Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, a Scientist and Institution-Builder Par Excellence
By Dr. Ahmed S. Khan
Addison , IL
If you are thinking a year ahead, sow seed. If you are thinking 10 years ahead, plant a tree. If you are thinking 100 years ahead, make people aware. By sowing seed once, you harvest once. By planting a tree, you will harvest tenfold. By opening the minds of people, you will harvest a hundredfold.
- Chinese Proverb
Indeed, people who look 100 years ahead, build institutions. Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui played a pivotal role in establishing institutions for the promotion and propagation of scientific education and research in Pakistan. One of the famous students of Einstein, and one of the prominent educators and scientists of Pakistan, Dr. Raziuddin Siddiqui, paid tribute to the institution- builder and eminent scientist of Pakistan, Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, thus, “There are not many instances in the history of science where great research workers are also great organizers and promoters of the subject. But, as in the other such rules, there are honorable exceptions in this one also, … Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui belongs to this category of exceptions.”
Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui made significant contributions in developing the science and technology infrastructure in Pakistan. He laid the foundations of R&D by establishing PCSIR research labs in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Dhaka, Rajshahi, and Chittagong. Dr. Siddiqui was the founder of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences, Chairman of the drafting committee of the Pakistan Science Commission, Chairman of the Pakistan Council of Science & Technology, Director Institute of Chemistry and the founder of Hussain Ebrahim Jamal (HEJ) Research Institute of Chemistry, University of Karachi. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1961. He published over 400 research papers and was granted 50 patents.
Born on 19 th October 1897, Dr.Salimuzzaman Siddiqui was the son of Chaudri Muhammad Zaman. Prominent Muslim League leader, and one of the founding fathers of Pakistan, Chaudhri Kaliquzzaman was his elder brother. Salimuzzaman received his early education in his home town Lucknow, UP. After graduating from Aligarh in 1919, he studied for a year at the University College, London, and attended the University of Frankfurt-on-Main from 1921-27. After completing his first and second Verband examinations, he pursued his DPhil program under the supervision of Professor Julius von Braun. After receiving his doctoral degree, he returned home where he was asked by Hakim Ajmal Khan to establish a drug research institute in Tibbi College, Delhi.
He initiated his research with the analysis of Rauwolfia (Chand booti) and later diversified his work. During his 10-year tenure as the director of the institute he carried out extensive research on the isolation and chemical structure of alkaloids and other physiologically active constituents of a number of plants used for medicinal purposes by the Hukamah. One of Dr. Salimuzzaman’s achievements was the formulation of ink that was used in the election of 1946 that resulted in the partition of India.
Recalling his days in Germany, Dr. Salimuzzaman had observed, “My elder brother (Chaudri Kahliquazzaman) gave me 10,000 Rupees for my stay in Germany. I had no idea of finance. Devaluation and inflation ate up my money. Hakim Ajmal Khan rescued me by sending me 400 Rupees every month. I repaid him by naming all the alkaloids I isolated after him, ajmaline, ajaminine, ajmalicine, neo-ajmaline, serp-ajmaline…”(Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, p. 35, S.M. Ismail, PASSP, Karachi, 1994).
Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, in recognition of his contributions to research, received many national and international academic honors: Gold medal of Society Academy and D. Med. Honoris Causa from the Frankfurt University (1958); Fellow of Royal Society (1961); member of Vatican Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academician (1964); D.Sc Honoris Causa, University of Karachi & University of Leeds (1967); and Foundation member of the Indian and Pakistan Academy of Sciences.
Dr. Siddiqui also received numerous awards for his scientific contributions: order of the British Empire (1946), Tamgha-e-Pakistan (1958); Fellow of the Royal Society (1961): Sitra-e-Imitiaz, Pakistan (1962); President’s Pride of Performance Medal, Pakistan (1966); Hilal-e-Imtiaz, Pakistan (1980); Prize of Islamic Medicine Organization Award by Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (1981).
Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui et al. published 15 research papers on Neem (Melia azadirachata) and other bitter plants. In the 1990s when he was still isolating new compounds from Neem, he was asked about his perseverance; he humbly recited Faiz:
Kai bar Iss key kha’tir Zur’reh ka Jegar Chee’rah
Magar Chash-may-HaraN key Hara’Ney na’heiN Ja’tee
Many times I have sliced the core of the particle
But the curiosity of my curious eyes never vanishes.
And then he recited Ghalib:
Kaya Khoob hay ka sub koo Milay aik sa Jawab
Aa’oh kay hum bhi sair karaiN Koh-e-toor key
It is not necessary that everyone finds the same answer
Come let’s visit Mount Toor.
Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Dr. Salimuzzaman were close friends. In honor of friendship with Salimuzzaman, Faiz named his first child Salima. Dr. Salimuzzaman was busy writing a letter to someone when he heard about the death of Faiz. He observed in the letter, “And now comes the shattering news of the sudden death of Faiz. His intense humanity and cosmic sense of wonder, which were the basis of all his creative life and work, would long be in search of a home…You remember my repeated citation of his verse, which he recited at a function: Kai bar Iss key kha’tir Zur’reh ka Jegar Chee’rah/Magar Chash-may-HaraN key Hara’Ney na’heiN Ja’tee.”
Remembering Dr. Salimuzzaman, Dr. Manzoor Ahmed observed, “Salimuzzan was not an ideologue of any kind. He had his views; he occasionally chose to argue for them but never picked up verbal quarrels with opponents. His deep commitment to cultural philosophy is best expressed when he advocated Urdu as a medium of instruction in educational institutions. He differentiated between mother tongue and cultural language saying that his mother tongue was Purbi, while his cultural language was Urdu. Yet he insisted on learning English, especially if you are going for higher education.” (Dr. Salimuzzam Siddiqui: A Philosopher Scientist, p.9, Souvenir, Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui Centenary Commemorations, 1897-1997, VC, University of Karachi).
Dr. Salimuzzaman was a philosopher scientist, he believed in the harmony of humanities and science. And the enhancement of this harmony depended on the knowledge and understanding of language. He was a strong proponent of the understanding of Farsi (Persian), Arabic and Urdu in order to promote meaningful expression of scientific research and inquiry. In this regard, Dr. Salimuzzaman’s biographer, Dr. Saira Ismail, narrates an interesting incident: “My association with him began in 1957 when he came as an external examiner for my Masters in Chemistry in the University of Karachi. After the viva-voce examination was over, he asked me:
“What do you intend to do after your MSc?”
“I would look for a job, Sir!”
“If you are interested in research, come and see me one afternoon.” Later, I realized that he had literally offered me a job. So after a few days I went to see him. I was ushered in his office. He made me sit down and asked:
“Do you know Farsi?”
Panicked, I thought I had come to the wrong address. So I replied:
“I have done my MSc in Chemistry.”
“I know that every educated man should know Farsi.”
Such was the passion for the classical languages. I was nevertheless selected for the position of technical assistant in PCSIR. Thus I came to know him. From the very beginning his towering personality overawed me. He is dapper, short man, having long windswept grey white hair rather like Albert Einstein, and a pale-pink face. (Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, pp. 3-4, S.M. Ismail, PASSP, Karachi, 1994)
Dr. Raziuddin Siddiqui, recalling his first meeting with Dr. Salimuzzam, observed “I met him for the first time in the early nineteen-thirties, in Delhi where he was working in the Tibbia College Laboratory founded by Hakim Ajmal Khan, on medicinal plants. Thereafter we met frequently in the various conferences and committees connected with the promotion of science. One such regular meeting was that of the Governing Council of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (popularly known as the Tata Institute) of which we were members, Sir C.V. Rama was the Director of the Institute….The Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore was established by Sir C.V. Raman in 1934, and both of us were selected as the foundation fellows of the academy. That provided another opportunity for us to meet. I came gradually to know his ideas and views about the development of science which were appreciated considerably by other and senior scientists assembled at the meetings….apart from being a great scientist, he has two favorite hobbies: painting and sketch-drawing and reading and enjoying Urdu poetry, particularly that of Ghalib. We have spent innumerable hours during our stay together and travels together in reciting poems and verses to each other.”
