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Monday, 8 January, 2001, 18:14 GMT
Bangladesh Muslim festival ends
Praying
Three days of Islamic prayers and discourses
Some two million Muslims from around the world have taken part in closing prayers at the second largest Islamic gathering after the Hajj - the festival of Biswa Ijtema in Bangladesh.

Pilgrims endured bitterly cold nights in a tented city on the banks of the Turag river near the capital Dhaka to observe round-the-clock prayer sessions.

They also held discussions on Islam during the three-day festival.

Elderly pilgrim
Pilgrims braved the intense cold
Reports say at least five elderly pilgrims died in bitterly cold conditions.

Among those attending the closing prayers were Bangladesh President Shahabuddin Ahmed, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia.

They were joined by devotees from more than 30 countries, including Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, Britain and the United States.

Peace and solidarity

As the chief cleric led the prayers, his Arabic sermon was simultaneously translated in English, Bengali, Hindu and Urdu.

His call seeking divine blessings for world peace and Muslim solidarity were met with cries of "Allahuma Ameen" [God, please accept] from the congregation.

Army troops were deployed to maintain order while government and voluntary organisations were on hand to offer medical assistance.

The three-day event featured recitations from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, hymns and sermons by Islamic scholars and daily mass prayers, which were relayed by a network of loudspeakers.

The annual congregation began four decades ago in India, as a religious movement to encourage Muslims to follow and practice Islamic tenets in their daily life.

Since then its following has swelled and the venue was shifted in the 1960s to what was then East Pakistan.

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See also:

15 Mar 00 | Middle East
The Hajj in pictures
15 Mar 00 | Middle East
Pilgrims climb holy hill
09 Feb 00 | Middle East
Millions begin Mecca pilgrimage
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