Bishwa Ijtema (or Bishsho Istema, Bengali: বিশ্ব ইজতেমা, the World or Global Congregation or Meeting) is an annual Tablighi Jamaat Islamic movement congregation held at Tongi, Bangladesh by the river Turag. It is the 3rd largest Muslim congregation in the world after the Arbaeen gathering in Kerbala, Iraq and Hajj. The event focuses on prayers and supplication and does not allow political discussion. The local police estimated the number of attendees of 2007 ijtema to be 3 million while in 2010 the number of attendees was 5 million.
The first meeting was reportedly held in 1946 (although various sources indicate other dates for this) and continues to be organized by the Bangladesh Tablighi Jamaat. It lasts three days and is attended by over five million Muslims, making it one of the largest congregations after the Hajj to Mecca and the gathering of Muslims in Karbala, Iraq to commemorate Arbaeen. (Hajj is mandatory and a pillar of Islam, whereas the Ijtema is neither). The program concludes with the Akheri Munajat, or final prayer. The tradition of Ijtema was initiated by an Indian savant named Muhammad Ilyas al-Kandhlawi and began as a small group of religious-minded individuals gathering at a local mosque. For forty-one years Tongi has been the chosen location, although similar programs are held on a lesser scale in other countries. The Ijtema is non-political, and therefore it draws people of all persuasion. Prayer is held for the spiritual adulation, exaltation and welfare of the Muslims community. This immensely popular program gives the people of Bangladesh an opportunity to interact with Muslims from other countries and is commonly attended by prominent political figures.
The congregation takes place at an area comprising 160 acres (0.65 km2) of land (0.25 square mile). Devotees from approximately 150 countries, including the host country, Bangladesh, attend the three-day Ijtema seeking divine blessings from Allah. In recent years, over twenty thousands foreign delegates attend the congregation each year. Special rates are provided by Bangladesh Biman's world wonder fund.
Despite the large number of devotees living within a confined space, generally there is very few problems of sanitation, cooking, and internal movements. It is believed to be possible because of the minimalist approach adopted by the devotees. Devotees have reduced their own requirements and developed a respect for others' requirements.
Muhammad Ilyas revived the Tabligh movement in 1927 at Saharanpur of Uttar Pradesh, India and at the same time organized regional congregation or Ijtema. In course of time, Ijtema movement spread throughout the subcontinent and also influenced other regions. After the partition of Bengal in 1947, three Ijtema centres developed in three parts of the subcontinent - India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan. Biswa Ijtema at Tongi is the annual Tabligh congregation of the current Bangladesh. In addition to Tongi, Ijtemas are now held in Raiwind, Pakistan and Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. However, in terms of popular attendance, the Tongi Ijtema is the largest of all these congregations.
In 2008, the event had to be cut short to only one day due to rain and cold weather which left three attendees dead.
- Millions of Muslims gather in Bangladesh; Reuters.CO.UK; February 2, 2007
- Three million Muslims join mass prayer in Bangladesh seeking peace; The Associated Press Published: February 3, 2007
- Report, The Daily Star, December 22, 2003.
- Biswa Ijtema cut short
- BBC Slideshow on Biswa Ijtema 2007; February 2, ]