Moqbul Hossain, a young security guard at an ATM Booth, was glued to his mobile screen, watching videos of religious sermons on YouTube.
You could hear a preacher chastising his audience for not raising their voices loud enough.
"These atheists should be beaten like dogs. Hey young men, why don't you talk? Why are your voices so low?" preacher Eliasur Rahman Zihadi called on his audience to shout.
A verified YouTube channel named 'Nice Waz', which has more than seven lac (0.7 million) subscribers, had uploaded the video titled 'Zihadi hujur against the atheists like a roaring tiger'.
It is hard to say how the speech impacted Moqbul; he is not much of a talker.
He scrolled on to other speeches, by other preachers. Consistent with the nature of social media, it is hard for Moqbul to focus on a particular preaching video for too long. And it is not like everyone out there is inciting anger.
There are thousands of such videos by hundreds of preachers on dozens of verified channels on YouTube. These channels have millions of subscribers and millions of views.
Rose TV, one of the top Bangla preaching channels, has more than 900 million views (921,821,011 views when this story was being filed).
Most of the preaching videos are recorded from on-site mehfils. Some channels create subject-wise smaller clips with catchy titles, instead of posting a whole lecture.
If you search for 'Bangla waz' on YouTube, besides explanations of various Quranic topics, lives of prophets, and Islamic principles, some headlines will immediately draw your attention.
For example, 'What did Golam Rabbani (a preacher) just say about MP Momtaz's speech in the parliament!' with the preacher and the MP's photo in the thumbnail.
These channels (mostly owned by third parties while a few are owned by the preachers themselves) use clickbait tactics just like any other YouTube channel.
There are so many preachers of different schools in Bangladesh that if you wanted to categorise them for an overall understanding of the impact they leave on society, it would be really tough.
For example, one preacher, Abdur Razzak Bin Yusuf, said that "women have not been created for 'technology.' Women have been created only to serve their husband and breed babies.".
In another video, he said "Satan's conspiracy is weak, but women's conspiracy is strong. Women are dangerous."
In another one of his sermons, Razzak described Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, a pioneer Bengali woman writer and thinker, as a stigma for the nation.
"Begum Rokyea is a stigma (kolongko) for the nation," Razzak said in one of his sermons in his usual passionate tone. "All the foolish and illiterate women like her are a stigma for the nation."
Needless to say, this preacher is known for his controversial comments about women.
In stark difference to Razzak, Mizanur Rahman Azhari, another preacher, can be found saying that "women are allowed to do business. They can do jobs with the permission of their husbands."
Both preachers are popular in Bangladesh, each having tens of thousands of followers.
The approach of their speech, tone, and views are different. But they are on the same page when it comes to their fans blindly following them without question.
For example, a few TV channels made reports about the controversial and degrading remarks about women made by some preachers.
When you scroll down the comment box, you will see most commenters hating the media for talking about this.
"This channel is anti-preachers. Boycott them," Topu Raihan wrote in the comment box of one such report.
"Abdur Razzak is the pride of Bangladesh; you cannot find a second one like him. The tyrants (Zalims) will not understand the words of the preachers (Alims)," said Tarik Hasan.
Thanks to the devotion of their followers, the preachers usually do not encounter questions about what they say from their live audiences.
But the preachers do question each other, invalidate each other, and if you look closely into the entire preaching industry, there are serious feuds among the preachers in Bangladesh.
The different schools of preachers
Say you have to make a list of the top five Muslim preachers in Bangladesh based on popularity.
It would include Mizanur Rahman Azhari, Hafizur Rahman, Giasuddin Taheri, Enayetullah Abbasi, and Ahmadullah.
Watch their preaching for a few days, and you will spot significant differences.
We are not talking about the difference in their style of presentation, it is the different interpretations of Islam.
For example, Dr. Mohammad Monzur-E-Elahi draws inspiration from Salafist Islam. But unlike Abdur Razzak Bin Yusuf and other Salafists who belong to the Ahle Hadith school, Monzur-E-Elahi will not sound extreme.
