An elderly man was killed and more than 200 others were injured as a fierce fight between two factions of Tabligh Jamaat virtually turned the Tongi Ijtema Maidan into a battlefield yesterday.
The two sides faced off over the control of the venue for holding a five-day Jor Ijtema, a gathering organised ahead of the two-phase Bishwa Ijtema, one of the largest Muslim congregations.
Violence swept across the Maidan and nearby areas as members from both groups, wearing traditional Muslim attires, attacked one another with sticks, sharp weapons and brickbats.
Ismail Mandal, 65, from Munshiganj, was found dead at the venue after the series of clashes ended in the afternoon.
An employee of a cold storage, Ismail was surrounded by rivals soon after entering the Maidan and was hacked with a kitchen knife, said his son Jahid Hassan, who had accompanied him.
Around 51 people, mostly with head injuries, took treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, said Bacchu Miah, sub-inspector of the police outpost at DMCH.
Nine of the injured were admitted to the hospital, and four of them were severely wounded, he told the newspaper last night.
Besides, at least 26 injured were stated to be in critical condition by doctors at Shaheed Ahsan Ullah Master General Hospital, Tongi.
Later in the evening, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan sat with the leaders of the two factions at his secretariat office. The meeting was attended by top police and ministry officials.
Mentioning that the date of Bishwa Ijtema will be fixed after the national election, the minister later said no gathering will be allowed at the venue until then, reports UNB.
"All kinds of religious gatherings or rallies will be restricted on the Ijtema premises and law enforcers will guard the venue," he said after the meeting.
A rift developed among Tabligh members -- well known for humble behaviour and preaching for peace -- over the nomination of an Indian Islamic scholar Maulana Saad Kandhalvi as the ameer over a year ago.
Founded by Maulana Ilyas Kandhalvi in India in 1927, Tabligh Jamaat now has an estimated 70 to 80 million followers in more than 150 countries, majority of whom are based in South Asia.
All the decisions regarding Ijtema and selection of Shura members are made after consultations with the organisation's headquarters in Nizamuddin of New Delhi, according to sources at Kakrail mosque, considered the headquarters of Tabligh Jamaat in Bangladesh.
Saad had played a key role in these affairs in the past but this year has been an exception as the Shura members in India and Bangladesh have become sharply divided over his alleged controversial statements.
The faction led by Maulana Zubair opposed the nomination and even compelled the government to keep Saad away from the last Bishwa Ijtema. Qawmi madrasa-based Hefajat-e Islam reportedly backs this faction.
Zubair faction claimed that Saad took the title of ameer by himself going against the Sharia and would not be allowed to give any sermons in Bangladesh.
A tense situation prevailed since Friday as Zubair's followers, mostly students of different Qawmi Madrasas, were preventing Saad faction from holding the five-day Jor Ijtema.
Saad's followers tried to begin their Jor Ijtema that day but were barred by Zubair faction.
Thousands of Saad's followers from different parts of the country gathered on nearby roads yesterday morning after they were obstructed to enter the Maidan. Police tried to ease the situation through discussions with both groups, witnesses said.
After some running battles, witnesses said, the major clash in Tongi area ensued around 11:00am as some followers of Zubair threw brickbats on their rivals who broke into the venue through the Bata Gate.
Wielding sticks and brickbats, both groups beat up mercilessly whoever they could catch from rivals. Their white Punjabis turned red with blood stains, local vendors said.
At least 15 motorcycles parked inside the venue were damaged.
The clash spilled over to nearby roads and other gates of the Ijtema venue resulting in long tailbacks on Dhaka-Mymensingh highway.
Additional police and Rab men rushed to the spot and took the situation under control around 1:00pm, said Kamal Hossain, officer-in-charge of Tongi East Police Station.
Ismail Mandal, who was hacked to death, and most of the injured were loyal to Saad, claimed his son and the Tabligh men under treatment at the Tongi hospital.
Earlier, in Airport area around 9:30am, a group of Zubair's followers chased their rivals who were heading towards the Maidan on two buses from Kishoreganj, said Jahangir Mahmud, who led the 100-memebr team from the district.
Ashish Kumar Banik, emergency medical officer of Ahsanullah Master General Hospital, said they treated 138 injured till 2:30pm and most of their injuries needed stitches.
At least 50 doctors and nurses from different government hospitals have been called in to tackle the situation, he said.
Mohammad Abdullah, a follower of Zubair, claimed they had gathered at the venue on November 22 and were working to prepare it for their five-day Jor Ijtema from December 7.
Saad's group did not have the government permission but still they announced a plan to hold their Jor Ijtema from Friday, he claimed, adding they were attacked for preventing their rivals.
A member of Saad faction from Jatrabari said, "We came here just to attend the Jor Ijtema but they obstructed us. We haven't attacked them.”
Dewan Muhammad Humayun Kabir, deputy commissioner of Gazipur District visited the venue around 2:30pm and asked all to leave the Maidan within half an hour.
On November 15, the government postponed Bishwa Ijtema and said the two phases would not be held as per schedule this year due to the national election.