Anjuman is an association of people of the same interests or having similar viewpoints united for realising their common causes. They assemble to serve their class interest and undertake programmes of action on the basis of their ideology. The leadership and ideology determine the character of such organisations. The Anjumans established at different times in united Bengal were organisations of this nature. The advanced section of the Muslim society in Bengal established Anjumans in an effort to develop their society by undertaking various religious, social, educational and economic programmes. In the early nineteenth century, rammohun roy first established in Calcutta a religio-social association named atmiya sabha (1815). Thereafter Goudiya Samaj (1823), Academic Sabha (1828), brahma sabha (1829), "Land Holders' Association" (1831), Tattvabodhini Sabha (1842), etc were established in Calcutta. These religious, social, educational-cultural, political and economic organisations were led by the educated middle class, zamindars and rich people of the Calcutta Hindu society. There was virtually no participation of the Muslims in them.
The first Muslim organisation, Anjuman-i-Islami, was established in Calcutta on 8 May, 1855. Its president was Qazi-ul-Kujjat of the Calcutta Court, Fazlur Rahman, and secretary was Mohammad Mazhar. Besides, included in its executive committee were Deputy Registrar Abdul Latif, Abdur Rouf, the editor of Durbin, and other educated persons. It is known from the New Calcutta Directory (Part-VI) of 1856 that the executive committee of the Anjuman comprised of one president, two vice-presidents, one secretary and 14 members. The majority of them had received education in Madrasa. Its aims and objects, as mentioned in the constitution of the Anjuman-i-Islami, were to achieve unity among the Muslims of India and realise their benefits, to bring up solidarity between the East India Company and the Muslim tenants, to develop and make an effort to preach the Islamic religion, etc. The constitution also said that the Muslims of India would solicit the government in legal ways and not rise in rebellion, which might create adverse reaction on the part of the government. Keeping this view in mind, Anjuman-i-Islami arranged meetings in order to oppose the sepoy revolt of 1857. The other contemporary organisation, The British India Association (1851), also opposed the revolt. After the revolt was over, a message of 'felicitation' was sent to Queen Victoria on behalf of the Anjuman on 14 November 1858.
The Anjuman had provisions for holding monthly meetings. In the meetings, papers in Urdu and Persian were read and discussed. The minutes of the meetings were written in Persian. In order to counter the allegations that were raised by the Christian missionaries against Islam articles were written, which were first read and discussed in the meetings of the Anjuman and subsequently published in the Durbin.
Anjuman-i-Islami did not last long. The activities of the Anjuman had slowed down before the establishment of the Mohamedan Literary Society by Abdool Luteef in 1863. Perhaps the main reason was weak leadership. Abdul Luteef gained organisational experience from his direct association with the Anjuman. The historical importance of the Anjuman as an organisation has been that middle class educated Muslims of Calcutta could become vocal for the first time by joining together in the interest of their own community.
Even when the Anjuman-i-Islami of Calcutta became extinct, many societies bearing the names of Anjuman-i-Islam, Anjuman-i-Islamia, etc came to be established at different times in the mofussil towns of Bengal. These societies, in chronological order with place of origin, were Mymensingh (1875), Chittagong (1880), Noakhali (1885), Rangpur (1887), Comilla (1887), Faridpur (1892), Jalpaiguri (1892), Sylhet (1894), Dinajpur (1894), Sirajganj (1898), Pabna (1905), Darjelling (1909), etc. Besides, Anjuman-i-Islamia grew in regions like Dhaka, Pandua (Hughli), Birbhum, Natore, Bogra, Brahmanbaria, etc. It is known from Revision of the List of Associations Recognised by Government (corrected upto 1 April 1923), compiled by the Government of Bengal that Anjuman-i-Islamia of Mymensingh, Noakhali, Comilla, Faridpur, Jalpaiguri, Dinajpur and Pabna received government recognition. The list contains description of the aims and objects, names of the executive committee members and number of members etc, of the Anjumans of that time. Some Anjumans maintained relations with 'central national mUhamedan association' of Calcutta (1878) and 'Indian Patriotic Association' of the UP (1888). The Anjuman of Sirajganj corresponded with the former, and the Anjumans of Mymensingh and Rangpur did so with the latter, supporting issues of national concern. In some cases, representatives were sent.
