July 9, 2012

Higgs Boson Physicist Shunned By Homeland, Pakistan

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

While the science community celebrates a monumental discovery, one researcher who helped lead the discovery of the God particle has been shunned by his home country.

Abdus Salam, Pakistan's only Nobel laureate, helped play a crucial role in the discovery of the subatomic Higgs Boson particle that was announced last week, but he is being scrutinized by his homeland because of his religious affiliation.

Salam died in 1996 and was once considered to be a national hero for his work in physics and his contribution to Pakistan's nuclear program. However, his name has since been stricken from school textbooks because he was a member of the Ahmadi sect, which has been persecuted by the government and targeted by Taliban militants.

Ahmadis believe their spiritual leader, Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet of God, which is an idea that is rejected by the Pakistan government. Islam considers Muhammad the last prophet, and those who subsequently declared themselves prophets as heretics.

The life of an Ahmadi drastically changed in 1974 when parliament amended a constitution to declare that members of the sect were not considered Muslims under Pakistani law.

All Pakistani passport applicants must sign a section saying the Ahmadi faith's founder was an "imposter" and his followers are "non-Muslims." Amadhis are also prevented by law in Pakistan from "posing" as Muslims, declaring their faith publicly, calling their places of worship mosques or performing the Muslim call to prayer. Those who do these things and are Amadhis could be punished with prison, or even death.

Salam resigned from a government post he was holding in 1974 in protest to the constitutional amendment, and eventually moved to Europe to pursue his work in physics.

Salam won more than a dozen international prizes and honors, and was co-winner of the Nobel prize for his work on the standard model of particle physics, which theorizes how fundamental forces govern the overall dynamics of the universe.

"The way he has been treated is such a tragedy," Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist who once worked with Salam, said in a statement. "He went from someone who was revered in Pakistan, a national celebrity, to someone who could not set foot there. If he came, he would be insulted and could be hurt or even killed."

Salam and Steven Weinberg, who he shared the prize with, independently predicted the existence of the God particle.

Last Wednesday, physicists announced the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, which was found using the world's largest atom collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

"This would be a great vindication of Salam's work and the Standard Model as a whole," Khurshid Hasanain, chairman of the physics department at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, said in a statement.

When Salam was awarded the nobel prize, Pakistan's then-president, Gen. Zia ul-Haq presented him with the country's highest civilian honor. However, the president later went on to intensify the persecution of Ahmadis.

After Salem died in 1996 in Oxford, England, his body was returned to Pakistan. His gravestone originally read "First Muslim Nobel Laureate," but a local magistrate ordered that the word "muslim" to be erased.