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3 million join mass prayer in Bangladesh

world Updated: Feb 01, 2009 18:32 IST

AP
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Some 3 million Muslims joined in a mass prayer ceremony on Sunday in Bangladesh, capping an annual three-day event that is one of the world's largest religious gatherings. The final prayer on Sunday marked the closing of the World Congregation of Muslims, which began Friday on the sandy banks of the River Turag in a small industrial town just north of Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Iajuddin Ahmed, along with hundreds of thousands of devotees, raised their hands in a prayer seeking blessings for all Muslims as well as global peace and prosperity.

The faithful arrived in packed buses, trains and boats at a 190-acre (77-hectare) riverside site. More than 10,000 security personnel were deployed to guard the congregation, said Hasan Mahmud Khandaker, director general of the elite force Rapid Action Battalion.

The annual congregation, or "Bishwa Ijtema," has been held each year since 1966. The gathering shuns politics and focuses on reviving the tenets of Islam and promoting peace and harmony. Participants discuss the Quran, Islam's holy book, pray, and listen to sermons by Islamic scholars from around the world. Most of the attendants are Bangladeshi, but organizers said about 10,000 devotees from 152 other countries attended this year's gathering.

Women are not allowed at the main venue, but usually gather at nearby villages and stand on rooftops during the concluding prayer. Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia, both women, participated in the concluding prayer from adjacent buildings. Nearly 90 percent of Bangladesh's 144 million people are Muslims.