Mahmood was born in Amritsar, Punjab, British India to the Punjabi family. There are conflicting reports on concerning his date of birth; his personal admission noted the birth year as 1940, while the UN reports estimated as 1938. His father, Chaudhry Muhammad Sharif, was a local Zamindar (lit. feudal lord). His family emigrated from India to Pakistan in an events following the Religious violence in India in 1947; the family settled in Lahore, Punjab.
After graduating with distinctions from a local high school standing at top of his class, Mehmood was awarded scholarship and enrolled at the famed Government College University to study electrical engineering. After spending a semester, he made a transfer to University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore, and graduated with bachelor's degree with honors in electrical engineering in 1960. His credentials led him to join the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) where he gained scholarship to study in the United Kingdom.
In 1962, he went to attend the University of Manchester where he studied for double master's degree. First completing masters' program in control systems in 1965, then Mehmood received his another master's degree in nuclear engineering in 1969 from the Manchester University. While in Manchester, Mehmood was an expert on Manhattan Project and was reportedly in contacts with South African scientists in discussing the jet-nozzel method for uranium-enrichment. However, it remains unclear how much interaction was taken place during that time.
Mehmood joined the PAEC in 1968, joining the Nuclear Physics Division at the Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology working under dr. Naeem Ahmad Khan. His collaboration took place with Samar Mubarakmand, Hafeez Qureshi and was a vital member of the group before it got discontinued in 1970. Mahmood was one of the foremost experts on civilian reactor technology and was a senior engineer at the KANUPP I— the first commercial nuclear power plant of the country. He gained notability and publicity in the physics community for inventing the scientific instrument, the SBM probe to detect leaks in steam pipes, a problem that was affecting nuclear plants all over the world and is still used worldwide.
After witnessing the war with India which saw the unconditional surrender of Pakistan in 1971, Mahmood attended the winter seminar at Multan and delivered a speech on atomic science. On 20 January 1972, President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto approved the crash program under Munir Ahmad Khan for a sake of "national survivor." Though, he continued his work at the KANUPP I engineering division.
In the aftermath of surprise nuclear test conducted by India, Munir Ahmad appointed Mehmood as the director of the enrichment division at the PAEC where majority of the calculations were conducted by dr. Khalil Qureshi– a physical chemist. Mehmood analyzed the diffusion, gas-centrifuge, jet-nozzle and laser methods for the uranium-enrichment; recommending the gas-centrifuge method as economical. After submitting the report, Mehmood was asked to depart to the Netherlands to interview dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan on behalf of President Bhutto in 1974. In 1975, his proposal was approved and the work on uranium project started with Mahmood being its director, a move that irked more qualified but more difficult to manage dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan who had coveted the job for himself. His relations with dr. Khan remains extremely tense and the pairs disagreed with each other and developed differences at great height. In private meetings with Munir Ahmad, Mehmood often complained and pictured him as "egomaniac". In 1976, Mahmood was removed from the enrichment division as dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan had him ejected and moving the enrichment division at the ERL under military control.
Eventually, Munir Ahmad removed him from other classified works and posted him back at the KANUPP-I with no reason given. In 1980s, Munir Ahmad secured him a job as project manager for the construction of the Khushab-I where he served as chief engineer and aided with the designing the coolant systems. In 1998, he was promoted as a director of the nuclear power division and held that position until 1999.
After the reactor went critical in April 1998, Mahmood in an interview had said: "This reactor (can produce enough plutonium for two to three nuclear weapons per year) Pakistan had "acquired the capability to produce.... boosted thermonuclear weapons and hydrogen bombs." In 1998, Mahmood was honored with Sitara-e-Imtiaz in a colourful ceremony by the Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.
In 1998, he was promoted as a director of the nuclear power division and held that position until 1999.
Endorsing publicly the decision of nuclear tests by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1998, Mahmood began appearing in news channels as an outspoken opponent of Prime Minister Sharif, as he vehemently opposed Pakistan becoming the signatory state of the NPT and CTBT. At country's popular news channels and newspapers, Mahmood gave numerous interviews, wrote articles, and lobbied against Prime Minister Sharif when learning that Prime Minister Sharif had been willing to be a signatory of anti-nuclear weapon treaties, prompting the government forcefully transferring Mahmood at the non-technical position in the PAEC.
Seeking premature retirement from PAEC in 1999, Mahmood moved towards publishing books and articles involving the relationship between Science and Islam. Mahmood founded the Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN)– a rightwing organization– with his close associates. In 2000, he began attending the lectures and religious sessions with Dr. Israr Ahmed who would later influenced in his political views and philosophy. Through UTN, he steps in the more radical politics, and began visiting Afghanistan where he wanted to be focused on rebuilding educational institutions, hospitals, and relief work.
In August 2001, Mahmood and one of his colleagues at the UTN met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Describing the meeting, the New York Times editorial quoted:"There is little doubt that Mahmood talked to the two al-Qaeda leaders about nuclear weapons, or that Al Qaeda desperately wanted the bomb".
