Islam in Assam

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Panbari Mosque is the oldest mosque in Assam

There are 10.7 million Muslims in the Indian state of Assam, forming over 34% of its population.[1] Islam came to Assam in the 13th century, before the Ahom invasion of the region. A number of Bengali-speaking immigrants have also arrived in Assam since the colonial days.


The Muslims first came to Assam in the early 13th century, when Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji led an army to eastern India in 1205.[2] A chieftain of the Mech tribe embraced Islam at the invitation of Khilji, and adopted the name Ali Mech. He guided Khilji's army through the region known as Kamarupa during the expedition.[3][4]

In 1613, the Mughals annexed Koch Hajo (now part of Western Assam) briefly. They also ruled Goalpara (as a part of their Bengal Subah), but could not subdue the other parts of Assam.[5] The Mughal soldiers who were taken as prisoners of wars by the Assamese kingdoms were later assimilated by the local population, but maintained their Islamic beliefs.

In 1630, a Muslim saint named Shah Milan popularly known as Ajan Fakir came from Baghdad, the present capital city of Iraq to Assam. He preached the local population about Islam and as a result many of them had entered into the fold of Islam and became his disciples. His mausoleum is present in Sahoguri Chapori in Sibsagar district of Assam.

Historical divisions[edit]

Although the Muslims of Assam did not identify with any caste, they had caste-like divisions based on family ancestry (e.g. Syed, Mughal, Pathan and Sheikh) and functional sections (e.g. Maria, Mahinial and Jalaha). In order of traditional social status, the ancestral groups include:[2]

The Syeds claim descent from Muhammad. In 17th century, a Syed Muslim saint Ajan Fakir came to Assam and promoted Islam.
This section is formed by the descandants of invading Muslim soldiers who married local Assamese girls, some of whose relatives also converted to islam.
These are descended from the captured Muslim soldiers, who came with the armies of Khilji (1206) and Turbak of Gaur (1532).

Migration during the British era[edit]

The British East India Company had established its rule in the neighbouring Bengal region after the Battle of Plassey in 1757. When Assam came under the colonial rule, the British brought with them a number of Bengali settlers. These Bengalis encouraged other Bengalis to settle in Assam for economic reasons.[6] The fertile land of Assam attracted a number of landless peasants from East Bengal, nearly 85% of whom were Muslims. The tea planters and Marwari businessmen, who needed workers, also welcomed the immigrants.[7]

Early establishments were in the Goalpara district, mostly in the char (riverine) lands and reserved forests.[6] These Muslim migrants were known as "Miyas", and most of them have assimilated with the indigenous Muslims. Since many of them came from the Mymensingh District, they were sometimes referred to as "Mymenshingia". The Muslim migrants from the Gaur region were also known as Gariyas.[2]

After the Government of India Act 1935, a Legislative Assembly was established in Assam in 1937. The Muslim League, led by Muhammed Saadulah, formed a minority government in the state.[7]

Independent India[edit]

Assam has a substantial number of indigenous Muslims, but there have been concerns that illegal immigration from the neighbouring Bangladesh has contributed to a sharp rise in the Muslim population of Assam. This fear of "demographic invasion" by Bangladeshi Muslims has been a political issue in Assam since the days of Assam Movement (1979-1985).[8] In 1983, around 2000 Bengali-speaking Muslims were killed in the Nellie massacre.[9]

In 2001, there were 6 Muslim-majority in the Assam district. By 2011, this number had increased to 9.[10]


Muslim population of Assam (present-day boundaries)[2]
Year Muslim Population Increase  % Increase
1901 503,670
1911 634,101 130,431 25.9%
1921 880,426 246,325 38.25%
1931 1,279,388 398,962 45.31%
1941 1,696,978 417,590 32.64%
1951 1,995,936 298,958 17.62%
1961 2,765,509 769,573 38.56%
1971 3,594,006 828,497 29.96%
1991* 6,373,204 2,779,198 77.33%
2001[11] 8,240,611 1,867,407 29.30%
2011[1] 10,679,345 2,438,734 29.59%

* Variation for two decades (1971-1991). In 1981, census was not conducted in Assam due to disturbed conditions resulting from insurgency.

Population by district[edit]

Below is a breakdown of the Muslim population by district in the Indian state of Assam according to the 2011 Census of India: [1]

# District Total population Muslim population Percentage
1 Baksa 950,075 135,750 14.29%
2 Barpeta 1,693,622 1,198,036 70.74%
3 Bongaigaon 738,804 371,033 50.22%
4 Cachar 1,736,617 654,816 37.71%
5 Chirang 482,162 109,248 22.66%
6 Darrang 928,500 597,392 64.34%
7 Dhemaji 686,133 13,475 1.96%
8 Dhubri 1,949,258 1,553,023 79.67%
9 Dibrugarh 1,326,335 64,526 4.86%
10 Dima Hasao 214,102 4,358 2.04%
11 Goalpara 1,008,183 579,929 57.52%
12 Golaghat 1,066,888 90,312 8.46%
13 Hailakandi 659,296 397,653 60.31%
14 Jorhat 1,092,256 54,684 5.01%
15 Kamrup 1,517,542 601,784 39.66%
16 Kamrup Metropolitan 1,253,938 151,071 12.05%
17 Karbi Anglong 956,313 20,290 2.12%
18 Karimganj 1,228,686 692,489 56.36%
19 Kokrajhar 887,142 252,271 28.44%
20 Lakhimpur 1,042,137 193,476 18.57%
21 Morigaon 957,423 503,257 52.56%
22 Nagaon 2,823,768 1,563,203 55.36%
23 Nalbari 771,639 277,488 35.96%
24 Sivasagar 1,151,050 95,553 8.30%
25 Sonitpur 1,924,110 350,536 18.22%
26 Tinsukia 1,327,929 48,373 3.64%
27 Udalguri 831,668 105,319 12.66%
Assam (Total) 31,205,576 10,679,345 34.22%


The Assamese Muslims are probably one of the least orthodox Muslim communities of entire Asia. They follow many Hindu customs and take part in Hindu festivals. In fact, the day-to-day rituals of this community resemble the customs of the other local tribes and communities of Assam. A majority of the Assamese Muslims are agrarian in nature and depend on agriculture for their subsistence.[12]

Notable Assamese Muslims[edit]

See also[edit]