching a fundraising campaign for the Abdus Salam Chair. Dr. Abdus Salam, one of the greatest scientists produced by the Islamic world and having received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, deserves such an honour by LUMS, Pakistan’s number one ranked institute by the Higher Education Commission. But what makes this gesture significant is that it is courageous, even though the intent of LUMS is only to honour the intellectual contribution of Dr. Salam.
Dr. Salam was an Ahmedi. This community has since the 1950s faced systemic discrimination by the state. The anti-Ahmediya movement, started by Maududi, led Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to declare them non-Muslim under the constitution and was ultimately solidified in the Ziaul Haq era. To date, there are hundreds of Ahmedis in jail for saying “Assalamulaikum”, which is a crime. Their tombstones cannot have the Kalima written on them. Their mosques are not places of worship but places of potential violence. Given the lethal combination of bigotry and extremism, these are places prone to suicide bombings and shootings. On May 28, 2010, two Ahmedi places of worship were attacked in Lahore by militants and 93 Ahmedis were slaughtered. When the places of worship are not attacked, mobs demand that they be closed down. Ahmedi students are routinely expelled from educational institutions because of their faith.
This persecution is a direct violation of Article 20 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973, though I have been told that the Supreme Court does not feel that way. Nonetheless, this continues to happen precisely because the populace has not been sensitised about the right of a community, regardless of its beliefs, to practice and promote their values in Pakistan. Ironically, Pakistan was created to establish freedom from the tyranny of the majority, yet today it is cornering this and other peace loving minority communities and leaving them no choice but to flee the country.
This is where academic institutions can make all the difference. By virtue of being the harbinger of knowledge, this one institution LUMS will not only honour the man who gave Pakistan its only Nobel, but also make a bold step of the symbolic gesture that his religion is of no consequence, and hence a personal matter. It is this message that needs to permeate society — the notion that the state ought not to distribute the pursuit of happiness based on what you believe.
Tragically, the laws themselves are designed to reward the one with mala fide intent — the compendium of blasphemy laws, which is supposed to punish offensive language or actions against any religion and not just Islam, is often misused for personal grievances. Contrary to popular opinion, this law has not affected non-Muslims as much as it has affected Muslims. Hundreds suffering under this law are Ahmedis. The punishment for the offence is the death penalty.
This is a community that gave us the likes of Sir Zafrullah Khan, whose contributions to the cause of Pakistan were second to none and who was described as one of the ablest men in India by none other than Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Zafrullah authored the Pakistan Resolution and worked tirelessly to make the Pakistan Movement a success. This community has contributed to Pakistan’s industry, trade and commerce. This is a community that has thousands of young men serving in the Pakistan Army; many of them lay down their lives to protect us. This is a community that has never taken up arms or responded with hate literature of its own — “Love for all and hatred for none” is their motto.
With such extreme detestation against this community, and a general sectarian environment, LUMS has given us an opportunity to undo the wrongs that we have collectively written against them with the pen of our silence. The LUMS Abdus Salam Chair, once established, will be responsible to work in the spirit of everything that embodies Dr. Salam, who was inspired by the Quran for his ideas on the electro-weak theory and the ‘Theory of Everything’ — excellence, tolerance and peace.
But like everything worthwhile, there are significant challenges to this. The fundraising is underway but for this to happen major contributions need to be made.
Today we have a chance to stand up and be counted on the right side of history. Congratulations LUMS for at least raising our consciousness and taking the first step. Kudos to LUMS for setting up this Chair to honour not just a man, but also a citizen of Pakistan who deserved more recognition and reverence than he got.