Quantum Note

“To destroy a society, the most effective and least provocative and offensive method is to de-link  the people from it’s roots.” Raja Mujtaba

By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal

What better way to destroy a society!

He walks slowly, but with determined steps as if measuring his movements, just as he meticulously scooped one spoon of sugar from the pot for my cup of green tea and with utmost concentration–but with a little shaking in his hand–put the spoon in the cup.

“So, that was 1963,” he continued his description of  his travail in Pakistan, “We went to do something and the they said, no, you cannot, we will not work and we will not let you work. I was on sabbatical from Concordia University, and after struggling for two years, we decided to return. Since then, I have been here.”

“What were you working on?”

“Critical areas of investment, where to invest for megaprojects so that twenty-five years down the road, we have a solid industrial base in sync with an infrastructure that supports it. It was Ayub Khan’s time, the best time for Pakistan, as it turned out, when solid investment was made in developing the country. You know in economics, we call solid investment that investment which yields results for generations.”

He has all the characteristics of brilliance which that generation of Pakistanis possessed which saw the Partition: highly civilized, educated, men and women of keen perception, upright character, and above all, burning with a desire to serve their new-found homeland. Educated at the best institutions of the Western world, this generation of Pakistanis is now almost gone; the relic I met in Montreal this past week was probably one of the few remaining.

He had gone to Karachi in 1963 in order to serve “my country”, as he said with a certain degree of nostalgia and sadness, but had to return without fulfilling that dream and since then, he has had a broken piece in his heart which he has not been able to mend. This wound, which he never displayed, keeps getting deeper by the day as he sees his country plunge from one darkness and despair to another. But there is not much he can do to get rid of this pestering infection: he cannot discard his ties with the country, the dreamland he and his parents struggled to establish, and cannot return to that land where an under-secretary of the finance department had cut him short with his memos and pestering verbal assaults.

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Of course, he has returned to his homeland time and again, but every time he has come back with deeper wounds. In fact, just a month before my visit this past week, he had returned from Pakistan with his “ears still ringing with sounds”, as he put it. “Sahib,” he said in his cultured manner, “now, you go there and it is a foreign land, more foreign than any land I have been and I have been to many lands.”

No amount of recognition of his intellect, great talent, and accomplishments in Canada could take away the sour experience of helpless and impotence that he carried; that sojourn of two years in Karachi had permanently damaged something inside the man whose frail body was now sitting in front of me in the same erect position in which had been sitting for the past one hour. His outer calm was infused with an inner sadness something he was constantly trying to hide.

“Sahib,” he would say before making a point, “what we did was destroyed within the first few months of building. I cannot understand what forces were working against us; we had no idea that we are building castles in the air.”

“The Angres (the Britons) were, of course, not our friends, nor were the Hindus, but I never thought we will be destroyed by our own Muslim brothers, by our rotten eggs who would grab everything and run. Quaid-e Azam was a great man but no man, however great, can make anything out of rotten eggs.”

As the characteristic Montreal colors of an evening in fall loomed outside hpw the window of the sitting room where we sat, as if frozen in time, he really seemed to have emerged from a previous era, talking about a time no one seems to remember now. “But the question is: why did have only rotten eggs, or khotey sikkey (false coins) in his pocket.”

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“That is the question,” I said calmly, “that needs to be investigated for any understanding of Pakistan’s grand loss.”

“But no one is even interested in investigating it,” that is the sad part of this tragedy. No one is interested in finding out the root of our cancer and radiating it out of this body.”

“What is your opinion about it?”

“Sahib, my opinion does not count, kaya piddy kaya piddi ka shorba, Sahib, but it must have been written in the grand book that time has passed for any new plant to blossom. That is all I can say. Otherwise, which stone did we leave unturned!”

“So, now what?”

“Nothing. The nation has nothing left now. There is nothing one do in that country without graft and as you know, a nation where nothing moves without rishwat (bribes) is finished, doomed. There is no hope for such a nation. When I took my car with me, a young man came to me and asked if he should help me in getting it released from the Customs and I said no, I have all the papers and I have taken care of every single document. But he came back after a week and smiled and asked, if he should help, I said no, I think it is just slow but I will have it soon and then he returned again and again and after two months I said yes, I need your help and he went in and you know what…but when the car was finally released, it had no wiper blades, the window glass had been stolen and the you know the rest. So, that was in 1963. Think of where we stand now!”

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He fell silent and the sadness of that fall evening filled the room.

Muzaffar Iqbal is the founder-president of Center for Islam and Science (www.cis-ca.org), Canada, and editor of

Islam & Science, a semi-annual journal of Islamic perspectives on science and civilization. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry (University of Saskatchewan, Canada, 1983), and then left the field of experimental science to fully devote himself to study Islam, its spiritual, intellectual and scientific traditions.

Born in Lahore, Pakistan, he has lived in Canada since 1979. He has held academic and research positions at University of Saskatchewan (1979-1984), University of Wisconsin-Madison (1984-85), and McGill University (1986). During 1990-1999, he pursued his research and study on various aspects of Islam in Pakistan, where he also worked as Director, Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) between 1991-96 and as Director, Pakistan Academy of Sciences (1998-99).

During 1999-2001, Dr. Iqbal was Program Director (Muslim World) for the Science-Religion Course Program of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), Berkeley, USA.

Dr. Iqbal has published books and papers on  the relationship between Islam and science, Islam and the West, the contemporary situation of Muslims, and the history of Islamic science.

His publications include Islam and Science, God, Life and the Cosmos: Christian and Islamic Perspectives , Science and Islam, Dawn in Madinah: A Pilgrim’s Passage , The Making of Islamic Science (IBT, 2009) and a few more titles.

He is the General Editor of the forthcoming seven-volume Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, the first English language reference work on the Qur’an based on fourteen centuries of Muslim reflection and scholarship. He is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.