Come now, and let us reason together*

 A.H. Jaffor Ullah


�If everything on earth were rational, nothing would happen.� 

� Feodor Dostoevsky in �The Brothers Karamazov�


Time passes by rather swiftly.  Before I could think about when will the world celebrate this year�s �Rationalist Day,� a request came from Mukto-mona�s moderator to pen an essay to celebrate the day.  Rather than writing an essay giving an encomium to rational thinking, let me sidestep here from intellectual world and visit the boring and mundane world to borrow some examples from real life to show how apparently rational Bangalees make about turn to become irrational as they approach their golden days.   

By profession, I am a researcher in life sciences.  Everyday at work I am confronted with scientific questions dealing with my research.  I have to be a rationalist to answer those questions.  Science and mathematics are the most rational disciplines in the entire world.  There is no room for irrational behavior once someone wants to wet their hand in science and mathematics.  I try to bring my rational mind when I enter my house after day�s work.  However, it saddens me to see many scientists and academicians in America who are born and brought up in South Asia behave very differently when they return to their pad.   

The highly educated people are very �successful� when it comes to their profession.  They have attended publicly funded education center back home studying math and sciences on top of other arts subject.  They came to the West for higher studies; after finishing theirs advanced degrees many of them stayed here in search of greener pasture but once they are safe and secure in their profession, many of them show irrational behavior in their advancing years.

 I am not making this up at all.  I came to New Orleans in 1985 after spending nearly 16 years in three universities in America.  My acquaintances in academia tended to be very rational.  Many of our country folks who I met in academia portrayed themselves to me as secularist with rational mind.  However, once they become older they shed their secular skin and in its place, they wear a very parochial skin and show some very bizarre and irrational behavior.   

One such person had received his doctoral degree in chemistry from a university in Connecticut.  He went back to Dhaka to marry a young woman who was attending the Dhaka University.  He showed his secular demeanor to his new wife and in-laws and then returned to America with the new bride.  Within a few years, he began to change.  In the meantime, he became father of two kids.  After 7-8 years of his marriage, he divorced his wife and began to lead a secluded life.  When he called me after a long time, I heard a very different voice � an Islamic voice.  Few years have gone by since he contacted me over the phone and one day in 2000, I received a call from my old acquaintance.  He was visiting New Orleans with his �new wife� and he wanted to meet me.  When I saw him after 15 years, I could not believe my eyes.  My old acquaintance had become a pucca Muslim.  He flaunted a full beard and his diction was full with Islamic words and lingo.  He then called his wife to meet me.  I saw a hijab-clad woman entering the woman who seemed to be much unsophisticated.  Later, he confided with me that he really liked his newly found Islamic wife even though she is not much of a companion as compared to his divorced wife who had more charm and glamour.  I think my acquaintance�s swift metamorphosis from a rational to irrational world created so many problems for his first wife that she thought it was not worth the while to live with him.  My old acquaintance became very philosophical with me when I met him.  He said that his conversion to fundamentalism brought him peace.  He did not mind however leading a life full with contradictions.  I wanted to ask my old acquaintance whether the principle of thermodynamics, which he studied in his college days with so much fervor is dead now.  But I bit my tongue and let it come to pass.   

Let me narrate here the tale of another person who happened to be my college roommate.  This guy now lives in a town in Ohio.  He very badly wanted to come to the US for an advanced degree.  I arranged a scholarship for him when I was in the US in 1969.  My roommate came in September 1970 and stayed with my till August 1974.  He was as secular as anyone could be during 1970 through 1974.  He was very much influenced by my thoughts.  However, during 1975 through 1990 as he grew older he began to change.  He slowly gave up his rational mind and then he took the plunge into the world of irrationalism.  He became one of the big shot in the Mosque committee in the city where he lives.  His daughter who was born in America took hijab when she turned 15 or 16.  He gave up freethinking and became an avid Islamist.  He used to talk to me about Darwinian world in his secular days but now only think he talks about this temporal world, kids, health, stock market, and other mundane things.  Idealism is long gone from his mind and he became a very materialistic person.  Now religion plays a very important role in his life.  But my old roommate is beset with many worldly problems.  His son did not do very well in college and he suffered due to car accidents.  There is no room for creativity in his life and he now dwells in a world plagued with irrationality. 

I could site many more examples drawn from the real world to hit home a message.  I have seen the folks who made that switch from rational to irrational life; their world became topsy-turvy when they faced some kind of hardship that is so common we all faced in our life.  If an accident happens in life, they say they must have sinned or else why should Allah punish them this way.  My friend did not do a hell of a job as a parent to bring discipline in the life of his son.  But he won�t admit this.  Religion is the only thing that is left for this guy.  He is now thinking about his life in the next world.   

Irrationality has plagued my roommate�s mind.  Religion is the only thing that he could think of.  He grew up in a village amidst people who knew nothing about freethinking and rationality.  My roommate became a quasi-secularist living in a room with a person who would tell him all about evolution, physical laws, and a rational world.  Nevertheless, I suppose the vivid memory of childhood that is plagued with mumbo-jumbos of Islamic tales and folklore was too much for him.  My old roommate has now become a born-again Muslim who could only think about his life in a heaven up high in the firmament.   

Living in Cincinnati, Ohio, during 1972 through 1974, I met a couple from Dhaka both of whom had doctoral degree in biochemistry from England.  They were young, energetic, and religion did not play any role in their everyday life then.  I met them in 1987 after 13 long years when they were in their late forties.  They also became very religious all of a sudden.  Four-five years ago, they went to Mecca for performing hajj and after their return from the blessed land, the man wrote me an e-mail saying all the good thing about performing hajj.  They also became born-again Muslim.  The knowledge they have earned when they were young did not make them any more rational.  They are at peace living in their irrational world.  What a pity! 

The case history I described above was from real life.  All the four persons had earned doctoral degrees; nevertheless, they decided to abandon their rational life opting for a dark and dingy irrational life that is beset with weird tales from 1400 years ago.   

Sometimes I think that these folks have acquired knowledge and skills only to secure jobs to feed their stomach.  They never internalized the knowledge and applied them in their personal life.  Thus, it was very easy for them to revert to their irrational life.  The contradiction between rational and irrational life did not bother them a bit.  They are absorbed in their pleasant thoughts to lead an infinite life in another world after death.  Who is going to show them the path to enlightenment?  The people who once were intelligent and prone to learning are what I call living dead.  With a profound sadness in my heart let me bring a closure to this elegiac piece.  Have a happy �Rationalist Day.�  People from all walks of life should rise up and learn a thing or two to become more rational at a time when religiosity has gotten the upper hand in South Asia and other parts of the world.     


 Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA

* The title was taken from Bible ('Isaiah' 1:18)