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Syed Mujtaba Ali (Bengali: সৈয়দ মুজতবা আলী; 13 September 1904 – 11 February 1974) was a Bengali author, journalist, travel enthusiast, academic, scholar and linguist. He lived in Bangladesh, India, Germany, Afghanistan and Egypt.

Syed Mujtaba Ali
Mujtaba Ali.jpg
Native name
সৈয়দ মুজতবা আলী
Born(1904-09-13)13 September 1904[1]
Died11 February 1974(1974-02-11) (aged 69)[2]
NationalityPakistani later Bangladeshi
EducationPhD (comparative religious studies)
Alma mater
OccupationWriter, journalist, travel enthusiast, academician, linguist
Spouse(s)Rabeya Khatun
Parent(s)Khan Bahadur Syed Sikandar Ali (father)
RelativesSyed Murtaza Ali (brother)

Early life and educationEdit

Ali was born in Karimganj in Sylhet District of Assam Province. His father Khan Bahadur Syed Sikander Ali was a sub-registrar.[3][4] Mujtaba was the youngest of the three brothers. One of his brothers was Syed Murtaza Ali.[4] Mujtaba Ali passed the matriculation exam from Sylhet Government Pilot High School and intermediate exam from 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 the University of Bonn with a dissertation on comparative religious studies on Khojas in 1932.[2]


Ali then studied at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo during 1934–1935. He taught at colleges in Baroda (1936–1944) and Bogra (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.[2] 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 activismEdit

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.[5] He was a prominent activist and supporter of Bengali as the national language of East Pakistan.[5] 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 worksEdit

The mother tongue of Ali was Sylheti but he knew 15 languages – Bengali, French, German, Italian, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hindi, Sanskrit, Marathi, Gujarati, Pashtu, Greek and English. Alongside Natya Guru Nurul Momen and Jajabar (Binay Mukhopadhyay), Ali was one of the trail-blazers 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.


  1. Deshe Bideshe (1949)
  2. Panchatantra (1952)
  3. Abishwasya (1955)
  4. Chacha Kahini (1955)
  5. Mayurkanthi (1957)
  6. Jale Dangay (1957)
  7. Dhupchhaya (1958)
  8. Shabnam (1960)
  9. Chaturanga (1960)
  10. Shreshtha Galpa (1962)
  11. Parash Pathar (1962)
  12. Bahubichitra (1962)
  13. Bhabaghure O Anyanya (1962)
  14. Shreshtha Ramya Rachana (1962)
  15. Tunimem (1964)
  16. Duhara (1966)
  17. Pachandashai (1967)
  18. Shahriyar (1969)
  19. Hitler (1970)
  20. Kato Na Ashrujal (1971)
  21. Musafir (1971)
  22. Prem
  23. Dwandwa Madhur
  24. Tulanahina
  25. Raja Ujir

Death and legacyEdit

In 1972, after the liberation of the country, Ali returned to Bangladesh. 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. He was awarded Ekushey Padak in 2005 by the Government of Bangladesh.[6]


  1. ^ Khan, Nurur Rahman (2012). "Ali, Syed Muztaba". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  2. ^ a b c "A man of many hues". The Daily Star. 11 February 2014.
  3. ^ "Prakhyata Byaktitva". Moulvibazar Zila. Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  4. ^ a b Abdulla Shibli (13 March 2015). "Syed Mujtaba Ali as a Rebel". The Daily Star.
  5. ^ a b "Syed Mujtaba Ali – a pioneer of our Language Movement". 11 February 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2013.
  6. ^ "14 to get Ekushey Padak". The Daily Star. 18 February 2005.

Further readingEdit

  • Saiyad Mujtaba Ali Rachanabali (complete works), edited by Gajendrakumar Mitra, Sumathanath Ghosh, Sabitendranath Ray and Manish Chakrabarty, eleven volumes published by Mitra O Ghosh (Kolkata) 1974–1983.
  • Saiyad Mujtaba Ali: Jibankatha, by Nurur Rahman Khan, published by Asiatic Society of Bangladesh (Dhaka) 1990.
  • Mujtaba Sahityer Rupbaichitrya o Rachanashaili, by Nurur Rahman Khan, published by Bangla Academy (Dhaka) 1990.
  • Prasanga: Mujtaba Ali, edited by Bijanbihari Purakayastha, published by Nabapatra Prakashan (Kalikata) 1998 (first published as Mujtaba Prasanga in Sylhet in 1977).
  • Syed Mujtaba Ali: Proshongo Oproshongo by Golam Mostakim, who was close with Syed Mujtaba Ali from 1971 to 1974, till Syed Mujtaba Ali's death. The book illustrates Syed Mujtaba Ali as a person rather than a personality. Published by Student Ways, Dhaka, Bangladesh in 1995.