As the Bishwa Ijtema ends . . .
THE conclusion of the three-day Bishwa Ijtema on the banks of the River Turag on Sunday brought to an end the annual observance of religiosity which tens of thousands of Muslims from Bangladesh and other countries take part in. With the Akheri Munajat came fresh new prayers for the prosperity of the country and for peace around the world, along with a hope for the purification of the soul among those who took part in the congregation and those who did not or could not. It is the sheer magnitude of the ijtema or congregation that has since 1976, when these prayers were first initiated beside the Turag, that has left a deep impression on the faithful. With the passing years, the number of devotees at the ijtema has gone up manifold, with the result that this year it hosted people from as many as seventy countries around the globe.
In a land that has consistently had its religious moorings as part of its heritage, the Bishwa Ijtema is a shining instance of how the call and glory of Islam can be highlighted before the global community. At a time when extremism in the name of faith poses a threat to civilised order and malcontents are all too ready to commandeer the faith in their own narrow and violent interests, the annual congregation of devout Muslims serves as a reminder of the essential spirituality that underpins all religions and especially Islam. A remembrance of one's duty towards one's faith along with one's responsibilities in the temporal world is an integral component of individual life. That is the lesson which the Bishwa Ijtema reinforces every year. It is a lesson that devotees take in with fervour, for it also reminds them of the transient nature of worldly existence and of the truth that the hereafter is all. And yet one must not turn one's back on the worldly because it is on how one deals with the worldly that one's place in the hereafter depends. This, once more, was at the core of the Akheri Munajat yesterday.
The Bishwa Ijtema, besides bringing the faithful together in one gigantic gathering of humanity devoted to prayers and prostration before the Almighty, is an opportunity for Bangladesh's people to play host to devotees and religious scholars from abroad. Over the years, ulema and other individuals learned in the ways of Islam have joined the ijtema from India, Pakistan, the Middle East and other parts of the globe. This year was no different. There is a rich symbolism that has always underlined the Bishwa Ijtema. On the banks of a river (and rivers have historically been a spur to the rise of civilisations), millions of the faithful seek to connect with the Creator. Nothing could be more poignant and more soul-piercing.