Recalling Dr. Salimuzzam Siddiqui's work in India after the WWII and migration to Pakistan, Dr. Raziuddin observed: “When the Second World War came to an end in 1945, the Royal Society, London, planned to hold an Empire Science Conference in June-July 1946, and a preparatory committee was appointed by the Society to work out the program and other details about the conference. Dr. Salimuzzam was one of the members of the preparatory committee. When the conference was held in 1946, I attended it as a delegate appointed by the Government of India, and some o the Royal Society people told what good work was done by Dr. Salimuzzam at the committee meeting. I had a feeling all the time that Dr. S.S. Bhatnagar, who was director of the council of scientific and industrial research, and some other scientists, tried to play down the work of Dr. Salimuzzam, and did not always give him the credit and recognition which he deserved on the merit of his eminent work. So, when the Council decided to establish the National Chemical, Physical and other Laboratories early in 1947, he was of course, the obvious choice, and was actually selected for the directorship of the National Chemical Laboratory, but the orders were never issued by the administration, and he never took charge. The decision was changed a couple of years later, and someone else was appointed to the Directorship….Similarly, when the National Institute of Sciences of India was established, as the Central Academy for the whole country, with the patronage and financial support of the Government of India, he was never elected to it, although he had done far more outstanding research work than that of many of those who were so elected. It was in this background that he came to Pakistan in 1951 when the Government of Pakistan decided to establish the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSCIR) and he was invited to organize and build it up as its Director, later Chairman. Since I was already in the country, I could see for myself how the scientific community was delighted to hear the news of his arrival, and how he was welcomed and received with open hands into the small group of senior scientists like Main Afzal Husain, Dr. Nazir Ahmad, Dr. Bashir Ahmad, and Dr. Qudrat-i-Khuda.” (Contributions of Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui to the Promotion of Science in the Subcontinent, M. Raziuddin Siddiqui, pp. 303-305, Essays on Science: Felicitation Volume in honor of Dr. Salimuzzam Siddiqui, edited by Hakim Mohammed Said , 1986, Hamdard Foundation Press, Karachi.)
Dr. Salimuzzan’s leadership, hard work and vision made the PCSIR the largest single complex of multifunctional science laboratories employing the largest number of scientist, a substantial number of these were trained by Dr. Samiluzzaman. Dr. Raziuddin recalls that during period 1951-1966, Dr. Salimuzzam was an active and prominent member of almost every important national committee on science, and recipient of several high honors and distinctions.
President Ayub Khan also took keen interest in the research work of Dr. Salimuzzaman. This is evident from the following extracts from Ayub Khan’s diary: “ #170. Dr. Salimuzzam has developed a new insecticide from our coal. This should be developed at larger scale; #202. Dr. Salimuzzaman’s extension. I think he should be given 3 yeas” (Shahabnama, p 736, Qudrat Ullah Shahab).
Dr. Salimuzzam never mixed politics with his scientific inquiry, but it was a political decision to oust him from the chairmanship of PSCIR on February 15, 1966. One day after he was forced to leave PCSIR, Dr. Mahmood Hussian, Vice Chancellor of the University of Karachi, approached Dr. Salizzuman Siddiqui and requested his services for the University of Karachi. Dr. Salimuzzaman agreed on one condition: to establish a post-graduate research institute at Karachi University. The condition was that the institute be an independent entity and not a part of the Chemistry Department. Dr. Salimuzzam started his research institute but many narrow-minded educators of the Chemistry Department did not like his research endeavors and became his staunch opponents. From 1966 until his demise on April 14, 1994, he continued to conduct research and train young scientists at the H.E.J. Institute of Chemistry at the University of Karachi. Dr. Salimuzzam’s hard work and vision had transformed H.E.J. into a world class institution.
