Aroj Ali Matubbar: Rationalist Philosopher of Rural Bangladesh  

By Ajoy Roy



The Background  

I would not like to elaborate the concept of Rationalism in front of this august body and the learned gathering. As I understand rationalism is just not a belief or a doctrine, it is a system of analytical method of reaching the truth based on reason, logic and scientific facts. In classical sense, rationalism could be defined in any of the following ways: (1) ' the principle or practice of accepting reason as the only authority in determining one's opinion or course of action.' (2). In philosophy, the theory that the reason or intellect, is the true source of knowledge, rather than senses. (3). In theology, the doctrine that rejects that revelation and the supernatural, and makes reason the sole source of knowledge.


Skepticism is a driving force behind rationalism. Accepting a thing without doubt ultimately leads to belief. Unquestioned belief is no other than blindness. So questing about any event, may be natural or social, forms the basic analytical path that would ultimately lead to rationalism.


A rationalist may try to reach truth either in a deductive or in an inductive approach. We in science follow both approaches. I would just give here two examples: In 1924 S. N. Bose, then a young Reader in physics of an unknown university called 'Dacca University' in an attempt to derive Planck's famous law of radiation gave birth of 'Quantum Statistics' - a statistics obeyed by bosons i.e. particles having spin zero or full integral. Examples of such particles are photons, phonons, and helium atoms. The basis of his formulation of a new statistics was a few assumptions conceived intuitively: (i) Photons are not only identical, but also indistinguishable. (ii) The minimum volume of the phase space is h3 and photon has two quantum states corresponding to its states of polarization. On the basis of these two fundamental and unique postulates Bose derived the law of statistics for photons before the birth of quantum electrodynamics. The approach followed by Bose is an example of deductive method. On the other hand, Maxwell formulated his famous theory of electromagnetism on the basis of scattered experimental facts and laws of electricity and magnetism, and set up four fundamental equations, which are now known as Maxwell's field equations. This is the finest example of inductive approach followed in science. Einstein's formulation of theory of relativity is another example where deductive approach was followed. He formulated the theory of relativity in 1905 based on two fundamental assumptions: (1) Velocity of light would have constant value in all inertial frames, and (2) All laws of physics will have the same form in all inertial frames. 


Since rationalists questioned about every thing to formulate their system of reasoning with ultimate aim of reaching the truth, they are also concerned with what would be knowable and unknowable with present context of our knowledge and available facts. Therefore rationalism and agnosticism are closely related. Classically one who holds the view -- we know nothing of things beyond material phenomena - that a first cause and an unseen world are things unknown and apparently unknowable is termed as agnostics ? In the religious sense one who holds that nothing about God or anything beyond material phenomena are knowable is an agnostics.


We the physicists believe in a basic principle very kin to the principle of agnosticism. This is a principle of impossibility, which slowly but steadily found places in physics. There are certain things in material phenomena, which cannot be achieved or made by men. In thermodynamics there are two well known such principles: impossibility of making a machine, which would generate perpetual motion, secondly, impossibility of achieving the absolute zero degree of temperature. There are other examples too: No material particle can achieve the speed of light, and another is Uncertainty principle due to Heisenberg according to which two canonically related physical quantities cannot be measured with 100% certainty simultaneously. There are certain things whose existence cannot be proved by doing experiments in inertial frames: as for example absoluteness of space-time. Take the classic example of ether, an entity conceived by 18th century physicists as a vehicle of propagation of light. But no experiment of physics would prove its existence. God is such an entity whose existence cannot be proved from the material frame of reference.


Agnosticism is precisely the same principle. Theologically speaking, it is a doctrine that God is unknown and unknowable. In philosophy, the doctrine that a first cause and the essential nature of things are unknowable to us the material human beings. G. J. Ramanes put it in a nice way: “By agnosticism, I understand a theory of things which abstains from either affirming or denouncing the existence of God; all it undertake to affirm is that, upon existing evidence, the being God is unknowable.


As a Physicist I am an agnostics. The entity, which can not be proved from a material frame, does not exist to me- it is a meaningless entity, an unnecessary concept even in philosophical or theological sense- as is ether a useless concept in physics. If I declare myself an atheist, my atheism springs out from the principle of agnosticism, a principle based on physics; it is not just a faith or belief in the religious sense.


It is generally believed that concepts of those doctrines such as atheism, agnosticism and rationalism are originated in European thought. This is not however entirely true. As we know now that corresponding term of atheism in Indian Philosophy is Nastikata or Nastibad (disbelieving in God, the Creator). The concept is closely related to Karmanam- denying of consequences of work. Dhisan before Gautam Budha developed the Nastikata or atheism, as a philosophy. According to him the Universe exists, but not God, the Creator; only eternal entity entity is the matter, and matter consists of four elements: earth (soil), water, enegy, and air. The creation of life is a specific process of nature and evolves out of the composite composition of four elements. With death all ends. Perception is the only direct proof of existence.  

Agnosticism has also its origin in Indian Philosophy. Sanjoy Belthiputta was probably the founder of this school of philosophy, who flourished during the time of Lord Budha. According to his philosophy it is impossible to say whether an ‘after-world’ (heaven and hell), the soul (atma) exists or not. We cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Rationalism is known in Indian thought as Hetubad (theory of reasons) i.e. for every event in the universe there must a hetu (cause).  


Rationalism and Humanism:   

In India , more particularly in Bengal the rationalism is not devoid of Humanism. Rather our concept of rationalism is based on humanism,- this is more so in rural Bangla. Although most of the people of Bengal are religious in nature, but they are, or were never dogmatic, or fundamentalist. Even Islam in Bengal has its own characteristic- it is quite different from the fundamentalistic Islam.  

