Salam, Abdus Salam.

Had 2012 been fortunate enough today, this 29th January would’ve been the 86th birthday of a forgotten national hero. And this day demands a reminder of his life and work, both of which are pushed into the dusty abyss of oblivion by the Pakistani state and nation.

This national hero was Pakistan’s first Nobel Laureate. Dr. Abdus Salam.

Years have gone by yet the fact remains that he was and has been denied the recognition on all levels in Pakistan; from the state to the society.

Many have their minds clogged with abomination for him, and not only is their aversion towards such a figure deplorable but their opinion and ignorance relating to Dr. Salam’s efforts for Pakistan is even more lamentable.

While his achievements in the field of science are ones that people around the world are fairly familiar with, his endeavors for the progress of his own country are ones that the Pakistani nation itself is hardly familiar with.

Before his campaign for its promotion in Pakistan, science was considered nothing less than a negligible subject by the government.

The country’s first national space agency, SUPARCO, was the brainchild of Dr. Salam. He had also signed an agreement with NASA for whose fulfillment the organization trained and educated Pakistan’s scientists and engineers, that were to later work for SUPARCO. This was a work of his which aimed to ensure that those who work for the organization are given the best of schooling and instruction, that they could later channel for Pakistan’s benefit.

It was under his guidance and influence that ‘research in physics reached its maximum point that prompted the worldwide recognition of Pakistani physicists...he expanded the web of physics research and development in Pakistan by sending more than 500 scientists abroad.’

‘In 1964, Salam was made head of Pakistan’s IAEA delegation and represented Pakistan for a decade. With an agreement signed with IAEA, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics was set up with Salam as its first director. At IAEA, Salam had tirelessly advocated the importance of nuclear power plants in his country.’

The year 1965 was witness to some prime examples of Dr. Salam’s exertions that resulted into considerable gains for Pakistan. As Science Advisor to President Ayub Khan, he traveled to USA where an accord came into being that was followed by the provision of Pakistan’s first nuclear power plant in Karachi.

He also closed an agreement with the Government of the United States for a research reactor in Rawalpindi.

The same year, the plutonium Pakistan Atomic Research Reactor went critical under him.

Along with the Canada-Pakistan nuclear energy cooperation deal, Edward Durrell Stone’s designing and leadership of the construction of a nuclear research institute in Nilore, the realization of Dr. Salam’s longing for the establishment of research centers around the country, were also the fruits of his labours in that year.

Dr. Salam moved Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission Headquarters for situating laboratories and research centers all over Pakistan. It was on his advice, that the dedicated Ishrat Hussain Usmani set up plutonium and uranium exploration committees in Pakistan.

In the average Pakistani jingoistic bluster, the mention of Pakistan’s position as the first and only ‘Muslim Nuclear Power’ is invariably permanent and essential.

But Dr. Salam’s  role and contributions in making this status a possibility for Pakistan is as discounted as was his entire life, known solely as the recipient of the Nobel.

The esteemed nuclear engineer, late Munir Khan, who is also known as ‘the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb project’, in a tribute [ That is compiled in a list of three wonderful articles on Dr. Abdus Salam ] that he penned for Dr. Salam wrote:

‘He became the mentor of the PAEC since its very inception. He helped select the site for PINSTECH and support the acquisition of KANUPP.

He encouraged the government to train scientists abroad and helped them obtain placement in key universities and laboratories through his personal contacts. He was responsible for the establishment of Suparco. He advised Ayub Khan to seek US help for water logging and salinity problems in Pakistan which led to the Revelle Mission.’

It is reported that an office was set up for Salam in the Prime Minister’s Secretariat by order of Bhutto, under whose reign he visited the USA and brought back information relating to the Manhattan Project.

‘Salam immediately started to motivate and gravitate scientists to begin work with PAEC in the development of fission weapons.’

Many in Pakistan, then question that indeed, if he did love Pakistan then why did he ‘abandon’ it?

