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Sunday, 21 September 2014

Syed Mujtaba Ali

Syed Mujtaba Ali / সৈয়দ মুজতবা আলী

Born 13 September 1904
Karimganj, Bengal Presidency, British Raj (now in Assam, India)
Died 11 February 1974 (aged 69)
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Nationality Indian
Ethnicity Bengali
Education PhD (comparative religious studies)
Alma mater Visva-Bharati University
University of Bonn
Occupation Writer and journalist
Religion Islam
Spouse(s) Rabeya Khatun
Parents Syed Sikandar Ali

Syed Mujtaba Ali (Bengali: সৈয়দ মুজতবা আলী) (13 September 1904 – 11 February 1974) was a Bengali author, academician, scholar and linguist.

Early life and education

Ali was born in Karimganj in Sylhet district of Bengal Presidency (now in Assam). Ali passed the matriculation exam from Sylhet Government Pilot High School and intermediate exam from Sylhet MC College. He went to Visva-Bharati University in Santiniketan and graduated in 1926. He was among the first graduates of the university. He studied for a brief period in Aligarh Muslim University. Later, he moved to Kabul to work in the education department (1927–1929) as a professor. From 1929 to 1932 he went to Germany with Wilhelm Humboldt scholarship and studied at the universities in Berlin and later in Bonn. He earned his PhD from University of Bonn with a dissertation on comparative religious studies on Khojas in 1932.


Ali then studied at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo during 1934–1935. He taught at colleges in Baroda (1936–1944) and Bogura (1949). After a brief stint at Calcutta University in 1950, he became Secretary of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and editor of its Arabic journal Thaqafatul Hind. From 1952 to 1956 he worked for All India Radio at New Delhi, Cuttack and Patna. He then joined the faculty of Visva-Bharati University (1956–1964) as professor of German language and later of Islamic Culture.

Language activism

After the Partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947, Ali went from India to the then East Pakistan. He was one of the first to call for Bangla as East Pakistan's state language on 30 November 1947, at the Sylhet Kendriya Muslim Sahitya Samsad. He was a prominent activist and supporter of Bengali as the national language of East Pakistan. In 1948, being the principal of Azizul Huq College, Bogra, he wrote an essay, 'The State Language of East Pakistan', which was printed in Chaturanga of Kolkata. During that time, the West Pakistan Rulers tried to impose Urdu as the only state language of East Pakistan while Bengali was spoken by most of the people. The government of Pakistan demanded an explanation. But Ali resigned and moved to India.

Linguistic abilities and literary works

The mother tongue of Ali was Bengali but he knew 15 languages – French, German, Italian, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hindi, Sanskrit, Marathi, Gujarati, Pashtu, English. Alongside Jajabor (Binoy Mukhopadhaya), Ali was a trail-blazer of a unique category of Bengali writing. 'Ramya Rachana' in the Bengali language, an anecdotal story-telling – often based on real-life experiences – became immensely popular, mostly because of the attractive writing style of Ali. 'Deshe Bideshe', the story of his journey to and experiences in Kabul during his brief stint as professor in a college there is one of Ali's best works. Panchatantra is a collection of thoughts and short stories (some already published in 'Desh' magazine) of his days in Europe, Cairo and Baroda.


Deshe Bideshe (1948)
Panchatantra (1952)
Obishashsho (1955)
Chacha Kahini (1955)
Mayurkanthi (1957)
Joley Dangay (1957)
Dhupchaya (1958)
Shabnam (1960)
Chaturanga (1960)
Sreshtho Golpo (1962)
Porosh Pathor (1962)
Bahubichitra (1962)
Bhoboghure O Onnanyo (1962)
Sreshtha Ramma Rochona (1962)
Tunimem (1964)
Duhara (1966)
Pachandashai (1967)
Shahriyar (1969)
Hitler (1970)
Kotona Asrujal (1971)
Musafir (1971)
Dandya Madhur

Death and legacy

After the liberation of Bangladesh, Ali returned to his native land in 1972, where he died on 11 February 1974. Extracts from his literary works are included in the curriculum of school level, secondary, higher secondary and graduation level Bengali Literature in both Bangladesh and India, particularly in the states of West Bengal and Tripura.

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