Aroj Ali's rationalism sprang out from the love of human being what we call in Bengal ' Manabatabad '.  

The basis of humanism in Bangladesh in our folk culture lies in the love for common man and equality of men. These two thoughts find their expression in many songs sung by our folk-singers. As for example the 16th century Vaisnab poet Chandidas sang in a very simple language pointing out the supremacy of mankind:


" Listen my fellow human brethren !

Human being is at top of all truths,

There is nothing above mankind. "


[ Shunaha Manush Bhai,

Sabar Upare Manush Satya,

Tahar Upare Nai. ]


Our unknown folk poet wrote many many years back,  

" Cows are of different colour,

Yet milk is always white,

I roamed around the world, yet

I found mankind is the son of the same mother."


[ Nanan Varan Gavire Bhai,

Eky Varan Dudh/

Jagat Varmiya Dheki sabiy/

Eky Mayer Poot. ]

 Apart from local variety of Islam, Hinduism is an important religion in Bangladesh . In pre-partition Bengal in the area now comprising of Bangladesh though majority of the population were Muslims at least 46% were followers of Hinduism in pre 1947 days. In today’s Bangladesh the followers of Hinduism in Bangladesh will not constitute more than 12%.  Any Indologist would note that in Hinduism flow three inner streams: (i) Brahmanism drawing its inspiration from Vedas and Puranas, (ii) Vaisnbaism (the cult of devotion and love for human beings), and (iii) Shaktaism or Tantrikism. According to socio-cultural anthropologists Vaisnav Cult and Tantrikism flourished in Eastern part of India i.e in ancient Jandapadas known as Magadha , Anga, Vanga, Pundra and Kamrupa-Pragjyotispur ( valley of Assam ). On the other hand Brahmanism took its shape in Ayrabarta or land of Aryans , the northern India . The people of Eastern India were referred to as 'Asuras' in post Vedic literature, particularly in Puranas. As for example, famous Kings of Eastern Janapadas were termed as King Pundra Basudeva as Paundrakasura, King of Shonitpur as 'Banasura, and King of Kamarupa-Pragjyotishpur as 'Narakasur'. The people named Asuras, although shown as competitors of Devtas, were not pictured as uncivilized or barbaric. It is not difficult to identify that the Asuras or people of Eastern India , or more properly the ancient Bengal and its adjacent areas including eastern Bihar , Brhamputra valley of Asam , and present Orissa were culturally and perhaps ethnically different people from those inhabiting northern India . On the other hand, the people of Eastern India were shown to be heroic, cultured and possessed a very high level of civilization. Perhaps linguistically the two people were not so different- languages of both people belonged to a common language (a family of Indo European language).


But who were Asuras? What was their root of culture and religion? Scholars do not agree with each other. In Atharva Veda, it is said that the people of Magadha (eastern Bihar) were Bratyas, i.e possessors of a different culture and cult who do not follow Vedic scriptures nor practices Vedic rituals; they do not wear sacred thread. From the story of Mahavarat we learn that expedition of Lord Krisna and Midle Pandav (Bhima) is nothing but to expand the Vedic cult in the region of Eastern India . Jarasandha, King of Magadha , King Paundra Vasudeva of Northern Bengal , and King Vagadatta of Kamrupa vehemently resisted them. Jarasandha was Bratya, Vasudev & Vagadatta were Asuras. From Bagavat Geeta it can be gauged that two people Devata and Asura belonged two different anthropological races. It says " In the world two kinds of people were created (DwouBhutaSargau Lokahsmina Daiba Asura ebacha); Signs of Devatas are non-violence, truth, non-anger, kindness, forgiveness etc. and signs of Asuras are: Arrogance, Pride, Anger, untruth, lack of knowledge etc..” But whatever is said in later Vedic literature or in Puranas about the Asuras, the Vedas referred to this term with respect indicating one who possesses courage and strength. Even Indra was called Asura in many places of RigVeda. As for example in one Rig it stated " From He who is conqueror of enemies and straight on his own strength, bow down to him with respect and pronounce praise with all humiliation as He is glorious, great and Asura.”  The scattered description about Asuras in Puranas and letter Vedic literatures including Upanishads one may conclude that Asura and Devtas were two different Aryan-dialect speaking people having cultural and religious difference who fought for their supremacy in India. Ultimately the Asuras settled in Eastern India whereas the followers of Vedas flourished in Northern India . However in later period of Veda even Vedas statrted abusing Asuras as they do not follow Vedic rituals and do not accept Veda as the ultimate source of knowledge.   


That the Asuras are devoid of Vedas and anti-Vedas ‘ are not only mentioned in Vedas, even in later Vedic literature and Puranas they were pictured as so. But we must try to understand the origin of the Asura cult as against Vedic cult. As we stated earlier that Tantrikism and Shaktism flourished in Eastern India more particularly in Bengal . It is now understood that the Shaktism or Tantrikism had its roots in 'Lokayata Darshan' (philosophy of common man), an important school of Indian philosophy. 'Sarva Darshan Sanghra' stated about a school of Philosophy due to 'Charvak' that is also known as "Lokayata" i.e 'Peoples' Philosophy'. According to Madhavacharya "The Lakayatibadis (followers of Lokayata) have no faith in knowledge other than which is directly derived from the perception our sense organs. So they do not believe in any other source of knowledge that is extra-sensory. Hence they do not admit any other world other than the material world we live in.  Therefore to them no other bliss exists other than those are enjoyable in this world. This is the basic principle of all variety of tantrikism.  According to 'Chhandogya Upanisad' the Asura's Upanisad says that the real knowledge is Dehatamabad or Dehatawta i.e. concerned with body only. According to this ism, alleged the said Upanisad: “Worship the body in this wold and do care for the body.  If you glorify the body, care for the body you will get the bliss of this world as well as after world. For this reason people who do not give away and those who are disrespectful and do not perform sacrifice (jagyanga) are looked upon as Asuras. This is the Upanisad of the Asuras." According Shankaracharya " Dehamatrang ChaitanyaBishishtamTmeti Prakrita JananaLokayatiKasha Pratipanna". In Srimat Vagbat geeta it is said


