Aroj Ali Matubbar- A Folk Philosopher of Bangladesh

Aroj Ali Matubbar

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Aroj Ali Matubbar (Bengali: আরজ আলী মাতুব্বর) (1900–1985), a self-taught peasant-philosopher and apostate of Bangladesh, was born in British India on 17 December 1900 (Bengali year 1307) in the village of Lamchari in Charbaria union, about 11 km from Barisal town,[1] currently in Bangladesh. He was born to a poor farming family. He studied for only a few months at the village maqtab. This brief dabble in institutional education centered only on the Quran and other Islam studies. He gathered most of his knowledge on varied subjects, including science and philosophy, through his own efforts.[1]


Approach to life and creation

Matubbar proved to be a thinker who had a rationalist and humanist approach and who wrote against ignorance, superstition, and religious fundamentalism.[1] He came to be considered an iconoclast for writing against established religious doctrines. For example, he questioned Islamic law of inheritance as he failed to reconcile the suggested mode of sharing of inherited property. He wrote several books braving his lack of formal schooling. Aroj Ali’s writings reflect his philosophy about life and the world in simple language.

Matubbar befriended a number of scholars and academics of Barisal town, including Professor Kazi Golam Kadir and Professor Muhammad Shamsul Haque. His books were always in danger of being banned by government that since they contained certain religious claims. Matubbar was arrested and taken into police custody for his book, Sotyer Shondhaney (The Quest for Truth).[2] He was subjected to harassment and threat for his writings throughout his life, as many of them challenged religious statements and claims.[2]

Early life

Matubbar lost his father in his early age. When he was 12 years old, his inherited property of 2 acres (8,100 m2) of land was auctioned off as the minor boy was unable to pay land tax. The landless boy faced even more critical crisis when a local usurer called him out of his ancestral homestead. Destitute Araz Ali grew up somehow on the charity of others and by working as a farm labourer. He could not attend in any school due to his poverty. A kindhearted man helped him finish the Bangla Primers. Persevering as he was, he kept on reading more and more. To satisfy his thirst for knowledge he studied all the Bangla books in Barisal Public Library like a serious student. Philosophy as a subject interested him most, but there were not enough books in the collection there. A teacher of philosophy at the B M College, Kazi Ghulam Quadir, was impressed by his depth of knowledge and understanding, so he helped him borrow books from the college library. This is how his mind was shaped.


Due to financial constraints, Matubbar could not pursue any academic course or achieve and formal institutional degree. He lived mostly on subsistence farming. He learned surveying techniques and began his life as a private land surveyor in his locality. This enabled him to accumulate some capital and he could own some land to start farming.


He founded Araz Monjil Public Library at a cost of 60 thousand Taka in a remote village of Barisal District under the funding of Aroj Ali Matubbar trust fund.


He died on 15 March 1985 (1st Chaitra of the Bengali year 1392 ) in Barisal, Bangladesh. He donated his eyes for transplantation after his death.[1] He donated his body which was received by the Anatomy Department of Sher-e-Bangla Medical College and used for dissection by the medical students. After his death in 1985, Aroj Ali Matubbar came to be regarded as prolific thinker that rural Bangladesh ever produced, and an iconoclast who was not afraid of speaking out against entrenched belief and superstitions.[3]

Writings and publications

Matubbar had to take a lot of trouble for publishing his books. He himself drew the cover of his first book which was written in 1952 and published twenty one years later in 1973 under the title Satyer Sandhane. This book gained him reputation in the locality as a “learned man”. In the preface he wrote:

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

He made six propositions in this book which reflected the nature of his philosophical questions. These are:

Proposition 1 : dealt with soul containing 8 questions Proposition 2 : dealt with God containing as many as 11 questions Proposition 3 : dealt with after-world (paralok) containing as many as 7 questions Proposition 4 : dealt with religious matters containing as many as 22 questions Proposition 5 : dealt Nature containing as many as 10 questions Proposition 6 : dealt matters containing as many as 9 questions

The eight questions he posed in the first proposition exemplify his approach. These are (a) Who am I (self)?, (b) Is Life incorporeal or corporal ? (c) Is mind and his/soul one, and the same? (d) What is the relationship of life with the body and the mind? (e) Can we recognize or identify life? (f) Am I free? (g) Will the soul without body continue to have ‘knowledge’ even after it leaves the body at death? and finally (h) How does life can come into and go out of the body?


He was a different type of writer. Because of his rural background it was not possible on his part to remove darkness covering the society, but with the dim torch he held, he tried to see the truth, wherever he could, without fear or doubt.[4] In Bangladesh, his writings were censored.[5] Following are his writings:

  • Shotter Shondhaney (The Quest for Truth) (1973)
  • Sristir Rahasya (The Mystery of Creation) (1977)
  • Anuman (Estimation) (1983)
  • Muktaman (Free Mind) (1988)

Several of his unpublished manuscripts were published posthumously under the title of Aroj Ali Matubbar Rachanabali. Some of his writings have been translated into English and compiled in a volume published by Pathak Samabesh.

Recognition and awards

Matubbar was little known to the elite educated society of the country during his life-time. His first book published in 1973 was rich with secular thought but caught little attention. It is only in the final years of life that he came to be known to the enlightened society of the country. His writings were collected and published. People in general started to take interest in his books, which although refelcted an untrained mind, posed a number of intriguing questions. Soon he rose to eminence albeit after his death in 1985.

  • Life Member of Bangla Academy, inducted in 1985 [1]
  • Awarded Humayun Kabir Smriti Puraskar (Humayun Kabir Memorial Prize) in 1978 by the Bangladesh Lekhak Shibir [1]
  • Award of Honour by the Barisal branch of Udichi Shilpigoshti in 1982 [1]


External links

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