Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sabean Mandeans Celebrate Their New Year In Iraq

July 19, 2010 was the Sabean Mandean new year. Followers of the ancient religion gathered in the Tigris river in Baghdad for the beginning of their festivities by cleansing themselves in the water. Sabeans were upset at how few attended. In the 1980s there were over 100,000 in Iraq. By 2003 there were only 35,000 left. Today there are only 3,500-5,000 in the country. Of the 28 religious leaders that were in the country during Saddam’s time, only five are left. Many have been killed by insurgents and militias who consider them apostates. More have fled the country including their top leader Sheikh Sattar Jabbar al-Hulu who now resides in Australia. The situation has grown so bad that Sabeans have asked that their entire community be relocated to another country for their safety. 

Sabeans originated in southern Iraq around the 2nd century A.D. They are followers of John the Baptist, and some think they started as a breakaway sect from Judaism. They speak their own language that is a derivative of Aramaic, which is an ancient Semitic one that early Jews spoke. A person can only be born into the religion, and they are also pacifists, which has complicated their plight in Iraq since they can’t fight back, and are finding it harder and harder to procreate since so many have either left or been killed in Iraq. Some fear that they will cease to exist in the country.


Agence France Presse, “Iraq’s last Sabeans take sad New Year dip in Tigris,” 7/20/10

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, “Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom,” May 2010
- “Iraq Report – 2008,” December 2008


Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi said...

Joel, do you think there still will be sizeable Mandaean, Yazidi, and Assyrian minorities in Iraq within, say, 10 or 15 years? My own thoughtsare rather pessimistic on this subject.

Joel Wing said...

Aymenn I think the Mandeans are the most endangered since there are so few of them and you have to be born into the religion. The other groups have the numbers and are spread around enough within the country to continue.

lilchicken2u said...

It's hard to believe that the demise of the Mandeans, assisted by the United States' military, is just an accident, that they are merely "casualties of war". Gnostics of any persuasion have not been welcome for extended periods anywhere in the world. There are many "logical" reasons for this. But logic fails to explain the human tendency to drive out those considered "weak". Do we have any Mandeans in the USA?

Joel Wing said...

Mandeans were singled out by Islamist groups for being apostates and attacked over and over. Mandeans in Baghdad also had a tradition of running jewelry stores so they were also targeted by militants and gangs for robbery. There situation was made worse by the fact that they are a pacifist religion so they can't protect themselves. That's why the community has been devastated in Iraq.

lilchicken2u said...

Mandeans are one form of the gnostic movement, and gnostics have been singled out for persecution and extermination no matter where they settled for at least the last 2,000 years. Mainstream Christianity always considered them "heretical", so it's no surprise that some Islamic groups reacted the same way. The amazing thing is that the Mandeans survived in such large numbers in Iraq, until this last war. Very sad.

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