" AsatyamPratisyhang Te JagadahurNeeshwaram/

  AparsparaSambhutang Kimyanyat Kamhaitukam"


The significance of this sloka is that the world is not true in the sense that it has been created and set by the almighty God (Iswara) because there is no existence of God himself. This creations, the result of union of male and female, and this arise from 'urge for union' i.e. ' Kama '. And there is no other cause behind the creation.


Thus we see that Asura Philosophy has two aspects: Body-ism or Selfism (AtmaTwata), and theory of Creation (SristiTwatta). In this context we may quote from Panch Kari Bandiopadhya, "The process through which new life is created after the union of men and women, the world is also created in the same process after the union of Purusa and Prakriti.” The Shaktaism and Trantikism later on lost its original characteristic and spirit. It became corrupted and under the influence of Brahminic Hinduism accepted Vedas as supreme source of knowledge and tried to tag it with Hinduism as one of its Marg. In a similar way all embracing assimilating process of Hinduism the other cults like Vaisnaism, Jainasim, and even Budhaism became absorbed in the fold of Hinduism in corrupted form.


Aroj Ali, about who’s rationalism we are going to talk about was a son of rural Bangladesh . He was a son of poor cultivator and brought in an agricultural background. His rationalism developed under this backdrop. His life was an amazing fighting against poverty, superstition, and fundamentalism. Before we proceed to introduce his rationalism let us introduce to my readers the tradition of rationalism as we nourish in rural Bengali culture and tradition.     


Rationalism and folk tradition of Bengalis  

It must be admitted that rationalism as understood by our folk people in remote past may not be similar to rationalism as we understand to day. This may not be untrue to say that although Bengal rural people were governed by state machinery since our recorded history, the rural Bengal remained more or less untouched by the religion followed by the rulers. In our History, no religion was ever declared as ‘State Religion’ even during the period of Pathan rule. Our rural society was basically an agricultural based and village centred society. Practically there was no direct relation of the folk people living in a remote village with the state power, whatever religion that state rulers followed. So whether the rulers of the state were Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists those rulers could not influence the religions of the people. No doubt the people of rural Bengal followed the formal religions like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism, but none of these formal religions could keep their purity in toto; they were transformed in to a local folk form after being assimilated in the local folk culture and tradition. And it took a new form, which is significantly different from its original puritan form. Bengal’s folk religion had in the past rejected the form of the religion based on pure scriptures; the rejection by the common people whom the old Sanskrit literature used to refer as ‘Prakritajana’ is based on rationalism as they understood.  

When the Sankrististic Pundits (scholars) gave verdict that if the stories of Puranas, Mahabharata, and Ramayana were translated in the Prakritajana’s language, the translators would be thrown into the hell as punishment for committing this sin. But Bengal’s folk poets didn’t care for this pronouncement by the orthodox Pundits. Our folk poets and writers translated the scriptures of many Hindu Holy books and Shastras including two great epics the Ramayana & Mahabharata, defying the order of the orthodox school. The fundamentalist Islamists also did the same thing by declaring those poets & writers ‘Kafir’ who attempted to translate the Islamic scriptures into Bengali. But the courageous folk writers did translate the works of Islamic theological books in Bangla. Let me give one example: one of our Muslim folk rationalists of 18th century in his epic composed in native language upheld the ideals of Lokayata (secular) ideals and human values rather than divine ideals as described in the holy scriptures. He is Sayed Sultan and his epic was “Navi Bansha’ (descendants of Prophet). If he were not follower of humanism and rationalism he could not had done so. He described Hindu’s ‘Brahma’, ‘Vishnu’, ‘Shiva’ and Krishna as Prophets. He also wrote two books on Trantikism under the titles ‘JnanPradeep’ and ‘JnanChautisa’ dealing with Yoga and Tantravada- two old tradition of materialistic philosophy in eastern India. And both these two philosophies are not in consistent with rather opposed to what Islam says.  
In rural Bengal we find two groups of humanist- one group challenges the religious supreme authority and upheld the materialistic tradition i.e. follower of different form of Tantravada, on the other hand the second group preached their form of humanism by bringing in local form of religion which embraces the human values as supreme. Examples of former thought still are prevailing in ‘Boudha Shahjiya’, and 'Vaisnava Sahajiya’ cults. The example of second approach is the Vaisnaism of Chaitanya Deva – which tried to eliminate the division among the people by preaching ‘Spiritual equality and Mystic love-based devotionism’ among them. These later group tried to preach humanism using local variety of formal religions.  

Let me quote from one such rationalist, disguised in the form of folk religion called Lalon Cult. Duddu Shah, a devoted disciple of humanist Lalan Shah of early nineteenth century:  
“The Object or Material may be called Atma, the so called Atma is not something mysterious “.


He also said:


“There is no Hari or Allah except matter,

So look every thing as material, assuming you

                         as Material-Human being.


He who knows the identity of menstruation and sperm- these two matters,

Knows Lanlan the lord “


[ Bastu Chhara nahi Allah kinba Hari !

Ehi Mata dhekha sabe Nara-Bastu dhari !!

Raja:beerya ei dui bastu yeba chine !

