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Saturday, 6 January, 2001, 14:43 GMT
'Millions' to attend Muslim festival
mass prayers at the festival
Biswa Ijtema is now the second largest Muslim pilgrimage
Hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshippers have converged on the Bangladeshi town of Tongi for the three-day festival of Biswa Ijtema.

The festival is the largest Islamic pilgrimage after the annual Hajj to Mecca.

A tent city has been erected on the banks of the Turag River to accommodate as many as two million pilgrims, including several thousand from overseas.

Preachers
Thousands of Muslim preachers are taking part
Though the festival officially began on Saturday, many participants arrived on Friday to offer prayers alongside local residents.

The event's rituals include readings from the Koran, hymns and sermons by Islamic scholars, and daily mass prayers relayed by hundreds of microphones throughout the area.

The Bangladesh president, Shahabuddin Ahmed, and the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, are expected to be joined by opposition leaders, government officials and diplomats for the closing prayers on Monday.

The festival is organised by the Tablig Jamaat movement, launched four decades ago in India to encourage Muslims to practise Islam in everyday life.

In the early 1960s the festival was moved to a mosque in Dhaka, then the capital of Bangladesh's forerunner East Pakistan.

It was relocated to open land north of the city owned by the government as numbers of participants grew.

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17 Mar 00 | South Asia
Eid fervour in South Asia
16 Mar 00 | Middle East
In Pictures: Feast of the Sacrifice
18 Mar 99 | Middle East
What is the Hajj?
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