January 8 marks one of the key dates in the Muslim calender, when more than five million people travel to the Turag river in Bangladesh .
As day breaks on the banks of the Turag river in Bangladesh, where millions of Muslims will congregate for three days to partake in the annual Bishwa Ijtema (“world congregation”). The festival, one of several ijtemas in the Islamic calander, draws in Muslims from up to 150 countries and was attended by five million people in 2010 making it the second largest Muslim gathering in the world. The main congregation takes place on a plot of land no bigger than 160 acres (0.65 square km) where the participants will camp for the next three days, gathering to pray and receive blessings from Allah. The first ijtema is believed to have been held in 1949 as a congregation for Tablighi Jamaat, or TJ, Muslims. The TJ movement – a branch of Sunni Islam—kicked off in 1927. It is characterised by a removal of the Islamic faith from politics and is concerned with interpreting the original, or ‘true’, meaning of the Qur’an.
To cope with overcrowding this year’s ijtema will, for the first time, be held in four phases. Bangladeshi participants from 33 districts will attend the first two phases this year (8-10 and 11-14th of January) and the remaining 32 districts will attend the following year. Foreigners will be allowed to participate in any of the phases.
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