Lalan Sainjeeke sei Jan Chine !! ]


This is an expression of simple but clear exposition of materialism as understood by our folk religious leaders. This simple school of materialistic philosophy upheld the supremacy of our body, a form of expression of matter, by saying, “ Which is not in this body, that could not be found any where in the Brahmanda (the Universe).” The simple singers of this school sang :


“The lord has created world of infinite form

But I heard that nothing is better than human being

The Devatas prayed for having a human birth.”


[Anata Rupa Sristhi Karle Sani

Suni Manber uttam kichhu nai !

Deva-Debatagan kare aradhan

                 Janma nite Manbe !! ]



According to this simple materialism, as understood by those simple thinkers, categorically says that creation is the result of union of the menstruation of women and sperm of men, and there is nothing outside the body. This directly challenged the existence of God or Allah behind the creation. Lalan Shah has said once:


“ Allah, Hari, worshiping and Praying

-         all are creation of human mind

The unnamed & unknown being cannot

Be described whatever marvelous language or syntax you might use”


[ Allah Hari Bhajan Pujan

Sakali Manusher Srijan

Anamak Achinay Kakhan

Bagindriya na Sambhabe ]


In one of the songs of Lalan, a question has been raised about the hypocrisy of Quarnic version:


“If the object of Religion is to get Allah

Then He should be found

In Every religion.

You said there were one lakh twenty four thousand

of prophets, but only nineteen names are found in Quaran,

Then where are the rest ? “


[ Dharmer Uddeshya Jadi Hai

Allahar Nirnay

Ta Hole Sakal Dharmei

Tare Paoa Jay !!

Paigambarer HoloKhabar

Unishti Nam Quaron-Vitar

Ar Sakal Kothay]


It is generally found that freethinking and liberalism of mind in our folk society developed centering folk religion(s) and folk songs. As we know there are almost hundreds of varieties of folk cults prevalent in Bengal , some of the important ones are: Sahajiya (Budhistic, Visanvite, and Bauls) and then Sahevdhani, Khusi Biswasi, Bala hari etc..  Each cult in its own way tried to cultivate free and liberal thought. The Balahari cult, now almost extinct, flourished in the western districts of Bangladesh , despised both Hindu and Islamic rituals. They did not believe any sort of casteism and or any social division and religious division except between men and women. The founder of the cult Balaram, himself a low cast born, once was found sprinkling river-water while he was taking bath following a Brahman. The Brahmin was then sprinkling river water in memory of his forefathers. When Balaram was asked what he was doing, he answered that he was giving water to his agricultural field. The Brahmin asked where was the agricultural filed- was it not far away ?  Balaram replied with a question but sir, where are your forefathers ? If they living in heaven can get water from here, the agricultural field would also get water from me.


Our folk poet sang:


“You worship Khoda leaving human being;

who has given you this counsel ?

Worship Man, look into Quaran- you will see these

Through out its pages.


[ Manush Thuiya Khoda Bhaja, e Mantrna Ke Diyachhe ?

Manush Bhaja, Koran Kho(n)ja Patay Patay Sakshi Achhe ]


Our folk secularists and rationalist did also preached agnosticism in their own concept and understanding. On such thinker was poet “Bakuntha Chakravorty”, who flourished in at the end 19th century at Narsinghdi, near Dhaka . He questioned the existence of God as does the a modern agnostics in a very popular way through his songs:


“Some says ‘You do Exist’, some says You Don’t;

I say ‘If He exists, let Him; If He does not, why bother?”


Our folk thinkers have also propagated the materialistic philosophy. In one of the songs of ‘Pagla Dwijadas’ it is found:


“Because We observe the instructions of Vedas, of Puranas, and of Bible 

distress befallen on to us.

More we observe those scriptures, we do not get neither rice nor clothing.

Result is we had to sell even our utensils for our livelihood. “


[Veda Purana Bible adi yata iti punthi

Mani Bolei moder etoi Durgati..

Mante Mante Shastra Na Pai Anna Bastra

Ghati Bati Lathi Beche Karme dichhi Dan.. ]


In Logical Science, Called ‘Naya’ as developed in ancient India it is said that process of reaching a general theory is to argue and counterargue; ‘ Vade Vade Jayate Twattabodh ‘ i.e. concept of theory devolves through arguments and counter arguments. To reach ultimate truth we must follow the path that invokes question, arguments and counter arguments- there is no other alternative but to follow this path if we want to cultivate freedom of thought. In modern term or western concept the process is known as ‘thesis-antithesis-synthesis’. Kabir larai (fight between two poets) i.e. debates between two poets in our Bengali culture is an example how one reaches a conclusion through arguments – counter arguments. The subject may be of wide variety starting from religion to sociology. But the conservatives, moulanas, orthodox Brahmins tried to distort this folk literature preaching freethinking, liberalism and materialism to bring their orthodox fold. Even in modern days this trend continued by the so-called researchers. As for example the orthodox researchers tried to prove that agnostic Lalan Shah is an Islamist. Some tried to make him Muslim, some tried to prove him to be Hindu belonging to low caste, although Lalan despised the religious and cast-based differences among the men. In one of his famous songs he pointed out:


“When such social system will grow,

the day there would be no distinction between

Hindu Muslim

Budha Kristian

Caste and Creed.


Uttering sweet words,

Will not snatch way my little things

Will not push me out saying,

You poor untouchable ”


[ Emon Samaj Kave go Srijan Have,

Yedin Hindu Musalman

Budha Kristan

Yatigotra Nahi Rabe.

Shonaye Lover buli

Nebe Na Kandher Jhuli

Itar Ashraf Bali

Dure Thele Na Debe..]


