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Meaning assembly, meeting, or association, anjuman has played in important role in the political and cultural life of twentieth-century Iran. It gained currency during the Constitutional Revolution (190519o9), when many political action groups emerged to support different ideologies. The anjumans were modeled on a semi-secret society founded by Malkom Khan in 1858 which aimed to introduce modern ideas and rule of law in Iran. But this society was banned in 1861, since it aroused the suspicion of the ruler, Nasir al-Din Shah (1848-1896).

Political anjumans appeared during the last years of Nasir al-Din’s reign. They were formed by a few government officials and intellectuals who discussed the need to emulate European concepts of government to overcomeIran’s backwardness. Some anjumans, such as Anjuman-i Makhfi (Secret Society), which later played a leading role during the Constitutional Revolution, initially advocated and opened modern schools and libraries in order to disseminate European ideas among Iranians.

At the start of the twentieth century, the country’s conditions worsened-czarist Russia’s influence grew, foreign debt mounted, and corruption became rampant. This prompted a growing number of bureaucrats, courtiers, merchants, and `ulama’ (religious scholars) to form secret societies to try to change the way the country was governed. Early anjumans were small-for example, the Mujtama’-i Azadigan founded in 1903 had forty-two members-but they helped generate the demand for constitutional government among the larger public. Their members wrote articles in anti-government, Persian-language newspapers published abroad, in such cities as Cairo,Istanbul,Baku,Calcutta, and London. These were distributed clandestinely in Iran. As the movement for constitutional government grew, the anjumans coordinated activities of various groups seeking political change.

Following the promulgation of the constitution in August 1906, anjumans proliferated openly throughout the country and in cities outside of Iran with large Iranian communities, such as Najaf,Iraq,Istanbul, and Baku. In Tehran alone, about two hundred anjumans were founded between 1905 and 1909. Their ideologies ranged from republican to anticonstitutional, and membership sometimes overlapped. Guilds and professional groups had their own anjumans. Women formed at least one anjuman, Anjuman-i Nisvan (Women’s Anjuman), which raised the question of the franchise for women.

The Fundamental Law ratified on 3o December 1906, required the creation of provincial anjumans in cities, small towns, and even some villages across the country to supervise the election of provincial candidates to the first Parliament. Even though they were meant to be temporary, some anjumans, especially Anjuman-i Tabriz or Azerbaijan, began to function as a provincial parliament. It published a newspaper called Anjuman to promote its views.

However, the activities of radical anjumans alarmed the new king, Muhammad ‘Ali Shah (1907-1909). In the crisis and eventual civil war that erupted between the majlis (parliament) and the king, some of the anjumans provided leadership to supporters of the constitution and prevented the disintegration of the Constitutional movement.Anjuman-i Azerbaijan led the way in defending Tabriz against the king’s forces. But a large number of Wama joined anticonstitutional anjumans, such as Anjuman-i -Al-i- Muhammad (Society of the House of Muhammad), because they feared that constitutional government would undermine shad`ah (the divine law). The crisis was resolved by the king’s abdication and the restoration of the constitution in 1909. But the radicalism of some of the anjumans disillusioned many political activists, who then channeled their energies into other areas, such as literary and cultural activities.

During the authoritarian rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi (1925-1941), political activism almost ceased. Although during the first decade of the reign of Muhammad Reza Sha Pahlavi (1941-1979), new political parties were formed, the regime became more hostile to dissent after the coup d’etat of 1953. Consequently, internal opposition to the regime expressed itself increasingly in religious terms. Small underground cells also challenged the regime by engaging in guerrilla war. The Marxist Fida’iyan-i Khalq and the quasi-Marxist Mujahidin-i Khalq are important examples of the latter development.

Interest in religious associations among opposition groups, especially university students, grew slowly. The earliest groups, Anjuman-i Islami-yi Danishgahiyan (Society of Islamic Students), was founded in 1942 at the University of Tehran by an engineering professor, Mehdi Bazargan, who later became the first prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Bazargan’s goal was to offer religion as an alternative to secular ideologies, to which many students were flocking. Similar associations were formed in other universities, but only after 1963 did they begin to appeal to a growing number of educated members of the lower and middle classes. Interest in religion was spurred by disillusionment with Western ideologies, the increased authoritarianism of the regime, and its strident hostility to traditional culture. The writings of `Ali Shari`ati (1933-1977) a Sorbonne-educated sociologist, convinced many that Islam offered a viable solution for change and even revolution. By 1974, 12,300 religious associations had formed in Tehran.

As the regime became less tolerant of political expression, the initiative for religiopolitical activity shifted abroad. The presence of large numbers of Iranian students in Europe and the United States introduced a new chapter in the history of political activism in Iran. Initially, religiously oriented students expressed opposition to the regime under the umbrella of the secular Confederation of Iranian Students, founded in 1958. However, they eventually became an independent organization, known as Anjuman-i Islami-yi Danishjuyan-i Farsizaban (Islamic Association of Persian-Speaking Students) and joined the Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada. The association also founded chapters in European universities. Many members of this association were among Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s earliest supporters. After the overthrow of the monarchy, some members, such as Ibrahim Yazdi and Sadiq Qutbzadah, assumed posts in the Bazargan cabinet, and Abol-Hasan Bani Sadr was elected president. Others continued to be active in parliament and other government posts.

