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TONGI, Bangladesh – Tens of thousands of Muslims began streaming to the banks of the River Turag north of the Bangladesh capital Friday for the start of a three-day Islamic gathering that will likely attract three million devotees for a mass prayer.
Nearly 20,000 security personnel have been deployed to guard the World Congregation of Muslims, or Biswa Ijtema, said the area’s police chief Mahfuzul Haq Nuruzzaman.
The gathering, held annually since 1966, is one of the largest Muslim gatherings in the world and shuns politics. It aims to revive the tenets of Islam and promote peace through prayer.
At the gathering participants discuss the Quran and listen to sermons by Islamic scholars from around the world.
Biswa Ijtema has no history of violence, but security is tight with watchtowers and security cameras installed around the190-acre (77-hectare) grounds on the sandy banks of the River Turag in the industrial town of Tongi, just north of the capital Dhaka.
Officials were using metal detectors to search people on Friday.
Thousands were walking to reach the site as authorities struggled to keep the flow of traffic moving in and around the Dhaka, which has a population exceeding 10 million, said Ajmat Ullah Khan, head of the area’s municipality corporation.
Khan said they were expecting at least one million devotees to gather for weekly prayer on Friday on the river banks. Some 3 million are expected on Sunday.
Most devotees are Bangladeshis, but organizers say more than 10,000 participants have already arrived from 40 other countries, including the United States, Canada, Malaysia and the United Kingdom.
“I am here to seek Allah’s blessings,” said Mohammad Ali Sheikh, a 40-year-old school teacher from Bangladesh. “I pray for all, and wish the world will be peaceful, and we will learn true lessons of Islam.”
In a message, President Zillur Rahman hoped the congregation would strengthen “the solidarity of the Muslim world.”
Women are not allowed at the main venue, so instead gather at nearby villages and stand on rooftops during the prayers.
About 87 percent of Bangladesh’s 150 million people are Muslim.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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