The preachers of this school say that they interpret Islam solely based on Quran and Saheeh Hadith. However, they have a reputation of preaching an extreme version of Islam.
Hafizur Rahman is perhaps one of the poster children of Deobandi school in Bangladesh. Qaumi Madrasahs in Bangladesh follow the academic curriculum of Darul Uloom Deoband, India.
The Talibans and other Afghan militants are also inspired by the Deobandi school. Remember the recently arrested preacher Ali Hasan Osama? He used to be a Qaumi teacher. Search for his preaching video on YouTube, and you will find plenty of his lectures glorifying the Afghan Talibans and its founder Mullah Omar.
Millions of Bangladeshi Muslims are adherents of 'peers'. There are dozens of 'silsila' (schools of peers) and hundreds of preachers spreading their respective versions of Islamic teaching all across the country.
These groups mostly introduce them as adherent of Hanafi Islam. Dr Enayetullah Abbasi is perhaps one of the biggest stars of these groups.
Besides, there are peers of Furfura, Sarsina, Kaderia, and many more who are known for preaching Sufi versions of Islam in Bangladesh. It is said that the spread of Islam in Bangladesh was possible largely because of them.
From Deobandi, Qaumi, Alia, Sufi, Salafi to Sunni, there are numerous versions of Islamic interpretations present on the internet, thanks to the increasing presence of such preachers in Bangladesh.
We asked Enayetullah Abbasi, the peer of Jaunpur who introduces himself as a Hanafi Muslim, about these differences. "The Salafists are a different 'Ferka'. They originate from Wahhabis. However, among the existing schools of Islamic interpretation in Bangladesh, there is no basic difference. All are on the same page when it comes to the basic issues of Islam. There are some small and institutional differences in terms of explanations of certain issues."
He said that preachers did not have a voice in the media before due to some 'censorship', but social media has given them opportunities to reach their audience directly.
"I find this positive because you cannot evaluate the idea of Bangladesh's culture, social structure, and the state, without Islam. The main idea of liberation was derived from Islam," the preacher added.
The feuds among preachers sells more on YouTube
The feuds among preachers of diverse backgrounds make such platforms more dramatic to the audience. It is a big selling point of the preaching-based YouTube channels.
You will find plenty of videos watched by millions that basically feature one preacher against another on the same topic.
The preaching videos, thus, are not some boring religious edicts for the viewers.
They are well-packaged entertainment of debate, fun, conflict, excitement, and often tension and incitement. So, they attract millions of views.
You will find only a few established TV and drama channels with collective views crossing 1 billion, after much investment and years in business.
But these preaching channels - as TBS observed a few dozens of them, have envious viewership - considering that most of them began to emerge after 2017.
According to the US financial news website The Business Insider, one million views on YouTube can earn you something from $3,400 to $40,000, based on their complex algorithms, video size, etc.
It is hard to find which channels earn how much just from the estimation of their views, but The Business Insider estimation helps us guess the 'minimum' figure.
Let us consider Rose TV's viewership, 900 million, and multiply it with $3,400, as per Business Insider estimation. The result is $3,060,000, which is equivalent to approximately Tk250,920,000 (25 crore). However, there are other estimates that suggest YouTubers earn $1 for 1,000 views. In that case the figure changes drastically. But still, the total would remain gigantic.
We found at least 20 such preaching channels ranging from 10 million to 900 plus million views.
Now, most of these channels are not owned by the preachers. But do the preachers enjoy the royalties?
It is hard to figure out, because the preachers do not feel comfortable sharing how much they are earning from preaching.
Preachers refrain from disclosing their income
We talked to Gias Uddin Tahery - a popular preacher whose preaching is often dubbed into DJ songs by some YouTubers - to know how much he earns from a preaching session.
Tahery did not feel comfortable answering the question. But he said during the season (November to February is regarded as the main preaching season) he conducts up to three preaching sessions every day.
Although he felt shy talking about honorarium to us, he did talk about this to another YouTuber in an earlier interview that he is paid around Tk one lac per session.
