Bishwa Ijtema – A Peaceful Religious Gathering
Amongst the festivals in Bangladesh, the Bishwa Ijtema is by far one of the most popular congregational gatherings, and has become an international event. It is not exactly certain when the first Bishwa Ijtema was held, with some speculating that this event started in 1946. One aspect of this religious gathering that has remained the same over time is that the Tablighi Jamaat of Bangladesh organizes it each year. Starting out as a small event that was attended by a few Muslim followers, it has grown into a massive event that is attended by millions from all over the world.
Bishwa Ijtema is a unique event, as it is a gathering that focuses solely on prayer and meditation, and is not open for political discussions. 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 is estimated that the number of attendees to the 2007 Bishwa Ijtema neared 3 million. It provides many with the opportunity to study the Qur’an and listen to various sermons. Attendees can 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 the perfect medium 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 promote or agree with the Muslim religion. But 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.
Of all the religious festivals in Bangladesh, Bishwa Ijtema is the most important event to attend. Muslim worshipers congregate on a stretch of land that is approximately 160 acres in size, and live primitively, yet peacefully between the throngs of people. Accommodation requirements are minimal for devotees, as they come focused on religion and prayer, not on five-star living arrangements. Food is cooked and provided on site, and sanitary facilities are available. Bishwa Ijtema is a peaceful gathering of worshippers that come to seek guidance, blessings and spiritual fulfillment. Due to the constant threat of extremist groups, the event is patrolled by thousands of policemen and law enforcement members, to ensure the safety of attendees, and three tranquil days of praise.