Abdus Salam left Pakistan for Europe as an act of protest against and after being completely disheartened and heartbroken by changes in the country’s constitution, that declared all Ahmedis to be Non-Muslim; barring them from ‘behaving’ like Muslims or calling themselves one.

Another reason that may serve as background to his taking up of residence abroad, in the last years of his life, may be that his second wife Dame Louise Johnson was a Professor in Oxford, who bore him a son and a daughter children there, and as his illness aggravated, he wished to stay with them.

Yet even after he dwelled in the West, he did not bid adieu to Pakistan. Despite the humiliating disregard he received from his own nation, Dr. Salam continued inviting Pakistan’s scientists to ICTP, and maintained a research programme for the Pakistani scientists.

He also carried on with patronising and supporting Pakistanis from his institute in Italy.

‘Many prominent scientists, including Ghulam Murtaza, Riazuddin, Kamaluddin Ahmed, Faheem Hussain, Raziuddin Siddiqui, Munir Ahmad Khan, Ishfaq Ahmad, and I. H. Usmani, considered him as their mentor and a teacher.’

In his must-read ‘Abdus Salam – Past and Present’, published in 1996, Pervez Hoodbhoy makes some ‘startling revelations’ for a nation that mistreated its best:

‘More importantly, for over a decade, Salam has quietly been supporting needy science students throughout Pakistan with his Nobel Prize money. The money has also been used to purchase scientific equipment for half a dozen Pakistani colleges, and to support an annually awarded prize for scientific research.’
But apparently, all that he did and all the honour that he bestowed upon Pakistan with his success and abilities, weigh not much more than a mote, in comparison to his faith.

Faith; one’s sacred relationship with God.

Where most speak and behave in a manner that evinces as if God himself has delegated His tasks to them; to judge who is a Muslim, how good a Muslim, who is a ‘Shaheed’ and who a ‘Kafir’ and who gets to go where after death; to attempt to interfere and try to do what is the Creator’s business, I wonder why that isn’t blasphemy.

Dr. Salam was never known as an Ahmedi Nobel Winner, but he was always called and is still remembered as a Pakistani Nobel Winner.

This country and nation ought to have ‘owned’ him, because he may not have been a State-Certified Muslim like most of us, but he was still, one of us, he was a Pakistani. And a peerless and patriotic one.

The once sad prejudice, narrow-mindedness, discrimination, senseless hatred clothed in the garb of religious ‘righteousness’ – that simmered without a word of objection from anyone, when it came to Dr. Salam, now disgorges a steady deluge of extremism that aims to drown every Pakistani in its murderous rush – through the ideology of hate itself. From the 40,000 innocent civilians that have perished in it to the brave like Shahbaz Bhatti, it has now developed into a monster that is eating away at Pakistan.

I remember, on this day, of a quote I read a time back on a Sri Lankan site bearing homage to their soldiers:

‘Poor are the nations that do not have heroes, but beggared are those who forget them’.

 In hope of a Pakistan, where sanity and tolerance will flourish and that will someday, recognize, openly accept you with respect and pride, on the basis of your relation to it rather than your beliefs, with the veneration that you deserved – I say neither to the Ahmedi, nor to the Nobel Laureate, nor to the scientist but, to the man who should mean much to us all, above everything; to the man who loved his homeland immensely, I say rest in peace Dr. Salam.

‘While the world clamored in his praise,

At his own home and by his own people, he was treated with nothing but shameless disdain,

Longing to be ‘owned’ by his land, yet in vain,

Blinded by ignorance and bigotry’s blaze, this nation still remains,

But the  audacious heart blasphemes to yearn to see a day when this son of the soil will be proudly proclaimed!’

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Sheedis of Pakistan: Living To The African Rhythm.

Not many are familiar with the ’Sheedi’ people or the indigenous Africans of Pakistan.

They are a group that trace their ethnic descent from Afro-Arabs or Black Africans, with many claiming their lineage from Hazrat Bilal.