It is hard to find a concrete number for Tahery's income in one season, because he will not disclose, and he said his fees might vary from session to session.
The unwillingness to disclose earnings is very common among the preachers. We asked several of them about how much they earn from preaching, but they do not feel comfortable to reveal their income.
Societal influence of online preachers
We asked sociologists and researchers how they evaluate the vibrant presence of preachers online.
"Social media's nature of replicability at an unprecedented speed, ability to become relevant by responding on time and exploiting the context, taking the opportunity of cheap and easy access to the worldwide network helped the Islamist preachers to emerge as dominant actors in the Bangladeshi cyber-sphere," said Saimum Parvez, a digital media and politics analyst based in Bonn, Germany.
"Now, the Islamist preachers can create and control their own content without depending on mainstream print or electronic media. The control over the production of the content enabled them to build their own narrative and reach their narratives to millions without almost any cost."
Professor Sadeka Halim of the Sociology department of the University of Dhaka said that some preachers in the speeches "are saying vulgar things about women. They talk about controlling the mind and body of a woman. Their speeches also criticise other religious people in the country. These things have a lasting impact on society."
She said that the government should monitor what these Islamic preachers are saying in the name of preaching.
Saimum Parvez, however, finds different types of Islamic preachers online. "We should not blankly label them as threats to our security. We should analyse them case by case. Sermons, which justify violence and support terrorist organisations, are red flags. However, it would be unwise to say that Islamic preachers, in general, have a harmful impact on our society."
Enayetullah Abbasi, when asked about the incitements of some preachers against atheists and women, said, "Some speakers become proponents (bokta probokta hoye jay) while explaining certain issues. Islam will not take responsibility for their speeches. But they will not be able to cause any harm because knowledgeable scholars are now in the field."
How do the security apparatus evaluate the preachers' rise online?
In the past, a few preachers have been arrested for incendiary speeches that violated different laws, including the so-called child-preacher Rafiqul Islam Madani who made derogatory remarks on the Prime Minister. Interestingly, although he remains in jail, his speeches are still available online and continue to garner views.
Law enforcement agency officials said that there are a few thousand preachers in the country and they regularly monitor what the preachers say in their speeches.
"We have enough capability to monitor the contents online. Moreover, we also monitor the offline mahfil speeches with the help of the intelligence departments and units, including the Special Branch of the police," said Md. Moniruzzaman, Additional DIG, Anti-Terrorism Unit.
"Their speeches sometimes carry anti-state elements, which can break the social fabric of the country. For this reason, cases have been filed against some preachers," said Moniruzzaman.
The Business Standard cited specific examples where the preachers violated existing law through their speeches, including attacks on national icons and the Prime Minister.
"They are educated men and they know what can be said in the speeches and what cannot. If they say anything that goes against the law, we take actions according to the law," said Kamrul Ahsan, additional inspector general of police who heads the Anti-Terrorism Unit. However, he refused to make any remark on the specific instances cited by us.
Kamrul Ahsan, additional DIG of Criminal Investigation Department who heads the Cyber Crime Command and Control of CID said that they usually investigate cases related to YouTube speeches only after a case has been filed. "We need someone to make a complaint to investigate a case."
The security and societal aspects aside, admit it or not, the preachers are the biggest stars on YouTube in Bangladesh for now.
Remember how preacher Mizanur Rahman Azhari's YouTube channel had nearly a million subscribers without even posting a video within a few days?
And also, have you noticed girls making TikTok videos with the preachers' lectures? Or tech channels making preaching reviews and having millions of views?
Tech Voice BD, a tech channel that reviews preaching instead of tech, has more views than Bangladesh's top YouTuber Salman Muktadir's YouTube channel 'SalmonTheBrownFish'.
This leaves us with a clear understanding that a shift is happening on social media that we cannot ignore.
We will have to wait to know how the preachers' robust online presence influences the society and the nation.
But for now, let's just agree that watching waz – irrespective of the viewers being educated or illiterate – is the new trend in Bangladesh.