From the time immemorial our folk thinkers had to fight these conservative elements; even to day we the secularist, humanists and rationalist are fighting against these evil forces bearing the torch of their light.


From this background of rural Bangla which had its tradition of cultivating freethinking emerged modern folk thinker cum philosopher Aroj Ali Matubbar. But he did not follow the path of classical folk path i.e. without declaring war against conventional great religions adopted the path of mysterious mystic to avoid direct conflict with orthodox forces. He did not use religion to counter religious faith and superstitions. There may be some advantages to use religion to counter religion as Vidyasagar did in Bengal , but this path has its limitation. In the present day world of science we cannot rather must not follow the old school as shown by our traditional folk philosopher. For this reason, Aroj Ali Matubbar began his fight against orthodoxy, obstructionism and religious narrowness with weapons of scientific rationalism drawing his inspiration from our folk tradition. In this regard he may be treated as a modern folk philosopher who enriched our folk rationalism with modern scientific elements, thoughts and ideas. Aroj Ali established himself as a dedicated fighter of fundamentalism. In carrying on this fight he was persecuted and injured mentally throughout his life.  There was a difference of approach of a city base freethinker and Aroj Ali, who drew his inspiration of fighting for humanism and rationalism from our traditional folk rationalism. On the other hand in cases of most city based modern freethinkers it is an intellectual exercise. He cultivated his freedom of thought from his social consciousness and responsibility to his rural society.


We therefore may call Aroj Ali a grand successor of our folk tradition of freedom of thought.         


A Profile 

Aroj Ali Matubbor was a truly homegrown philosopher without any formal academic training. He, like many talented geniuses, had not attended any formal institution of learning. The formal education that he received lasted only one or two years when he was admitted to a village Maqtab (religion based primary school) at the age of 13 years. There he learned only basic three R’s. Yet after his death in 1985, he came to be regarded as an iconoclast who was not afraid to speak out against entrenched beliefs and superstitions, which easily lead to religious fanaticism.

Aroj Ali took it as a mission to strike the roots of all superstitions and fanaticism, blind beliefs, and thereby restoring balance between science and religion. The task is Herculean as well as difficult in a society like ours where literacy is very low. Matubbar’s works are attempts to enlighten the rural society in overcoming those beliefs, superstitions and fanaticism. His language is lucid straight forward and easily intelligible to common folk.


He was born in Bengali year 1307 i.e. 1900 A.D. in a poor family in the village Lamchori in Charbaria union, about 11 km from Barisal Sadar. His father was a poor cultivator having practically no lands of his own.


After his father’s death in 1311 i.e. 1904 Matubbar’s mother had to shoulder the burden of the family consisting of Aroj, a 4-year old boy, and his little sister. He had practically no education, as there was no school in his village. His poverty did not allow him to undertake education in a school outside the village. So from the very young age he had to help his mother to share the burden of the family.


His so-called formal education was limited two years only when his mother admitted him in a newly established Maqtab in the village. However the Maqtab did not last long. In this school Aroj learned how to read and write Bangla and very little of Arabic of no significance. But he had some Quarnic teaching in the maqtab.


Therefore he embarked upon a programme of self-teaching, borrowing books from libraries and from individuals. Through hard work, Matubbar was able to improve the family condition, acquired some land, began farming himself, and with spare money bought books.


In 1317 (AD 1910) the local zemindar took away whatever small land the family had as the family could not pay taxes in due time. They tried to survive money borrowing from the village moneylenders. One such moneylender confiscated their family house with lands in 1318 (1911), but out of sympathy allowed them to live in the house.


In trying to expand his sphere of knowledge he befriended with a number of scholars and academicians of Barisal town. Their encouragement and patronage helped him publish his books. Aroj Ali was arrested for writing his first book called “Satyer Sandhane” (The quest for truth) in Bangla. Throughout his life he was harassed for his writings protesting against orthodoxy and religious superstitions.


His other notable works, apart from Satyer Sandhane, The Quest for Truth, is the mystery of creation. He left behind many manuscripts awaiting publications.


He donated his eyes and the human body to the medical college for academic research. He died on 1st Chaitra of the Bangla year 1932 (i.e. 1985 A.D.).


Incident Leading to Aroj’s rationalistic thinking. 


As Aroj Ali expanded his knowledge he started propagating his ideas of his understandings of his religion, philosophy, knowledge and truth and on many aspects of social problems.


Possibly for making a man a great man some incident(s) did play some role, may be directly or indirectly. Aroj ‘s mother died when Aroj was only in his teens. He loved his mother infinitely. He wanted to have a photograph of his deceased mother, and bought a photographer from the district town. The snaps were taken. But the village religious and social leaders objected taking snap of a deceased person more so of a woman. They refused to participate in the religious funeral and the mass prayer (janaja) in front of the decease. The janaja prayer is held for asking the infinite blessings from Allah for the emancipation of the deceased soul. This mass-prayer is a must for a Muslim and known as ‘Janaja’.  Aroj pleaded to them that her mother didn’t commit this offence; it was he who did it. If any punishment was to be offered it must be on him, the real offender, and young Aroj pleaded to the Mullahs. His mother was a pious woman performing 5-time prayer, observing all other Islamic rituals throughout her life. Aroj got bewildered why his mother was to be punished for his crime? Aroj offered unconditional apology to village social and religious leaders without success. Finding no way out Aroj buried his mother’s body in side their house campus with the help of his two friends without Janaja. This episode turned him a real thinker and made him a lifelong fighter against all form superstitions and religious fanaticism. In this connection, the Philosopher remembered the incident in the following way, “In 1339, when my mother died I took some photograph of her. The munshis, moulanas, and musullis, who assembled there to do the last rituals (dafan) decreed that ‘taking photograph’ is forbidden (haram), and saying this they left the place without performing dafan and janaja. ....... Bewildered, I am, uttered a vow addressing my mother ‘ Mother, for entire life you were deeply religious. And today in the name of the very religion you became feeding materials of jackles and dogs. There prevailing countless blind faiths and superstitions in the society. Mother, kindly bless me--- so that I can devote my entire life to fight against these superstitions and blind beliefs for their removal from the society. And I want to return to you after completion of my mission:

 “ Tumi Ashirbad karo more Ma,  
Ami jeno bajate pari
se aviyaner damama."




