All roads lead to Tongi

Hundreds of thousands of devotees flooded the sandy banks of river Turag on Friday as Biswa Ijtema – the world congregation of Muslims, known as the second-largest annual Islamic gathering after the Hajj – began.

This time, the Ijtema is being held in two phases. Tight security arrangements have been made to ensure a smooth passage of the event.

Muslims from all over the world have gathered disregarding freezing temperatures. Ijtema officially started after Friday afternoon prayers with the preaching of Mawlana Mohammad Jamil from Pakistan.

The first phase, with participation of Muslims from 32 districts, will end on Sunday with Aakheri Munajat or the final prayer.

The second phase will begin on Jan 18, and will see Muslims taking part from 32 more districts.

Ankheri Munajat of the second phase will mark the end of Ijtema on Jan 20. The traditional ceremony is arranged by Tablig Jamaat, a non-political organisation.

The Biswa Ijtema has been taking place in Bangladesh (then Bengal) since the 1960s when it used to take place at Dhaka’s Kakrail mosque.

In 1948, it took place at the Haji Camp in Chittagong, and shifted to Narayanganj’s Shiddhirganj in 1958. With a steady increase in the number of devotees attending the congregation, the Biswa Ijtema was shifted to the banks of Turag in Tongi in 1966 and has been taking place there ever since.

Muslims are arriving in trains, buses, trucks, private cars, taxis, scooters, boats and on foot.

Biswa Ijtema Organising Committee’s senior member Mohammad Giasuddin said a total of 160 acres of land had been covered to accommodate people.

According to him, common Muslims will not be getting facilities for a permanent system for cooking. However, Muslims from abroad have been accommodated on the north-western part of the field, where there are all facilities including electricity and telephone.

He says this year he was expecting over 30,000 international Muslims from up to 40 countries.

Eight makeshift bridges had been constructed to facilitate crossing the Turag river on foot, said Major Mohammad Emran Islam Bhuiyan – the man in charge for the preparations.

Rapid Action Battalion-1 Captain Lt Col Mohammad Rashedul Alalm said his company was ensuring security at the event divided in four sectors. “Security cameras, nine watch towers, marine patrols, check posts and anti-explosives experts will be ensuring security.”

Helicopters will also patrol through the six main days of the event. Plain-clothed RAB men have also been deputed at various points on the sprawling ground.

According to the Captain, RAB control room will be open round the clock.

On the other hand, district Superintendent of Police Abdul Baten said police personnel were ensuring all-round security in the area divided into five sectors.

According to Gazipur Sadar Upazilla Public Service Officer Mohammad ATM Touhiduzzaman, mobile courts were checking purity of water in nearby hotels.

He said two mobile courts of Sripur Upazilla’s Assistant Commissioner (Land) Nazmul Hassan Bhuiyan and Kaliakoir Upazilla Assistant Commissioner (Land) Mohammad Shafiur Rahman fined nine hotels Tk 57,500.

According to him, a total of 24 mobile courts, two every day, will be in operation until Jan 20.

Gazipur Public Health Engineering Department Executive Engineer Mohammad Mostafa said measures had been taken to ensure pure water supply everywhere.

A total of 7.8 million gallons of pure water is being supplied daily from 12 deep tube-wells. 13 multi-storied buildings have almost 2,834 toilets supplied with pure water.

In addition, WASA, the state-run water management body, is also expected to contribute to the cause.

Six temporary medical camps have been set up in the area, according to Gazipur Civil Surgeon Syed Habibullah.

He said 50 beds were added to the Tongi hospital where doctors would be treating heart problems, asthma, trauma, burn and eye ailments.

14 ambulances will be on alert through the event.

According to the civil surgeon, leave for all doctors, assistants and employees at several government hospitals in Gazipur had been halted from Jan 8 to 21.

DESCO Manager (Tongi South) Ashfaque Ahmed told that all arrangements including alternative measures had been ensured to supply uninterrupted power throughout the event.

Six standby generators and five trolley-mounted transformers have been stationed at the venue. Five temporary electricity camps have also been set up at the venue where at least 200 employees will be providing services.

According to Titas Gas’ Tongi Acting Manager Engineer Mohammad Selim, this time 140-pound pressure line is be ensuring gas supply.

Gas stoves had been installed only in the tents of international Muslims.

To ensure smooth movement of Muslims, traffic is being monitored and controlled during the Ijtema.

Several routes are being used as alternatives to avoid congestion.

Only vehicles of en route Muslims, Uttara residents, aeroplane passengers, fire service and ambulance have been allowed to use the Airport Road.

Parking facilities have been made in Nikunja and Uttara areas.

Gazipur District Administrator Abdul Baten informed about 200 buses being pressed into service to facilitate transportation of Muslims on the Dhaka-Mymensingh Road from Gazipur to Tongi’s Cherag Ali.

Muslims have been asked to contact the district administration control room at 9813401-2 for any queries or assistance.

Meanwhile, two pilgrims Abdul Hamid, 75, from Kishoreganj and Abdul Motaleb, 60, from Chittagong, died on Wednesday night due to heart attack, according to Maslohal Jamaat member Adam Ali.

Another international Muslim, Moslem Lakhad, 65, from Morocco has been admitted to the Tongi Government Hospital after suffering a

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