The Bishwa Ijtema: One Of The Largest Muslim Peaceful Gatherings

Have you heard of the Bishwa Ijtema? The second largest Islamic gathering in the world, occurring every January in Bangladesh.

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Have you heard of the Bishwa Ijtema? The second largest Islamic gathering in the world, occurring every January in Bangladesh.

January marks the start of The Bishwa Ijtema – one of the world’s largest Islamic gatherings.

The Bishwa Ijtema is an annual Islamic congregation held in Bangladesh and is one of the largest of its kind in the world, often attracting millions of attendees.

The first congregation occurred in 1954 in Chittagong (the second-largest city in Bangladesh). Subsequent congregations took place in different parts of the country, attracting more and more visitors. By 1967, the congregation became so popular that the government granted its organisers a permanent location by the River Turag.

The term ‘Bishwa Ijtema’ roughly translated to Global Congregation and was first organised by the Tablighi Jammat. The congregation is approximately 5km squared and is held inside tents. The tents are erected with the help of the Bangladeshi government.

Incredibly, many public bodies in Bangladesh get involved to ensure the event takes place. This includes:

  • Biman Bangladesh Airlines provides air transport.
  • Bangladesh Railways provides rail transport.
  • Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation provides road transport.
  • The Bangladesh Armed Forces help out with infrastructure.
  • The police provide support, too.

The Bishwa Ijtema is essentially a prayer meeting that lasts over three days.  Attendees will gather to recite their daily obligatory prayers and other prayers. Local scholars will appear to recite lectures and explain verses of the Holy Qur’an.

The final day marks the akheri munajat, or the final prayer – an incredible gesture where all devotees will raise their hands at the same time and pray for world peace.

The Bishwa Ijtema isn’t only for Sunnis, Shias, Salafis or whatever type of Muslim you identify as. Everyone is welcome to join in and make a prayer. You’re not required to stay for all three days, either. Understandably, most of the people in attendance are from Bangladesh, but the more popular the congregation became, the more it attracted people from different countries. Today, it is frequented by people from over 150 countries.

The Bishwa Ijtema is very similar to Hajj and the Arbaeen walk in that it’s only possible through the selflessness of Muslims.

Those who attend the congregation have to sacrifice luxuries in terms of grand accommodations and food and reduce their involvement in worldly affairs as only then can millions of people fit and share the tents – and they do – without very few issues of sanitization or cooking.

The Bishwa Ijtema ranks second in the list of largest Islamic gatherings, attracting approximately 5 million people yearly.

Recently, the event’s popularity has meant The Bishwa Ijtema has had to be split into phases, with different Bangladeshi districts assigned to each phase. Foreign visitors are allowed to attend in any phase. This is despite the government already granting the congregation 160 acres!

The Bishwa Ijtema had to be paused for Covid-19, but this year (2023), it has restarted.

Another way The Bishwa Ijtema is similar to Hajj is that it is strictly non-political. The class, race, gender or political affiliations of an individual is not considered. The congregation encourages people to think about how we are beyond these definitions, belonging to Allah (SWT).

Although the Bishwa Ijtema would be difficult to organise in every Muslim country, the idea of prayer meetings and congregational duas for world peace and unity is a beautiful thought and gesture that could be recreated at smaller and local levels in Muslim countries and non-Muslim countries alike.

Image credit: Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

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