His first publication is based on his thoughts on religious rituals and many Islamic fundamental principles accepted by a common Muslim without questioning.  

Satyer Sandhan [ Loukik Darshan] (Quest for Truth, Secular Philosophy )

Time of writing: 1359 [AD 1952)

First published in 1380 BS [ 1973)]

 It took long twenty years to publish the book. For his unconventional and unorthodox writings, he became known as a freethinker (Satya Sandhani in the village society). Soon he became recognized as a respected man of learning with open mind in the society. But this also drew attention of the Pakistani intelligence and the civil administration. They depicted him as an atheist and a communist. He had been continuously harassed and many a times interrogated by the police and civil administration of the locality. At one time he was taken to the prison.  

After Bangladesh became independent flowing the war of liberation he thought that time had come to publish his book. With his own money he published the book and he himself drew and designed the cover -page. He wrote in the preface:  

I was thinking of many things, my mind was full of questions, but haphazardly. I then started noting down questions, not for writing a book, but only to remember these questions later. Those questions were drifting my mind to an endless ocean and I was gradually drifting away from the fold of religion.”  

In the year 1358, Jaistha 1 [ 1951] a lawyer magistrate of Barisal visited his place and asked Aroj Ali Matubbar to join his missionary team (Tabliq) to preach Islam, Aroj agreed but handed over the list of his queries and said if the lawyer magistrate could satisfy him with answers he would readily join his team. Lawyer magistrate took his list with the assurance that he would send the answer later on. But he didn’t. But the magistrate on return to the district head quarter filed a case against Aroj and issued warrant for his arrest. In defense of his case Aroj started writing notes against the questions he posed to the magistrate.  

“When I was acquitted from the case these were published in the form of a book. The book is the outcome of these notes “.…..

The Author


26 Shravan, 1380                                                                    


Aroj Ali gave explanation why he raised the questions on some so called established facts or religious principles.  In the first section of his book entitled “The Basic Premise” (The Reason for Inquiry). He wrote:  

“To know the unknown is an eternal desire of man. With the first utterance of words, a child starts asking questions- What is this ? What is that? As he grows up similar questions continue at school, college, and his place of work- What is this? What is that? Why is it like this? Why isn’t like that? In this manner, making enquiries about the whys and wherefores, man has built up the massive structure of science today.  

The questioner always wants to know the answer to the question, what is truth? In fact, there will be no further questions once the absolute truth is known. …  

There are many subjects in the world about which philosophy, science, and religion do not tell us the same thing. Again there is no end of differences of opinions in the sphere of religion. … in other words what is the criterion of truth. What is the test of truth ? And what is the nature of truth?   

We will not enter into an investigation of these philosophical speculations. We will only discuss briefly the conflicting views in the sphere of religion.  

This propensity is not the whole of the religion of man. …  

Generally that which we call religion is an imaginary religion of man. Through the ages the learned and the sages have attempted to determine man’s duties to the creator of the universe. Has man no duties to the creator? Certainly he has . … Led by this line of thought they enjoined upon man his duties to God. Moreover, these highly learned and very wise men also showed the path to be followed by the people in their social and practical life. In this manner there was the advent of imaginary religion. But different sages or religious leaders propagated different theologies. …

On the contrary, priests of all communities assert that their own religion is the only true religion and so no other religion is true. Those who believe in other religions will not be saved. They will neither go to heaven nor they will attain nirvana. The whole show is like the dairymen on the market  place – everybody calls his own yogurt is most sweet.     

The main reason for this is that religions do not have gun and shell, dynamite and atom bomb with which to destroy each other. Religion has only two weapons- blessings and curses. I do not know if such weapons are effective in respect of individuals but they are absolutely useless in respect of a religious community or nation. ..  

Science is founded on perception or observation of facts and reasonable conjecture. That is why we have no doubt about scientific truths. We believe unhesitatingly what science tells us, but most religions and most religious statements are founded on blind faith.

It is said that nothing is beyond the power of Allah. Especially, He makes the impossible possible at the request of the loyal worshipers. Prophet Hazrat Solaiman was supposed to have traveled in the air seated on his throne and surrounded by his courtiers. But does any holy man (Pirshahib) really believe that “If Allah wishes He can enable him to reach Mecca in the twinkling of an eye while he is sitting on his prayer mat (jainmaj) ?”

In the world of religion there are certain codes and prohibitions, rituals and ceremonies together with an account of certain incredible incidents, which have no logical explanations for understanding of the common man. Consequently a few questions always arise in the mind and for want of satisfactory answers men begin to develop doubt and disbelief regarding religious injunctions. 


We will present some of the questions, which usually arise, in our minds when we think about religion by way of the reasons why these questions crop up. “   

His book Satyer Sandhane, according to my assessment exposes the basic rationalist philosophy of Matubbar, concerned with some basic and relevant questions that agitates a questing man – about his life, about his religion, and above all about his creator and the creation. The book is thus divided into six propositions (in Bengali he termed as Prastab), each concerned with a special subject matter except the last one in which he brought in miscellaneous subjects. Here are six propositions:

Proposition I, dealing with soul containing 8 questions

Proposition II, dealing with God containing as many as 11 questions

Proposition III, dealing with after-world (paralok) containing as many as 7 questions

Proposition IV, dealing with religious matters containing as many as 22 questions

Proposition V, dealing Nature containing as many as 10 questions

Proposition VI, dealing matters containing as many as 9 questions


We have no scope to discuss and elaborate each question of six sections raised by our Philosopher.   

