Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan honored Abdus Salam, a theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate who belonged to a persecuted minority, by renaming a department of physics at one of the nation’s leading public universities after him on Monday.
Mr. Salam, who died in 1996, belonged to the Ahmadi (or Ahmadiyya) sect. Though Ahmadi beliefs are strongly rooted in Islam, other sects consider them heretical, and they are declared non-Muslims under the Pakistani Constitution. They are widely singled out for discrimination and violence in Pakistan.
Mr. Sharif also announced a “Professor Abdus Salam Fellowship” through which five science scholarships would be given to Pakistani students in foreign universities.
Mr. Salam shared the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics. “He was the first Pakistani to receive a Nobel Prize in science and the second from an Islamic country to receive any Nobel Prize,” read a statement from Mr. Sharif’s office. “His remarkable achievement earned fame and prestige for the country, which rightly deserves to be valued.”
The announcement was widely hailed by the country’s liberal and progressive groups as an important example of tolerance, although it risked antagonizing religious conservatives.
Pakistan has a dismal record when it comes to protecting religious and ethnic minorities, who have often come under violent attacks by armed extremist groups. In 2010, Taliban militants stormed two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, killing at least 93 people.
Pakistan has only two Nobel Prize winners, and both have faced scorn from the country’s conservative elements. The second winner, Malala Yousafzai, the young campaigner for girls’ education who was attacked by the Taliban in the Swat Valley in 2012, is celebrated globally as an icon of female and education rights. But some in the country have assailed her as a Western stooge.