Owing to interesting yet conflicting accounts of the linguistic background to the formation and origin of what they are actually called, the Sheedis are also addressed as Sidi, Habshi or Makraani.
Although, the use of the word Makrani may be wrong, it must also not be confused with the Baloch living at Makran. Sheedis and Baloch are two different people]

Reports and accounts related to their arrival in the region vary. Most say that they were brought here as soldiers by the several Arab invaders. The lesser validated view is what Amy Catlin, an ethno-musicologist from the University of California who specially studied Siddi culture, states:

‘The Siddis are descendants of African slaves, sailors and servants, and merchants who remained in India after arriving through the sea trade with East Africa and the Gulf, that was a process which began in the 12th century or before, and lasted until the late 19th century.”

Others refer to two historical happenings of the 17th Century [ The first is doubtful ], Omani Arabs ruled Balochistan and often used to practice the trading and buying of African slaves. The second referal is towards the reported arrival of the Portugese slave traders in the Indian Subcontinent, who sold a number of them to princes.

It may be deduced from all this, without generalization – that majority of Sheedis set their foot on this soil, as slaves. A conclusion affirmed by history: the origins and beginnings of Malik Andeel , Malik Ambar and Sidi Badr before their accession to power in ‘united India’.

An anthropologic report on the community reveals:

‘There are two types of Sheedis in Pakistan: Arab-originated (Makranis), who speak the Balochi language and live in Southern Balochistan. And the others are Africa-originated living in Sindh speak Sindhi language and are called as “Ghar Java”.

A wholly enlightening and engrossing site ‘The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World’ writes:

‘It has been estimated  that at least a quarter of the total population of the Makran coast  is of African ancestry – that is, at least 250,000 people there.’

Sheedis are exceptionally capable of holding quite a set of skills and much flair, especially in sports. Those settled in the town of Lyari, which is noted to be the centre of this community, are famed for their incredible potential in boxing, football and other sports.

‘Lyari is known as a football hotbed in Pakistan. Many of the nation’s top players come from the area. Football is so popular that crime levels dip significantly during the FIFA World Cup season.’

Ali Ahsan mentions in his excellent compilation of the history of football in Pakistan:

‘The African-origin Sheedi community of the Makran coast and areas that now make up Karachi also, took up this sport with a love and passion that burns across Lyari.”

The most prominent of their events is the the annual Sheedi Mela, the culmination and commemoration of the diversity that they represent. The Mela is held in rural Manghopir which is named after the Sufi Pir Sakhi Sultan.

At the heart of the four-day festival are the crocodiles in the famed Manghopir pond, who are regarded as the disciples of Sakhi Sultan, particularly ‘Mor Sahib’; the eldest or the chief of the crocodiles.

With the very commencement of the festival, a  spell of energy, enthusiasm and cultural celebration is unleased.

The ’Dhamaal’ and dance to the music and beating of the Congo Drums, and the practice of jumping over fire, are a clear homage to their rich African heritage and roots.

A central ritual in the Sheedi Mela, is the act of garlanding the ‘Mor Sahib‘, to which many pray to also.

Express Tribune writes on the occasion:

‘The festival, which bears religious and cultural significance for the Sheedi community, is organised by members of the community who make offerings of sweets and meat to the sacred crocodile. According to the devotees of the Mor Sahib, people from the Sheedi community must offer the Mor Sahib a goat’s head, along with the sweets and meat, to ensure that the sacred crocodile continues to bless them all year round’.

The Mela basically, serves as an evidence of the fact that the Sheedi people in Pakistan have unitedly maintained – that although, a lapse of centuries has occurred since their ancestors first settled or came here, they have admirably and firmly preserved their own distinct and vibrant culture, customs, mores, social values thus, every element that constitutes one’s identity.

~ Hafsa Khawaja


* Chagatai Khan’s post on the Sheedis of Pakistan is thoroughly knowledgeable, for those who wish to read more.