Sholakia: an attack on tradition
With the exception of four years when he was abroad, 62-year-old Ashrafuzzaman Mohabbat had offered every single Eid prayer at Sholakia Eidgah since the country was liberated in 1971.
Offering Eid prayers at Sholakia, the largest Eid congregation in the country, is an integral part of the yearly plan of the businessman.
On this Eid, like previous years, he offered his prayers with tens of thousands of Muslims. But what he heard immediately after was beyond his wildest imagination.
First he was in denial and then stunned.
“I didn't believe when my daughter first told me about the attack,” said Ashrafuzzaman, whose home is virtually on the prayer ground.
Like him, people of Kishoreganj, around 130km away from the capital, were taken aback by the brutal attack near the Eidgah that left four people dead, including two policemen, a woman and a suspected assailant.
According to locals, the first Eid congregation at the ground of Sholakia was held in 1828. Nearly 1.25 lakh (Soa lakh in Bangla) devotees had joined the Eid prayers then. The ground was then renamed "Soa Lakhi Math" which became Sholakia later on, locals said.
The gathering of people has increased over the years. According to the official website of Kishoreganj district, some three to four lakh people offer Eid prayers on the ground every year, making it the largest Eid congregation of Asia.
As time passed, holding the largest Eid congregation of the country became a matter of pride for the people of Kishoreganj and they have become emotionally attached to the event.
When this newspaper sought comment from M Sanaul Huq, a former inspector general of police from Kishoreganj, he first said, “It's an attack on our pride ... an attack on our tradition.”
“Those who carried out the attack are the enemies of the society and the country. Their patrons are bigger enemies. They want to destroy all institutions, achievements and future of the country,” Sanaul, also the co-coordinator of International Crimes Tribunal's Investigation agency, wrote on his Facebook page at 4:00pm on Eid day.
“We united have to prevent them. I want to fight [against them] in the forefront even at this age,” said the 66-year-old.
Many echoed him. They said criminals might launch an attack but they would never be able to destroy what Kishoreganj is known for.
Thursday's Eid congregation was the 189th on the ground and no untoward incident had occurred before, locals said.
Ashrafuzzaman said like previous years, people began gathering in Kishoreganj two to three days before Eid so that they could offer their prayers along with tens of thousands of people.
He said Kishoreganj is a peaceful district and even during the countrywide violence between 2013 and 2015, the district was relatively calm. “It's beyond my understanding, how it [attack] could happen. We can't understand,” he said, adding, “I never heard of any such incident here before.”
On Friday evening, Humayun Kabir, a primary school teacher from Karimganj upazila of the district, went to the area, where the attack was carried out by suspected militants, to see what had happened there.
“I have no words to condemn the attack,” he said.
Besides farming, 29-year-old Tota Mia, of nearby Mohinanda Bhadrapara village, pulls rickshaw in the district town for living. “My only demand is to bring the killers to book so that such incidents never recur.”