DHAKA - More than two million Muslims from around the globe gathered on the banks of Turag River outside the Bangladeshi capital on Friday, January 11, for the world's second largest Muslim gathering after hajj.
There are more than a million devotees already here, but we hope, like last year, that the number will pass the two million mark at the final prayers on Sunday, Nurul Islam, one of the chief organizers of the annual Biswa Ijtema (World Muslim Congregation) told Agence France Presse (AFP).
Flocking to the River Turag at Tongi, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the capital, hundreds of thousands of Muslims flocked to River Turag at Tongi north of the capital.
Muslim devotees from around the world have gathered to pray and listen to religious scholars at the start of the world's second largest annual Islamic congregation.
Foreign devotees, including renowned Islamic scholars and elite from different countries across the world, are arriving in Dhaka amid chilly weather to join the 3-day Bishwa Ijtema.
The 48th Biswa Ijtema is organized by Tabligh Jamaat.
The three-day congregation includes delivering sermons on the fundamental issues of Tabligh, prayer for the spiritual adulation, exaltation and welfare of the Muslim Ummah.
The first phase congregation will start formally with religious sermons after Maghrib prayers on Thursday and conclude with final prayers on Sunday.
Special trains and ferries have been arranged to transport pilgrims to the event.
Experiencing Bangladesh's coldest winter, devotees will either sleep in the marquees or brave the chilly temperatures outside.
"Around 30,000 foreigners from more than 100 countries also joined the congregation this year," Islam said.
More than 25,000 devotees from over 100 countries, including China, USA, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UK will take part in the 48th Ijtema.
Launched by Tablig Jamaat, a non-political group that urges people to follow the tenets of Islam in their daily lives, the gathering at Tongi was first held in 1964.
At the beginning, it took place at Dhaka's Kakrail mosque.
Then, in 1948 it took place at Haji Camp in Chittagong and in 1958, it took place in Narayanganj's Shiddhirganj.
Witnessing increasing appeal over the years among those who cannot afford to go to Makkah for the hajj, the Biswa Ijtema moved in 1966 to be held at the bank of Turag in Tongi from such date on.
It is the second largest annual gathering of Muslims in the world, after the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
The second phase of the festival, which also lasts three days, will begin on January 18.
Bangladesh is the world's third-largest Muslim-majority nation, with Muslims making up nearly 90 percent of its 152 million population.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net