His first set of questions start concerning with soul which he put in the section termed as “The First Proposition”.


The Questions  

1. Who am I (self)?

2. Is Life incorporeal or corporal ?

3. Is mind and his/soul one, and the same?

4. What is the relationship of life with the body and the mind?

5. Can we recognize or identify life?

6. Am I free?

7. Will the soul without body continue to have ‘knowledge’ even after it leaves the body at


8. How does life can come into and go out of the body?


Each question is a vital one from the materialistic point of view. The first question is the most important one that agitates not only the inquisitive philosophers and metaphysicist, but the scientists too, especially the science dealing with life. We have no full answer to it yet, but all important religions think that they know the ‘answer’. Matubbar challenges this contention of the religionists. He elaborated his question by saying that our body consists of material elements like flesh, fat, blood etc. and after the death all these matters decay. Is the body itself is ‘self (I: Ami)’. “Shall I, then loose my ‘self’, after those materials would decay after death? ”, asked Matubbar. “Nor, is this ‘self’ same as the ‘soul’? If so, then why say ‘my soul, instead of saying ‘I am the soul’” continued our philosopher. When we say ‘my body, my soul, my life, and my mind etc., then who is this ‘claimer’? – raised the question by Matubbar.           


In question our philosopher raised another vital point regarding our concept of the ‘soul’. Soul is ‘the entity’ conceived by each important religion and philosopher saying that it is ‘immortal’ not creatable ‘thing’. When the great Creator puts it in the material body the body gets life. But the main point is ‘Is the soul an entity with consciousness (chaitanyamoy sattawa) or having no consciousness ?’ Does the soul possess ‘knowledge of its own’ or does it receive knowledge through body’s five sense organs like eye, touch etc. .... After death when sense organs are too destroyed will the soul even then continue to have knowledge, and if so through what mechanism ?, asked our philosopher. Our religions are quite silent about all these embarrassing questions. If we believe in know legible and chaitanyamoy atma, then we have to assume that like God/Iswara/Allah, atma too is all knowing (sarbajna). On the contrary, if we say that atma bears no consciousness either during lifetime of the body or in death, them what is the use such a useless inert entity. Here I remember a story. Once an inquisitive minded gentleman of mid sixties asked Shahid Dr. Govinda Chandra Dev, the most respected scholar of Indian Philosophy, especially of Vedantic Philosophy, “Sir, do think atma is chaitanyamoy ?” When the learned Philosopher answered affirmative, the next question was, “then sir, the atma also takes part in the sexual union and enjoys the bliss of the union”? Needless to say the learned professor got annoyed and termed the old man “You are a dehatmabadi.”

 I will only deal with another two question just draw how Matubbar’s anlytical mind wirked. One gets amazzed when we think of his social background and the environment. In the second proposition of his book he raised a question on Allah’s form. This is a dangerous question when we consider how religious fanaticisim prevails in our society. The question says,

 “What is the form of Allah ?”. Aroj Ali elaborates his question. If the creator is ‘One and only One’(adwitiya), formless (nirakar) and Omnipresent (srababyapi) according to all religions. All these are quite simple and straight forward. But we hear, says Matubbar, that Hindus say that when necessary Iswara takes the form of a human being (Avatar), we hear from the Christians that God manifests in trinity consisting of ‘God, Jesus and Holy Ghost’, and we hear from Muslim clergies that Allah ‘sitting on a Throne (Qursi) is running and supervising the universe from creation to distribution of foods etc. with the help of some Ferestas (e.g. Rezowan, Malek, Zibrail, Mekail etc.. ), each is given in charge of specific departments. In running the universe why He need to be a formless while He is found running His kingdom like any other mortal king ?; why trinity is to be visualized to express the greatness of Oneness ?; Why He needs a permanent Seat, and why He needs the help of Ferestas when He himself is all powerful and Omnipresent in running the Universe ? These questions need to be addressed by the religious leaders.

 In the 9th Question he raised some inquireis regarding Space, Time and Energy. He asked is the three entity scientist termed as ‘space, time and energy’, existed all ways, or they have been created by God ? If they were created by God, then where was God before space was created ? Where was he before time was created ? Our Philosopher put very plainly three questions if Space-Time_Energy were created by God, then (1) Where from (the space) God created the Space, (2) When (which time) He created Time, and (3) By which energy He created Energy ?

 No doubt all these are very embarassing questions to our theologians, moulanas and dhramagurus. But they will always say every thin should be fond in the so-called holy books, only we need some pseudo scientists to re-discover them.           

 5. Sristi Rahasya (Mystry of creation), Time of writing: 19. 4. 1372 – 25. 4. 1377

Date of Publication: 1384 (1978)

Scientific Minded Aroj Ali Matubbar  

Another most important book of his is ‘Sristi Rahasya’ dealing with sciences of creation- the universe and the life, published in 1978. This is an outcome of intensive studies he made on ancient literatures and modern development of sciences.    

