Three Million Muslims Join Mass Prayer for Peace in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has a history of bombings by a banned Islamic group, the Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh.

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Some 3 million Muslim devotees raised their hands in prayer seeking global peace and harmony at one of the world's biggest mass religious congregations, police and organizers said Sunday.

The final prayer capped a three-day Islamic gathering on the sandy banks of the River Turag outside Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.

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.

Bangladesh has a history of bombings by a banned Islamic group, the Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, comprising extremists who want strict Islamic rule in the Muslim-majority country which is governed by secular laws. About 87 percent of Bangladesh's 144 million people are Muslims.

"We estimate at least 3 million people are at the prayer. There were about 2.5 million devotees at the final prayer last year," local police official Kaium Biswas told The Associated Press.

Many of the pilgrims were on boats or on the rooftops of nearby buildings as the crowd overflowed the designated venue.

President Iajuddin Ahmed, the country's interim leader Fakhruddin Ahmed and two former Prime Ministers, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, joined the prayer on the final day of the gathering.

Many devotees from the capital left work early to join the prayer. Sunday is normally a working day in this mostly Muslim country. Extra buses and trains were set to ferry devotees to the prayer site, the organizers said in a statement.

"It's a great feeling. I feel proud that I'm among millions of people seeking divine blessings for peace in the world," said Abdul Malek, who closed his convenience store in Dhaka to join the festival.

Female devotees are not usually allowed to attend, but hundreds of women gathered in nearby villages to take part in the event. About 20,000 security officials, including troops, have been deployed to the area of the gathering to prevent any violence, said police official Biswas, following months of often violent protests to push for electoral reform.

Abdur Rahim, a spokesman for Tablig Jamaat, an organization of Islamic preachers that sponsored the event, has said several thousands of the worshippers were from outside Bangladesh.

The annual World Congregation of Muslims, or Bishwa Ijtema, has been held each year since 1966 on the banks of the River Turag in Tongi, just north of the capital, Dhaka.

Volunteers set up tents and troops installed seven temporary bridges over the river. Security officials watched entry points from watchtowers, and used metal detectors to search for weapons. More than 50 security cameras were installed. Makeshift police camps were set up along the main road toward the Ijtema venue from Dhaka.