The political ferment of the Constitutional period also prompted the creation of associations whose main focus was literary and cultural activities. The upheaval and civil war that preceded the restoration of the constitution in 1909 dampened the enthusiasm of many participants in politics. Some disillusioned intellectuals, literati, and bureaucrats turned their energies to literary and cultural activities. They met informally to discuss the need for modern education, the dissemination of European literary ideas and literature, and the degree of innovation and borrowing permissible in poetry and other classical forms.

Literary anjumans continued their activities under Reza Shah, but they steered clear of politics. However, during the reign of Muhammad Reza Shah, political themes began to influence literature, and some literary anjumans provided protection and support to their members against political harassment. The most important of these, Kanun-i-Nivisandigan-i-Iran(Writers Association of Iran), was founded in 1968. It did not receive official recognition and kept a low profile. However, in 1977 this association openly challenged the regime by demanding an end to censorship and respect for human rights. Despite its important role in undermining the monarchy in 1979, the association fell out of favor with the Islamic Republican regime and ceased its official activities.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abrahamian, Ervand.Iranbetween Two Revolutions.Princeton, 1982. Excellent account of the social and political causes of the Constitutional and Islamic revolutions.

Adamiyat, Faridun. Fikr-i Azddi va Muqaddamah-yi Nahzat-i Mashrutiyat darIran.Tehran, 1340/1961. Contains valuable information on the Faramushkhanah and Anjuman-i Adamiyat.

Adannyat, Faridun. Idi’uluzhi -yi Nahzat-iMashrutiyat-iIran. 2 vols. Tehran, 1976- Both volumes, along with other works by the authors, the leading historian of the period, constitute important sources on the political history of the Constitutional Revolution, and provide useful information on various anjumans.

Algar, Hamid. Mirza Malkum Khan.Berkeley, 1973. Detailed and somewhat negative discussion of the Faramushkhanah, the earliest secret society formed inIran, and its founder.

Arjomand, Said Amir. The Turban for the Crown.New YorkandOxford, 1988. Insightful analysis of the role of religion inIranand the Islamic Revolution, with some discussion of religious associations. Aryanpur, Yahya. AzSabatd Nimd, Tdrikh-i 150 Sal-i Adab-i Farsi. Vol. z.Tehran, 1350/1971. Useful information on literary societies, particularly during the early decades of the twentieth century.

Bayat, Mangol, et al. “Anjuman.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 2, pp. 77-83.London, 1985.

Bayat, Mangol.Iran’s First Revolution: Shi’ism and the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909.New York, 1991. Thoughtful and important study of the role of the `ulama’ in the Constitutional Revolution, with reference to various anjumans.

Karimi-Hakkak, Ahmad. “Protest and Perish: Commitment of the Writers’ Association ofIran.” Iranian Studies 18.2-4 (1985): 189231. Thorough account of the history of the association.

Khanbaba Tihrani, Mahdi, and Hamid Shawkat. Nigahi az darun bih junbish-i chap-i Irdn. z vols.Saarbrucken, 1989. Detailed interview with a leader of the Confederation of Iranian Students on the activities of this organization and other opposition student groups in Europe and theUnited States.

Lambton, Ann K. S. “Secret Societies and the Persian Revolution of 1905-o6.” St. Anthony’s Papers, no. I1 (1956): 43-6o. Reprinted in QdjdrPersia.Austin, 1987. Earliest study of anjumans by a leading historian ofIran.

Malikzadah, Mahdi. Zindagani -yi Malik al-Mutakallimin. 5 vols.Tehran, 1325/1946. Excessively laudatory account of the role played by a major constitutionalist and founding member of several anjumans, written by his son. The work contains important information on anjumans of the period.

Martin, Vanessa. Islam and Modernism: The Iranian Revolution of 19o6.London, 1989. Detailed analysis of the role of the leading `ulama’ in the Constitutional Revolution, and a useful discussion of anjumans.

Mustawfi, `Abd Allah. Sharh-i zindagdni-yi mat;. 2 vols. Tehran, 1945. Conveys some information on the Constitutional period, with discussion of the role of radical and literary anjumans.

Nazim al-Islam Kirmani. Tdrikh-i Bidan-i Iraniyan. 5 vols. in 2. Edited by Sa’idi Sirjani. 4th ed. Tehran, [19831. Important source for the Constitutional period, by an active participant, with much useful information on the various anjumans.

Rafi`i, Mansurah. Anjuman: Urgan-i annumanni ayalati-i Azarbayjdn. Tehran, 1362/1985. Brief discussion of Anjuman-i Tabriz, with a facsimile of most issues of the newspaper Anjuman.

GuITY NAsHAT

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/anjuman/
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  • writerPosted On: October 9, 2012
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