Bangladesh’s mini-Hajj condemn Paris massacre

Muslims attending one of the world’s largest religious gatherings joined the chorus of condemnation Friday over the deadly attack on a French satirical weekly, saying the killings ran contrary to the tenets of Islam.

Bangladesh’s Biswa Ijtema, or World Muslim Congregation, is the world’s second largest Islamic gathering after the Hajj with devotees coming from all over the globe to pray and hear imams preach for three days.

france magazineCanopies stretching for more than a kilometre, erected on open ground on the banks of the Turag river, were already packed with tens of thousands of worshippers even before the official start on Friday, deserting the normally congested streets of the nearby capital Dhaka.

While politics is assiduously avoided at the gathering, the killings of 12 people in an Islamist attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris weighed on the minds of many of those attending.

“Islam does not support killings. Even during the time of the Prophet, non-believers would satirise him and Islam, but he tolerated them and forgave them,” said Mohammad Faiyaz, a senior Islamic scholar at the congregation.

Faiyaz said the “mindless and abominable killings” of journalists and police had tarnished the religion’s image and made the work of preachers such as himself that much more difficult.

“These attackers simply don’t know what Islam is all about,” he told AFP.

Mohammad Zakaria, who is a cleric at a mosque in Dhaka, said he was “deeply saddened” at the death of the journalists, slamming the “terrorists” behind Wednesday’s massacre.

Charlie Hebdo has a history of publishing cartoons mocking all religions, including Islam, and had been previously been firebombed after running caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

The gunmen were heard crying “we have avenged the Prophet” and “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) after carrying out their killing spree.

But Zakaria said the idea that the Prophet’s honour needed avenging by masked gunmen was absurd.

“Almighty Allah alone is enough to protect Islam. History proves that Allah protected Islam by sending Ababil birds to beat those attackers who wanted to destroy the Holy Kaaba,” he said, referring to a sacred site in the holy city of Mecca.

Preachers ‘won’t be deterred’ –

Launched by Tablig Jamaat, a non-political group that urges people to follow the tenets of Islam in their daily lives, the gathering at Tongi was first held in 1964 and now draws around three million people each January.

Some commentators have predicted that the Charlie Hebdo attack will lead to a rise in hostility towards Muslims in general.

But Mohammad Arifuzzaman, a Tablig Jamaat follower, said the organisation would continue to send preachers to Europe to spread their message.

“I don’t think this particular attack will deter us from preaching in Europe. We have been sending preachers to Europe for decades,” said the 32-year-old from Dhaka.

“Our work did not suffer after other previous attacks where the carnage was bigger, such as the Twin Tower attacks” in New York on September 11, 2001, he said.

“We just invite people to do good work.”

Bangladesh, which is the world’s eighth most populous country, is home to the world’s fourth largest number of Muslims. Ninety percent of the 160 million population are Muslims.

Most of those who attend are from rural areas of Bangladesh although the event also draws tens of thousands from Muslim countries in North Africa, Central Asia and even China.

The event has been dubbed a mini-Hajj, especially by those who cannot afford a plane ticket to Mecca.

“I can’t afford to go to Saudi Arabia but I’ve joined the Biswa Ijtema for the past two decades,” said Shahidul Islam, a farmer from northern Bangladesh. “It’s a blessing for poor people like us.”

Bangladesh has been rocked by political unrest in recent days and an opposition-organised transport blockade has complicated travel plans for some, but most people reached the venue by special bus and train services.

“In our estimate around 1.4 million people have joined the congregation. More would come during the weekly Juma prayers later today,” Tongi police chief Islamail Hossain told AFP.

The government has set up special medical teams for Muslims coming from Ebola-hit countries in Africa.

The devotees will either sleep in the marquees or brave the chilly temperatures outside during what is the coldest time of year in Bangladesh.

Despite the furore over the Paris killings, many of those attending the congregation said their focus was only on prayer.

“Biswa Ijtema is all about prayers and coming close to Allah. We don’t talk politics or any worldly issues here,” said Kazi Rafiqul Islam, another farmer from northern Bangladesh.

  • AFP