Many of Dr. Salimuzzam Siddiqui’s students also played pivotal role in the promotion of science education in Pakistan. Dr. Rafat Hussain Siddiqui, one of the first PhD students of Dr. Siddiqui was instrumental in adding new programs and research component at the Government College, Lahore. In this regard, one of the prominent Pakistani scientists, Dr. M. Akhtar, FRS, recalls, “I believe that Rafat Hussain Siddiqui was the first PhD student of Salimuzzaman Siddiqui and was the coauthor with him on the epic-making papers on the isolation of alkaloids of Rauwolfia serpentine. Rafat Hussain who had learnt the A B C of research chemistry from Salimuzzaman passed this tradition on to me with a missionary zeal.”
Commenting on the importance of their research work on alkaloids, Dr. Akhtar writes, “I believe that within the Indian context this was an epic-making work. Until then the Indian organic chemistry was concerned either following the lead of others on well-trodden areas of natural product chemistry or with routine syntheses. This practice gave rise to very sound, but rather dull and unoriginal research. The Siddiquis’ work on Rouwolfia alkaloids pointed to the untapped wealth of India subcontinent in the availability of diverse types of medicinal plants together with the knowledge of their therapeutic use which was deeply rooted in the system of Indian medicine. From then onwards, Indian chemistry was set on a new course and the isolation of the active constituents of plants traditionally used in Indian medicine, became a major enterprise and the Nobel tradition continues to this day. (How do Microorganisms acquire resistance to antibiotics? N. Akhtar, pp. 22-23, Essays on Science: Felicitation Volume in honor of Dr. Salimuzzam Siddiqui, edited by Hakim Mohammed Said, 1986, Hamdard Foundation Press, Karachi.)
Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui was concerned about the deterioration of educational standards. He believed that this is due to offering the option of early specialization in sciences and humanities curriculums. He believed that for meeting the grave challenge of modern age, it must be recognized that professional training in pure sciences, engineering and medicine should be fully integrated with the knowledge content of humanities and natural sciences. He further believed that a scientist must study history, literature and philosophy without which he cannot be a high-level thinker and may not acquire language proficiency. In this regard he observed that “every year 5 to 7 students earn their PhDs in the H.E.J. Post-Graduate Institute of Chemistry, University of Karachi. Their research work is quite up to the highest standards, but the writing in their theses is so poor and childish that I have to re-write every word. In fact, I myself should be awarded 5 to 7 PhDs every year.” (Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, p. 96, S. M. Ismail, PSSP, Karachi 1994).
Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui, was not only a great scientists but also a great philanthropist and humanitarian. He went out of his way to help his students, colleagues and employees.
Dr. Salimuzzaman’s research philosophy was that one should never give up until the job is thoroughly and truly done. He believed that only hard work confers the right to live.
Dr. Salimuzzaman Siddiqui believed in the application of science for the service of mankind. In an article “Contribution of Science in the Context of Human Value Systems and Peace in Modern Times, “ he observed, “At the end I would like to cite a verse from great poet sage of Shiraz – Sheikh Saadi: ‘Bani Adam A’azai yak Digarand,’ the children of Adam are like limbs of one another. If there should be any place for simple wisdom of this verse in modern times, it may serve to keep to irrational component of the human psyche under control, allowing the peaceful operations of science of overcoming the baneful sources of material and ideological of mankind.”
In Pakistan, the state of science and technology education and research is stagnant and declining. Many scientists in Pakistan claim to have published hundreds of research papers, yet their contribution towards the advancement of knowledge remains insignificant. Academia in Pakistan needs to acknowledge the great services rendered by Dr. Salimuzzam Siddiqui by educating the young generation and by establishing scholarships, science projects and chairs in his name.
Today Pakistan needs a visionary and pioneer like Dr. Salimuzzam Siddiqui who can revive the declining state of science and technology education and research, and bring them at par with international standards.
Dr. Ahmed S. Khan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior professor in the College of Engineering & Information Sciences, DeVry University, Addison, IL 60101.