Bangladesh 30 Dec 2014 22:00
Bishwa Ijtema (pronounced biz-wah ist-emah), meaning “global congregation,” is an annual spiritual gathering held near the river Turag in Tongi, Bangladesh, a suburb of the capital city of Dhaka. The event focuses on prayers and meditation, and the organisers from the Tablighi Jamaat Islamic Movement forbid political discussions. The congregation is officially open to people from all faiths, though it is attended predominantly by Muslims from all over South Asia. It is one of the world’s largest annual congregations of Muslims after the Arbaeen gathering in Karbala in Iraq and the Hajj to Mecca that constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam.
More than five million Muslims, many from other countries, gather for the Bishwa Ijtema. Despite the large number of devotees living within a confined space, generally there are very few problems of sanitation, cooking, and internal movement. It is believed to be possible because of the minimalist approach adopted by the devotees.
Mohammad Mojammel Hoque, a seventy-year-old farmer from from the Vola district of Bangladesh comes every year to what now amounts to a pilgrimage.
“I come here every year to purify my soul and commune with Allah,” he said. “From the scholars, I get to know the true teachings of Islam, so I can follow Islam properly and preach to others how to live the Islamic way.”
One of the congregation’s foundational traditions, mass dowry-free wedding ceremonies are held on the second day of Ijtema. Bishwa Ijtema began very humbly in 1946, when an Indian scholar met with a few people at a local mosque . Muslim followers come to the gathering, located on the Turag River near Dakar, to receive blessings and interact with the throng of followers that descend on the Ijtema grounds. It provides many with the opportunity to study the Qur’an and listen to various sermons.
Attendees use the three days of the Bishwa Ijtema to concentrate on their religion and explore aspects of it that they are not familiar with. It is a mix of religious education, spiritual adulation, meditation, blessings and exaltation. Although political views, beliefs and negotiations are not permitted to be discussed or explored, many have questioned the attendance of high ranking officials and delegates to the gathering, who are known to be inactive in their religion and whose political decisions and way of rule does not always agree with Islamic teaching. However, their presence does not concern devotees, who attend Bishwa Ijtema for their own personal enrichment. They hardly notice the difference between those who are there to worship and those who are there with ulterior motives.
Bishwa Ijtema ends with Akheri Munajat (final prayer) seeking spiritual well-being and welfare of the Muslim Ummah.