CERN CineClub - Documentary on Dr. Abdus Salam

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500/1-001 - Main Auditorium


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Salam - The First ****** Nobel Laureate

Producer: Zakir Thaver
Director: Anand Kamalakar
Year: 2018, runtime: 75 minutes
Trailer: TSAFF 2018 - Salaam The First Nobel Laureate Trailer

Dr. Abdus Salam was a theoretical physicist who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1979 for his contribution to the electroweak unification theory. His work laid the foundation of the Standard Model where he introduced Higgs bosons to the theory, which were later 
experimentally produced at CERN. He worked tirelessly to reinvigorate the Muslim world in regaining their place in the scientific community. In 1964, he established the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. Each year ICTP funds hundreds of students from many developing countries (both non-Muslims and Muslims alike) to train them for their PhD studies.  

Abdus Salam came from humble beginnings, growing up in a small brick house in the remote village of Jhang, Pakistan. His father, Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain, was a devout Muslim who had a dream before his son’s birth that he would achieve great things for humanity. Abdus Salam turned out to be a deeply spiritual person who traversed two worlds with ease: one of science and religion, modernity and tradition, war and peace and obscurity and celebrity. He was a man of immense love who kept loyal to his people, country, and faith.

In 2014, the Pakistani government removed the word “Muslim” from his tombstone in Rabwah, Pakistan, due to his belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, which received wide condemnation from the scientific community and human right groups. This film will explore the life of Abdus Salam, from his steadfast growth in the physics community to the numerous hardships he faced during his life.

Despite the unfair treatment he received from the Pakistani leadership, Abdus Salam kept striving to educate the Muslim youth, often narrating anecdotes from the past when Muslims were at the pinnacle of scientific discoveries. Copied below is the narration he made during his speech at the Nobel prize ceremony. It's the story of a young Scottsman who traveled great distances to Andalusia to study
under the great Arab-Muslim scholars in Spain, a time when the Western civilization was still in its infancy.

Nearly seven hundred and seventy years ago, a young Scotsman left
his native glens to travel south to Toledo, Bologna and Salerno. His name
was Michael, his goal to live and work at these places and to master the
newer developments in sciences, then available only at these Centres.
Since Arabic was the language of science at that time, he had to learn Arabic.

Michael reached Toledo in 1217 AD [...] Once he reached the South, Michael
formed the ambitious project of introducing Aristotle to Europe, translating
into Latin not from the original Greek, which he knew not, but from the Arabic translation of
Aristotle then taught at Toledo. This was the first introduction of
Aristotle's work into medieval Europe, together with the work of Arab-
Muslim writers like Averros (Ibn Rushd). At Salerno there flourished a great medical
school chartered by Frederick in 1231. Here Michael met the Danish
physician Henrik Harpestraeng — later to become Court Physician of
Eric IV Waldemarsson. Henrick, the physician, had come to Salerno to
compose his treatise on blood-letting and surgery. Henrik's sources
were the medical canons of the great clinicians of Islam, Al-Razi and
Avicenna (Ibn-e-Sina), which Michael the Scot translated for Henrick from Arabic.
Toledo's, Bologna's and Salerno's schools, representing as they did the
finest synthesis of Arabic, Hebrew, and Latin scholarship, were some of
the most memorable of international assays in scientific collaboration
in the Middle Ages. To these centres came scholars not only from the
rich countries of the East, like Syria, Turkey and Egypt, but also from
developing lands of the West, like Scotland and Scandinavia. Then, as
now, there were obstacles to this international scientific concourse, with
an economic and intellectual disparity between different parts of the
world. Men like Michael the Scot or Henrik Harpestraeng, the Dane,
were singularities. They did not represent any flourishing schools of
research in their own countries. With all the best will in the world their
teachers at these universities doubted the wisdom and value of training
them for advanced scientific research.

Abdus Salam cared deeply about the state of the Muslim nations and played a key role in developing the scientific body in Pakistan and elsewhere. His wife Louise Johnson also played a role in the development of science in Islamic countries, lecturing in Iran, Bangladesh and Pakistan, and supported the creation of SESAME, the new synchrotron in Jordan. Abdus Salam wrote numerous books and gave lectures stating that science is the common heritage of all mankind and no one nation can solely claim in its development. He repeatedly advised third-world countries to invest heavily in science, as he believed science was crucial to alleviate their poverty. 

(Many thanks to Adeel Ahmad for proposing and organising the projection and to the producer Zakir Thaver for offering the film.)

Books (most of these are available at the CERN library):
Abdus Salam, a biography, by Jagjit Singh:
Renaissance of sciences in Islamic countries:
Ideals and Realities — Selected Essays of Abdus Salam:

Living History presents Abdus Salam, Duke University [English]:
Interview by Akhtar Said [Punjabi]:
Salam Memorial held at CERN in 1997:
Memorial website for Abdus Salam:
Visit to ICTP, Italy:

Life of Dame Louise Napier Johnson (1940-2012):
Reflections Through Neutrino Oscillations:
Muhammad Zafarullah Khan (from whom Abdus Salam took inspiration):