A Quest for Ancient Wisdom
Dr. Muhammad Iqbal Choudhary; an Intimate Profile
That everything in the world, living or not, is made of the same material makes a huge difference in your worldview. When you realize that absolutely everything, from the humble mold to higher mammals like us, is constituted of not but the same molecules and atoms, the world looks a lot more meaningful. After all, it seems our body has no difficulty ingesting and digests other organisms and turns them into flesh.
This view of the world pushes you toward a sense of integration; it puts rationality against mysticism. “Rational beliefs bring us closer to getting good results in the real world,” as said by Albert Ellis, the American psychologist. And good results are what could be found in profusion among the plenty of works that have been done by Dr. Muhammad Iqbal Choudhary, 62 years old Pakistani organic chemist.
“Chemistry has been my interest since my school days. Even at a tender age, I had a profound appreciation that everything around us is a manifestation of tiny molecules. From complexion to thoughts, aging to diseases are all due to biochemicals our bodies produce,” he says.
During his Master’s studies, he was one curious soul, always looking for an explanation of everything in chemistry. His obsession with chemistry guided him towards Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman FRS, who provided him with high-quality research supervision. Rahman, the renowned Pakistani organic chemist, whom Dr. Choudhary describes as “my dear mentor, great teacher, and friend,” played an essential role in shaping his career as a scientist.
“Long association with great teacher Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman FRS and unique and thought-provoking discussion with him has helped me to develop critical thinking and analytical approach, essential for scientific research,” says Dr. Choudhary. “I was fortunate to get the opportunity of learning from his long experience in research, his tremendous knowledge in organic chemistry, and his unwavering passion for serving. He is certainly the greatest influence in shaping my career as an organic chemist, deeply interested in the chemistry of life.”
Dr. Choudhary remembers his childhood as “definitely the most special time which shaped who I am today.” He was raised in a family where education and religion were strongly valued. Being the eldest among five siblings, he was taught to be responsible and develop a sense of empathy, care, and comprehension of things in a logical way.
Muhammad Iqbal was blessed with a large library in their home, which he was always fond of reading from. His father often asked him to deliver little speeches to social and political gatherings even at the young age of three. He used to regularly take part in debates and speech competitions held in their school and region.
He was a regular visitor of their neighborhood mosque. “It is interesting that I was given the responsibility of supervising the construction of a large building of the mosque at a young age. There I spent a lot of time with elders and developed a great deal of seriousness and respect,” he says.
Dr. Choudhary recalls then being “his mother’s child, spending hours with her in the evenings and listening stories of prophets. I remember I used to help my mother in house chores too.” He recalls those days when he used to play football in the evening with my friends and brothers in a vast playground near their home.
Dr. Choudhary thinks of his parents as those who had the most influence on him becoming the person he is now. “Indeed, first and foremost, my beloved mother Nisar Begum inculcated in me a great sense of responsibility, truthfulness, and eagerness to learn. She shaped me as a person of a clean heart and satisfied soul,” he says. “Secondly, my father, Ghulam Hussain Choudhary, who was a social worker, taught me to serve people selflessly. He taught me to appreciate diversity and respect everyone regardless of race and religion.”
He attended a school near their home, one of the many free for all schools which his father established for children of migrant families. His favorite subjects were science and geography in school, representing his inquisitiveness to learn about the unknowns. “These subjects gave me a great appreciation of cultural diversity, nature, and knowledge-based development in different regions and countries of the world,” he says.
Dr. Choudhary thinks his interest in science and research is embedded in early education. “Most importantly, interpretation of the Quranic verses about studying and pondering about the universe and creations of Allah SWT had inspired me towards inquiry and inquisitiveness,” he says. He was very keen and proud of the contributions made by Muslim scientists in the medieval world. “My readings about great Muslim scholars of the medieval era, who laid the foundation of modern science, have helped me to shape my interest in science.”
Dr. Choudhary was also fond of reading about tremendous developments in other countries too. That gave him keenness to travel and enthusiasm to study science. Hands-on experiments, which he was able to perform in the excellent science labs of his secondary school, further fueled his interest in natural sciences.
His in-built eagerness to learn and his strong reading habits finally guided him to become a researcher and a scientist. “I still remember my curiosity of why my grandparents were aging and developing various illnesses, and why aging cannot be stopped or reversed,” he says. He then developed tremendous interest in the chemistry of life as his profession and passion.
Dr. Choudhary got his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from H. E. J. Research Institute of Chemistry located at Karachi University, Pakistan. He is now one of the most prolific authors and among the world leaders in the field of natural product chemistry. He has tremendously affected the field with his research, like his mentor Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman. A natural product is one that is produced by plants, animals, and microorganisms; metabolites such as carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids.
Natural products chemistry aims to know the products that evolved in living organisms under various tensions during many million years. These chemists try to extract this ancient wisdom of nature and exploit it for the benefit of man. Many of these chemicals have been demonstrated to have medicinal properties by Dr. Choudhary and other natural products chemists.
Dr. Choudhary is a professor of bioorganic and natural product chemistry and, since 2002, has served as the director of the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) that has been called the developing world’s finest research center of chemical and biomedical sciences. His efforts have been instrumental in setting up several research institutes both domestically and abroad.
Dr. Choudhary’s contribution includes more than a thousand publications along with 57 international patents. He has written 68 books and 40 chapters in other books. “Apart from my scientific contributions, I draw great satisfaction on opportunities I was able to create for hundreds of young scholars of Afro-Asian world to get advanced training in research at the ICCBS and at various other institutions of the world,” he says. He has guided up to one hundred international Ph.D. students, many of them women.
“With the passage of time, I realized that my family values, excellent scientific training in top institutions of U.S.A., extensive traveling abroad, and my association with ICCBS have equipped me with skills and vision to lead and excel both academically and professionally,” he says. He feels he has been given a mission to serve both his country and humanity as a whole.
It is hard for him to find any extra time nowadays, but traveling has always been his passion. “Diversity of cultures, people, nature, landscape, and history fascinate me,” he says.