TONGI - At least three million Muslims gathered to pray on the banks of a river near the Bangladeshi capital as the world’s second-largest annual Islamic congregation ended on Sunday.

Devotees flocked to the River Turag at Tongi, some 40 kilometres north of Dhaka, as an imam from India led the concluding prayer of the Biswa Ijtema, or World Muslim Congregation.

Local television stations broadcast images of pilgrims crying as they raised their hands in prayer on both banks of the river, and on bridges, roads and rooftops along the venue.

Organiser Nurul Islam said Indian imam Jobayer Hasan, a leader of Tablig Jamaat, an Islamic group that has been holding the event since 1964, conducted the prayer in Urdu, seeking divine help for the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims.

“We’ve estimated that more than three million people joined the final prayer. Some eight to 10 kilometres of road leading to the venue were clogged up with people,” he said, adding that around 30,000 foreigners joined the congregation.

The normally congested streets of Dhaka looked deserted on Sunday, a week day in the Muslim-majority country, as people took trains, buses and private cars to attend the prayer.

For the last three days devotees have braved chilling temperatures as they prayed and listened to Islamic scholars in marquees, with Bangladesh experiencing its coldest winter since 1971. Tablig Jamaat, a non-political organisation which has tens of millions of followers across the globe, urges people to follow the tenets of Islam in their daily lives.

The Biswa Ijtema is the second largest annual gathering of Muslims in the world, after the Hajj to Makkah.

It became so popular among Bangladeshi Muslims, mostly rural poor who can’t afford the Hajj, that the organisers started hosting the event in two phases last year.

The second phase, which also lasts three days, will begin on January 18.

Bangladesh is the world’s third-largest Muslim-majority nation, with Muslims making up nearly 90 per cent of its 152 million population.