At least three million Muslims gathered to pray on the banks of a river near the Bangladeshi capital as the world’s second-largest annual Islamic congregation ended earlier this week. They flocked to the River Turag at Tongi, some 40 kilometres north of Dhaka, as an imam from India led the concluding prayer of the Biswa Ijtema or World Muslim Congregation. Tablig Jamaat, a non-political religious group, organized the three-day gathering.
Nurul Islam, one of the chief organizers, said that around 30,000 foreigners from more than 100 countries also joined the congregation this year. He said Indian imam Jobayer Hasan, a leader of Tablig Jamaat, conducted the prayer in Urdu, seeking divine help for the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. “We’ve estimated that more than three million people joined the final prayer. Some eight to 10 kilometres of road leading to the venue were clogged up with people,” he said, adding that canopies stretching for more than a kilometre, erected on open ground on the banks of the river were filled with the gathering. Special trains and ferries have been arranged to transport the faithful to the event.
The normally congested streets of Dhaka looked deserted, a week day in the Muslim-majority country, as people took trains, buses and private cars to attend the prayer. Devotees have braved chilling temperatures as they prayed and listened to Islamic scholars in marquees, with Bangladesh experiencing its coldest winter since independence in 1971. Tablig Jamaat, which has tens of millions of followers across the globe, urges people to follow the tenets of Islam in their daily lives. The Biswa Ijtema is the second largest annual gathering of Muslims in the world, after the Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia. The gathering at Tongi was first held in 1964. It became so popular among Bangladeshi Muslims, mostly rural poor who can’t afford the Hajj, that the organizers started hosting the event in two phases last year. The second phase, which also lasts three days, begins on January 18th. Bangladesh is the world’s fourth-largest Muslim-majority nation, with Muslims making up nearly 90 percent of its 152 million population.