REGION: 2.5 million Muslims join Bangladesh congregation

TONGI: At least 2.5 million Muslims joined prayers on Sunday near the Bangladeshi capital as part of the second largest annual Islamic gathering after the Hajj to Makkah, officials said.The normally congested streets of Dhaka were empty as devotees left work to gather on the banks of the river Turag for the end of the first phase of the Biswa Ijtema, or World Muslim Congregation. The gathering, at which Muslims pray and listen to religious scholars, was first held in the 1960s at Tongi, some 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of Dhaka.Dressed in traditional Islamic robes and caps, devotees set up prayer mats beneath a canopy stretching more than a kilometre while hundreds of thousands of people filled the open space available for the final prayer.District police chief Mahfuzul Haq Nuruzzaman said at least 2.5 million devotees including thousands of foreigners attended a last prayer session lasting 20 minutes and led by a cleric from New Delhi. Nuruzzman said some 12,000 foreigners from more than 95 countries joined the gathering. Security was tight. More than 20,000 security officials patrolled the site, Nuruzzman said.“Devotees have filled up every space found on the roads, rooftops, boats and buses,” Nuruzzaman said, adding the Bangladesh president and the prime minister joined prayers capping the three-day long first phase of the congregation.Live telecast by local stations showed the devotees raising their hands on boats and bridges at the scene. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other leaders were stationed on the roof of a government building as they joined the prayer.Bangladesh is the world’s third-largest Muslim-majority nation, with Muslims making up nearly 90 percent of its 146 million population. Launched by Tablig Jamaat, a non-political group that urges people to follow the tenets of Islam in their daily lives, the event is second biggest global gathering of Muslims.Gazi Mohammad Sanaullah, who edits a special bulletin on the congregation, said the organisers are holding the prayer meeting in two phases to accommodate more devotees some of whom travel from remote villages. The three-day long second phase will start on January 28. This year, another three-day gathering will begin at the same place on Jan 28. Organisers said the second congregation was arranged to reduce overcrowding at the first event – Dailytimes