Viswa Ijtema mammoth Muslim religious congregation organised annually by the tabligh Jama'at Bangladesh. 'Ijtema', an Arabic word means public gathering. Ijtema has been held every year in Bangladesh since 1967 on the bank of the river turag near Tongi. The Ijtema at Tongi is now known as the Viswa Ijtema (world congregation). It is an annual meeting place of Muslim pilgrims from various countries of the world for special prayers. Its main objectives are to inspire Muslims of the world to follow the norms of islam and encourage them to lead a life that conforms to the tenets of Islam as depicted in the quran and hadith.
Maulana Elyas al-Kandhalawi (1885-1944) founded Tabligh Jamat in 1926, whose family had long association with Deoband and its sister school in Saharanpur of Uttar Pradesh. It is to be noted that, Tabligh Jamat came forth as a response to the shuddhi movement of (Swami) Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883), the founder of the Arya Samaj (1875) who propagated the idea of re-conversion of non-Hindus to Hindusism through performing some simple rituals. In response to the problem of Muslims becoming Hindus, a movement was organised from Deoband to teach Islamic fundamentals to non-practicing Muslims. The Deoband group called this move Tabligh. Maulana Elyas was one of the earliest activists of the Tabligh movement. In course of time, Tabligh movement spread throughout the subcontinent. Maulana Elyas organised regional congregation or Ijtema just after founding his 'Tabligh Jamat' movement in his own area. Ilyas abandoned the teaching profession at Madrasah Mazahir Uloom in Saharanpur and became a servant of Islam. He relocated to Nizamuddin near Delhi, where this movement was formally launched in 1926. The movement gained a phenomenal following in a relatively short period and nearly 25,000 people attended the annual conference at Mewat in November 1941.
The Tabligh Jama'at movement started in Bangladesh territory in the 1950s at the Kakrail Mosque of Dhaka with a few followers in presence of Maulana Eusuf. Later in 1954, a large congregation of Tabligh Jama'at was organised at the Camp of the Hajj pilgrims of Chittagong. Ijtema started attracting people in large numbers. The next Ijtema was held at Siddhirganj in Narayanganj in 1958. Ijtema was held in 1960, 1962 and 1965 at the ramna racecourse, Dhaka. Ramna proved to be too small to accommodate the increasing devotees. Consequently, a large open space at the village Pagar on the bank of the Turag near Tongi was chosen for the next Ijtema in 1966. That year many devotees from overseas joined the Ijtema. From then on, Viswa Ijtema at Tongi was introduced as the annual Tabligh congregation of the then East Pakistan. Tongi became the permanent venue for Biswa Ijtema when the then Pakistan government allowed the organisers in 1967 to use the land by the river Turag. Later Bangladesh government allotted 160 acres of land for the purpose at the same place. Viswa Ijtema is being held at this place as an annual event. In addition to Tongi, Ijtemas are now held in Rivend, Pakistan and Bhopal, India. However, in terms of popular attendance, the Tongi Ijtema is the largest of all these congregations.
The number of participants in the Viswa Ijtema of January 2001 was about 2 million. Among them were the representatives from 70 different countries including India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, USA, UK, Germany, China, Japan, Kenya, and Turkey. Even the vast open five square kilometer space of the Ijtema venue proved congested in accommodating the million of devotees who came to join the prayer from nearby districts on the third (final) day of the three day Ijtema function. From 2010 the ijtema is being held in two sections. In first ijtema only people of 32 districts of Bangladesh can participate and second ijtema begin seven days after the first ijtema. In second ijtema, people of the rest of the districts can participate. People of other countries can participate in any section on the basis of their choice. For conducting the Ijtema functions in an organised way, the whole Ijtema ground is divided into 21 sections (khittas), each assigned for a region of the country and a foreign geographic zone. A khitta is supervised by a jimmadar (trustee), who is assisted by district and thana jimmadars. The central Ijtema management authority co-ordinates all affairs of the Ijtema. No paid labour is employed in the Ijtema functions and all work is done by several teams of Ijtema volunteers.
Ijtema is now considered as a symbol of the unity of all Muslims, an opportunity to demonstrate their mutual solidarity, love and respect and to reiterate their commitment to the Islamic values, brotherhood and universal peace. [Muhammad Eusuf]