Ajoy Roy, father of murdered atheist writer Avijit Roy, an University professor and humanist, first started to translate The God Delusion in Bengali in 2007 knowing how important it was to deliver the book’s message of science and reason for building a humanist, secular, rational society. The official Bengali translation of the book was later done by Kazi Mahboob Hassan. It was published in 2015 in the Dhaka Book Fair. The Fair is organized each February to celebrate the International Mother Language Day in honor of the Bangladeshis who died to retain Bengali (or Bangla) as the official language of then East Pakistan on February 21, 1952.
The fight for a secular Bangladesh is a hard one. During the 2015 Dhaka Book Fair, the Bangladesh Government shut down the secular publication house Rodela for publishing the Bengali translation of a biography of Prophet Muhammad written by the Iranian Scholar Ali-Dashti. The claim was that the book was responsible for hurting religious feeling. It seems truth can be hurtful for those who live in lies! At the same Book Fair, Kazi Mahboob’s Bengali translation of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion was also published. Fortunately, the translation went unnoticed by both the Islamic extremists and the authorities.
The day Rodela publication was shut down, Avijit Roy, the founder of the secular blog Mukto-Mona, arrived in Dhaka from Atlanta to attend the Book Fair and to celebrate the publication of his two new books there. One of these books explored the relationship between Rabindranath Tagore and the Argentinian writer and intellectual Victoria Ocampo. The other one was a popular science book on cosmology, coauthored with the late mathematician Professor Mizan Rahman, that expounded on the idea of creating the Universe from nothing.
The first Bengali book inspired by The New Atheism movement in Bangladesh was a collaboration between Avijit Roy and me. The Philosophy of Disbelief (অবিশ্বাসের দর্শন) , first published in 2011, was scheduled to be released in an updated third edition by Jagriti Publisher. The owner of Jagriti, Faisal Arefin Dipon, was heinously hacked to death by Islamist extremists in October, 2015 for publishing our books.
In The Philosophy of Disbelief, we argued that God, as defined by the major religions in the world, if examined logically and scientifically, could never exist. We showed that although religion naturally emerged as a result of our journey to find answers about our existence, we have exhausted its roles as we developed rational and scientific methods to inquire about the universe and life within it. Our editor, Ananta Bijoy Das captured our motivation in writing the book. His comments on the inside cover reads-
The Philosophy of Disbelief, written by Avijit Roy and Raihan Abir, is a must read for Bengali speaking skeptics, agnostics, atheists, humanists and for all free thinkers. Filled with modern scientific discoveries and data, this book shows the hope of building a secular, humane Bangladesh free from blind faith, superstition, man made class, race and division.
Ananta Bijoy Das was also hacked to death in a cowardly act by extremists in May of 2015.
During the month February of 2015, I occasionally accompanied Avijit Roy and his wife Bonya Ahmed to visit the Book Fair. I remember whenever he ran into someone he knew, he would greet them with delight and buy them a book that dealt with secular ideas. Almost all the time, Avijit’s choice was the Bengali translation of The God Delusion. It is with sadness that I recall going with him repeatedly to the booth where The God Delusion was sold.
But Avijit wasn’t able to take his Bengali copy of Dawkins’ book home. As most of you know he and his wife were attacked from behind on the 26th of February by machete-wielding Al-Queda assassins just outside the Book Fair. Thus, Bangladesh lost one of its brightest minds. As the authorities stood by, the subsequent months saw the repetition of this brutal murder – seven writers, bloggers, publisher, editor, activists were killed in similar fashion by the same group.
In Bangladesh, the government will prosecute you if your writing seems un-Islamic. But if they fail to catch you to put you in prison, terrorists will hunt you, track you down, and kill you. You can only write about freedom of expression in Bangladesh if you are willing to give away all your freedom.
Muslim Ummah was once contributed much to science, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics. This was possible because of the flow of knowledge from different nations and civilizations into Baghdad and other centers of knowledge. Now the dominant Sunni-Wahabi part of the Muslim Ummah steadfastly refuses knowledge from anything other than the one book they revere. Under their influence, the so-called Muslim Ummah is failing to keep pace with modern knowledge. In the meantime, the contribution of the extremists to the modern society, nurtured by a dogmatic faith and ideology, is mostly death and destruction.
It is, therefore, very important that we who live or have lived in a part of world where religion continues to dominate private and public life and society and where government bans or limits the transfer of knowledge, the translation of books like The God Delusion continues. It is also important to keep promoting the idea of secular world by writing new books in native languages. We must do so, so that people are exposed to important and provocative ideas, so that they can think independently and not afraid to ask questions, especially about religious “truths”. Once people are free from the virus of faith, they can contribute more towards our real, earthly challenges: creating peace, inclusion, freedom, and participating in the urgent work of building a human, secular world for next generations.
It is my great pleasure to thank Richard Dawkins for writing The God Delusion. I personally want to tell him that it has changed my life. The book has influenced a generation of young Bangladeshis. I also want to thank him for his tireless promotion of science and reason. In spite of the tragedy that the secular and atheist writers have faced in Bangladesh and in many parts of the world, our work, shaped by people like Richard Dawkins and Avijit Roy, will continue.