Since 1999 and 2000 onwards, Pakistan's intelligence community had been tracking and monitoring Mehmood whose bushy beard advertised his deep attachment to Taliban. After the terrorist attacks in the United States, the FIA launched an active criminal investigations against him, leveling charges on unauthorized traveled to Afghanistan. Director CIA George Tenet later described intelligence reports of his meeting with Al Qaeda as "frustratingly vague." When asked by Pakistani and American investigators about nature of UTN's work and discussions, Mahmood told that he had nothing to do with the al-Qaeda and was only working on humanitarian issues like food, health and education. Investigators from ISI and CIA were astonished and surprised when finding out that Mahmood knew nothing on nuclear weapons as contrary of being a nuclear engineer, and were unable to construct one by themselves.
During his debriefing, his son Dr. Asim Mahmood, who's a family medicine doctor told ISI officials that: My father [Mahmood] did meet with Osama bin Laden and Osama Bin Laden seemed interested in that matter but my father showed no interest in the matter as he met him for food, water and healthcare matters on which his charity was working.
The FIA criminal probe continued for four months and yielded no concrete results. Pressure from the civil society and court inquiries against FIA's criminal probe led to his release in 2001. His family did confirmed his released but had been constantly under surveillance by the FIA; his name was placed in the "Exit Control List" in which he is not allowed to travel out of Pakistan and since his release, Mehmood has been out of the public eye and lives a very quiet life in Islamabad, Pakistan devoting most of his time to write books and doing research work on Islam and science.
Dr. Bashir Syed, former president of the Association of Pakistani Scientists and Engineers of North America (APSENA), said: "I know both of these persons and can tell you there is not an iota of truth that both these respected scientists and friends will do anything to harm the interest of their own country."
He has written over fifteen books, the most well-known being "The Mechanics of Doomsday and Life After Death", which is an analysis of the events leading to doomsday in light of scientific theories and Quranic knowledge. However, his scientific arguments and theories have been challenged by some prominent scientists in Pakistan. His religiosity and eccentricity began troubling the Pakistan's Physics Society; his peers often quoted him as "a rather strange man".
In 1988, Mehmood was invited through an invitation at the University of Islamabad to deliver a lecture on science. During his lecture at the university's "Physics Hall", he and several other academcians have debated on his book. While debating, a well known Pakistani nuclear physicist Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy and Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood had an acrimonious public debate in 1988 at the University of Islamabad's Physics Hall. Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy had severely criticised Mr. Bashiruddin Mahmood's theories and the notion of Islamic science in general, calling it ludicrous science. Bashiruddin Mahmood protested that Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy misrepresented his views, quoting: This is crossing all limits of decency, he wrote. But should one expect any honesty or decency from anti-Islamic sources?
I n his writings and speeches, Mahmood has advocated for nuclear sharing with other Islamic nations which he believed would give rise to Muslim dominance in the world. He has also written a Tafseer of the Quran in English.
Mahmood is reported to be fascinated "with the role sunspots played in triggering the French and Russian Revolutions, World War II and assorted anti-colonial uprisings." According to his book "Cosmology and Human Destiny", Mahmood argued that sunspots have influenced major human events, including the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and World War II. He concluded that governments across the world "are already being subjected to great emotional aggression under the catalytic effect of the abnormally high sunspot activity under which they are most likely to adapt aggression as the natural solution for their problems". In this book which was first published in 1998, he predicts that the period from 2007 to 2014 would be of great turmoil and destruction in the world. Other books written by him include a biography of the Islamic prophet Muhammad titled "First and the Last", while his other books are focused more on the relation between Islam and science like Miraculous Quran, Life After Death and Doomsday, and Kitab-e-Zindagi (in Urdu).
One passage of the book reportedly states: "At the international level, terrorism will rule; and in this scenario use of mass destruction weapons cannot be ruled out. Millions, by 2020, may die through mass destruction weapons, hunger, disease, street violence, terrorist attacks, and suicide."
Mahmood's lifelong friend, Parliamentarian Farhatullah Babar, who is currently serving as a spokesperson of President of Pakistan, while talking to media, said: Mahmood predicted in Cosmology and Human Destiny that "the year 2002 was likely to be a year of maximum sunspot activity. It means upheaval, particularly on the South Asia, with the possibility of nuclear exchanges".
Mahmood has published papers concerning djinni, which are described in the Qur'an as beings made of fire. He has proposed that djinni could be tapped to solve the energy crisis. I think that if we develop our souls, we can develop communication with them, Mr. Bashiruddin Mahmood said about djinni in The Wall Street Journal in an interview in 1988. Every new idea has its opponents, he added. But there is no reason for this controversy over Islam and science because there is no conflict between Islam and science.
The New York Times has described Mahmood as "an autodidact intellectual with grand aspirations," and noted that "his fellow scientists at PAEC began to wonder if Mahmood was mentally sound." Mahmood made it clear that he believed Pakistan's bomb was "the property of the whole Ummah," referring to the worldwide Muslim community. "This guy was our ultimate nightmare," an American intelligence official told the Times in late 2001. He has also been awarded Gold Medal by the Pakistan Academy of Sciences.Sitara-e-Imtiaz (1998)
Gold medal, Pakistan Academy of Sciences (1998)