Aroj Ali Matubbar is just not a rationalist philosopher purely based on theoretical analysis and mental construction as usually philosophers do, devoid of any practical or experimental experiences. But Matubbar had a wonderful scientific mind, and he was also a pragmatic man. His writings on mystery of creation included in his book entitled ‘Sristi Rahasya’ is the clear exposition of his scientific mind and self trained scientist. I really wonder how much devotion he had in learning the modern intricacies of scientific theories from physics to modern development of life sciences. How could he assimilate such complicated matters not intelligible even to many researchers, because we scientists speak in a different language only understood by fellow scientists? It becomes a matter of challenge to communicate our ideas making intelligible to ordinary educated people. Matubbar not only assimilated but keeping his readers socio-religious and educational background he wrote the book with lucid language avoiding finer details. He was conscious of his fanatic environment ever ready to jump on him he avoided drawing any conclusion whether theories of science regarding birth of the Universe, creation of life and men are superior to theories and believes laid down in the holy scriptures. He left the matter to the to the judgment of his readers. This was the style of Galileo avoiding direct confrontation with the church.  

In the preface of his book on Mystery of Creation, he humbly submitted as follows:  

“The seed of superstition was germinated in the human society thousands and thousands years back. To day it has take a shape of a big tree branching out with all its trunks and sub-trunks in all directions. The superstition-tree now blossomed with variety of flowers has covered under its shadow vast territory of mankind. And we millions of people are living under this shadow of the tree. In the past many learned men had axed this tree with axes made of reasons, as a result of which enlightened men are coming out of the shadow of superstition and taking shelter in the open field of free-mind; young men and women are assembling in the garden of science-philosophy.  

If the gentlemen readers reads this book carefully, they would be able to follow matters relating to the development of human mind and contribution-- its chronological thinking, research and finally theories and laws based on reasons about the creation of universe.  

In writing this book I have no original contribution so far theories are concerned. Whatever theories I have presented, all are collections only. I have acted as a mere collector. .... “  

As an illustration of scientific mind and his way of presenting scientific facts let me quote some portion from his book about the sun. Describing various but funny stories from various religions he gave the modern and scientific theories of the sun. About the Muslim concept of motion of sun, he says,  

“Muslims think that vehicle of the sun is boat (perhaps this followed from the concept of the ancient Egyptians). They further say that the sun is kept seating on a golden boat kept at the ‘4th sky’ (chautha asman); every day 70 thousand feresta draw the boat with the seating sun from the east bringing it to western sky. The whole night the sun seating under the arash prays to the almighty Allah and then arrives at the eastern sky in the morning. “  

After this narration Matubbar proceeded to present up to date facts of science regarding sun.  

Let us take another illustration regarding creation of universe. He says “according to classical religious opinions, the earth is at the centre of the universe, among the created condensed mass piece earth is the biggest lump in the universe and man is the unique and best creation of life--- it is a kind of life created by the God out of curosity. Whether man is the special creation of God, we would consider later, but let us discuss if the earth is at the centre of the universe or not, and whether it is largest lump-matter in the universe.” Then he goes on saying,  

“If we are to decide the centre of a space we must know its periphery first. Without knowing the periphery of the space it is impossible to know its centre. But religion based views have decided the earth as the centre of the universe without determining the periphery of the universe.”  

If we assume our universe is finite and spherical, then we must know its volume to locate its centre. But if the universe is infinite then every point in the universe is a centre and the earth loses its speciality. According to religion based views our universe is infinite (ananta). So the earth is a centre of the universe is a meaningless statement.  

His other important publications are  

1. Anuman (Assumptions),  Time of writing: 13.4.1388 –8.3.1389

Published on 1390 (AD 1983)  

2. Smaranika (Memoirs), Time of writing: 13. 10. 1388 – 27. 2. 1389

Date of Publication: 1389 (1982)  

Unpublished works  

3. Veder Abadan (Contribution of Vedas)

4. Macgesan Chula

5. Krishaker Bhagya: Graha (The fate of peasants : the planets)

6. Seejer phool (flowers of Seez) [collection of few poems dealing with ethics]     

In those books Aroj Ali, our rationalist and lokayatik philosopher not only raised very significant and fundamental queries and questions of human mind, but also has shown us how rationally and scientifically one should approach a problem. Quite natural we may not answer or all solve many a phenomena with our existing scientific tools and logical thinking. But our quest would be discover those tools and methodology of logic if old logics fail us. This is the scientific way new knowledge is created or renewed, new truths discovered. And world progresses with time. It does not go back to Quaranic time or Vedic Epoch or Time of Prophet Isa or of Musa.  

Let me end my insignificant article by paying reach tributes to his feet.  

The paper was initially read in a conference arranged by Rationalist International in 2001. The Bengali version of the article has been later published in Swatantra Bhabna (Ankur, 2008)

About the Author:

Prof. Ajoy K. Roy, a reputed scientist of high esteem, studied in Bangladesh and in UK and took his Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from Leeds University. With his initiative an advanced center of Solid State Physics and crystallography was established in 1969 under the sponsorship of UNESCO. His work led to the discovery of some fundamental process in radiation chemistry of aliphatic and amino acids and their salts. The process of dissociative electron capture and the subsequent fate of electron is considered to be his major contribution as a scientist. He has been invited twice by the Nobel committee to nominate candidates for Nobel prize in 1998 and in 2001.

Socially conscious Prof. Roy, since his student life, participated in all progressive movements including Language movement of 1952, Mass Movement in 1969, and Non Co-operation movement of 1970 --all these finally culminated in his participation in the 1971 War of Liberation of Bangladesh as a freedom fighter. After Liberation Prof. Roy was the General Secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh in the 1972-73 period, succeeding Dr. Ahmed Sharif.

Prof. Roy, as a regular contributor of Mukto-mona  believes in rationalism and secularism. As an ardent activist of Human Rights he has participated in most movements against Human Rights violation in Bangladesh. He engaged at present with extensive research on Crime Against Minority in Bangladesh.

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