Generally speaking, it can be said that the main purpose of these organisations was to express opinion and undertake programmes regarding not only the contemporary social, political and economic issues but also on religious and educational matters. Also included were the local problems on these issues. In many cases, the feelings of the members were sensitive and the viewpoint communal. The conflicts and differences of opinions between the Hindus and the Muslims on the issues of deriving benefit from government services, taking stand in favor of or against the government in political movements and such other matters were very strong. Dispute as well as bitterness was created between the two communities on the issue of cow-slaughter. The Anjumans upheld the interest of the Muslim society in such matters. And thus, parallel to Hindu nationalism, Muslim nationalism thrived.
From the spirit of maintaining the interest of their own community, it can be said that it was incumbent on the Muslims to undertake reforms in their own society to get rid of the Hindu rites and superstitions, which had intruded into their own. Preachers with firm conviction undertook programmes for the propagation of Islam. Also movements for establishing Madrasa for imparting religious education were started.
Local zamindars, landholders, educated persons; high officials and religious leaders were associated in the management of these organisations. Ordinary peasants were also included as members in some of the Anjumans. In these cases, the activities of the Anjumans were extended down to the grass-root level. It goes without saying that the proceedings of the meetings, records and pamphlets of the Anjumans in the mofussil areas were written in Bangla.
There were other Anjumans, established in the latter part of the nineteenth century, with different names in various regions of Bengal. Among them worthy of mention are Anjuman-i-Hemayet-i-Islam (Rajshahi and Barisal), Anjuman-i-Ittefaq-i-Islam (Kumarkhali), Anjuman-i-Taid-i-Islam (Nadia), Anjuman-i-Main-al-Islam (Tangail),anjuman mufidul islam (Tengapara), Anjuman-i-Riyat-i-Islam (Comilla), Anjuman-i-Ash-At-i-Islam (Noakhali), Anjuman-i-Mokhair-ul-Islam (Sirajganj), etc. The structure and activities of these were more or less similar to earlier Anjumans. In the Revision of the List of Associations, mentioned earlier, there were names and identities of many of them. Particularly noticeable were the organisational activities of the Anjuman-i-Hemayet-i-Islam (1891) of Rajshahi led by Mirza Yusuf Ali, Anjuman-i-Hemayet-i-Islam (1895) of Barisal led by Hemayetuddin Ahmed, Anjuman-i-Ash-At-i-Islam (1896) led by Abdul Aziz, and Anjuman-i-Main-al-Islam led by Muhammad Naimuddin. Anjuman-i-Mufidul Islam of Tengapara created a tremendous agitation in the political arena by circulating the famous Red Manifesto. The secretary of the Anjuman, Ibrahim Khan, composed and circulated the manifesto in order to oppose the swaraj movement.
On the whole, the Anjumans spread a 'net' in the Muslim society of Bengal. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Muslims were thrown into various confusions: socially, politically and economically. A conscious section of the Muslims were united by these organisations and they rejuvenated the people by tackling national and local problems. Before the establishment of the Anjumans, an attitude of 'crusade' inherent in the Faraizi and the wahabi movements prevailed in the Muslim society. Established on the mould of the western ideal, the aims and objects of these organisations were multifarious. The leaders endeavored to develop the society through co-operation with the British government. The role of Anjumans deserves to be considered seriously in the history of one hundred years from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century,
When the Muslim League as a political organisation attained popularity and became dominant in the 1930s and 1940s, these small and scattered societies amalgamated with it. N K Sinha considers the Anjumans as the forerunner of the Muslim League. They gradually ceased to exist after the division of Bengal in 1947. [Wakil Ahmed]
Bibliography Revision of the List of Associations recognised by Government (corrected up to 1 April, 1923), Government of Bengal, Political Dept., Calcutta 1923; NK Sinha, History of Bengal (1757-1905), Calcutta, 1967; Hossainur Rahman, Hindu-Muslim Relation in Bengal (1905-1947), Bombay, 1974.