Mandā d-Heyyi (Mandaiia) (Manda ḏ-hiia) from Mandaic language translates as "Knowledge of Life"
reads the Ginza the sacred text of Mandeanism on the banks of the
2007-10-07 "Threatened in Iraq - Save the Gnostics" by Nathaniel Deutsch
from "New York Times"
The United States didn't set out to eradicate the Mandeans, one of the
oldest, smallest and least understood of the many minorities in Iraq.
This extinction in the making has simply been another unfortunate and
entirely unintended consequence of the invasion of Iraq - though that
will be of little comfort to the Mandeans, whose 2,000-year-old culture
is in grave danger of disappearing from the face of the earth. The
Mandeans are the only surviving Gnostics from antiquity, cousins of the
people who produced the Nag Hammadi writings like the Gospel of Thomas, a
work that sheds invaluable light on the many ways in which Jesus was
perceived in the early Christian period. The Mandeans have their own
language (Mandaic, a form of Aramaic close to the dialect of the
Babylonian Talmud), an impressive body of literature, and a treasury of
cultural and religious traditions amassed over two millennia of living
in the southern marshes of present-day Iraq and Iran. Practitioners of a
religion at least as old as Christianity, the Mandeans have witnessed
the rise of Islam; the Mongol invasion; the arrival of Europeans, who
mistakenly identified them as "Christians of St. John," because of their
veneration of John the Baptist; and, most recently, the oppressive
regime of Saddam Hussein, who drained the marshes after the first gulf
war, an ecological catastrophe equivalent to destroying the Everglades.
They have withstood everything - until now. Like their ancestors,
contemporary Mandeans were able to survive as a community because of the
delicate balance achieved among Iraq's many peoples over centuries of
cohabitation. But our reckless prosecution of the war destroyed this
balance, and the Mandeans, whose pacifist religion prohibits them from
carrying weapons even for self-defense, found themselves victims of
kidnappings, extortion, rapes, beatings, murders and forced conversions
carried out by radical Islamic groups and common criminals. When
American forces invaded in 2003, there were probably 60,000 Mandeans in
Iraq; today, fewer than 5,000 remain. Like millions of other Iraqis,
those who managed to escape have become refugees, primarily in Syria and
Jordan, with smaller numbers in Australia, Indonesia, Sweden and Yemen.
Unlike Christian and Muslim refugees, the Mandeans do not belong to a
larger religious community that can provide them with protection and
aid. Fundamentally alone in the world, the Mandeans are even more
vulnerable and fewer than the Yazidis, another Iraqi minority that has
suffered tremendously, since the latter have their own villages in the
generally safer north, while the Mandeans are scattered in pockets
around the south. They are the only minority group in Iraq without a
safe enclave. When Mandeans do seek refuge in the Kurdish-dominated
north, they report that they are typically viewed as southern,
Arabic-speaking interlopers, or, if their Mandean identity is
discovered, persecuted as religious infidels. In Syria and Jordan,
Mandeans feel unable to practice their religion openly and, after years
of severe deprivation, some have begun to convert simply in order to
receive aid from Muslim and Christian relief agencies. Mandean activists
have told me that the best hope for their ancient culture to survive is
if a critical mass of Mandeans is allowed to settle in the United
States, where they could rebuild their community and practice their
traditions without fear of persecution. If this does not happen,
individual Mandeans may survive for another generation, isolated in
countries around the world, but the community and its culture may
disappear forever. Of the mere 500 Iraqi refugees who were allowed into
the United States from April 2003 to April 2007, only a few were
Mandeans. And despite the Bush administration's commitment to let in
7,000 refugees in the fiscal year that ended last month, fewer than
2,000, including just three Iraqi Mandean families, entered the country.
In September, the Senate took a step in the right direction when it
unanimously passed an amendment to a defense bill that grants privileged
refugee status to members of a religious or minority community who are
identified by the State Department as a persecuted group and have close
relatives in the United States. But because so few Mandeans live here,
this will do little for those seeking asylum. The legislation, however,
also authorizes the State and Homeland Security Departments to grant
privileged status to "other persecuted groups," as they see fit. If all
Iraqi Mandeans are granted privileged status and allowed to enter the
United States in significant numbers, it may just be enough to save them
and their ancient culture from destruction. If not, after 2,000 years
of history, of persecution and tenacious survival, the last Gnostics
will finally disappear, victims of an extinction inadvertently set into
motion by our nation's negligence in Iraq.
2004-07-14 "Iraq: Old Sabaean-Mandean Community Is Proud of Its Ancient Faith; Iraq's Sabaean-Mandean religious community is one of the smallest and most peaceful in Iraq. Sabaeans insist their religion is one of the oldest in the world and consider themselves to be the followers of the message given to Adam, whom the Bible says is the first man created on Earth" by Valentinas Mite from "Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty"
Baghdad, 14 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Many in Iraq know Sabaean-Mandeans as a peaceful though strange religious community, more known for silver and gold craftsmanship than their religious beliefs.
Satar Jabar Helo is the head priest and spiritual leader of the Sabaeans in Iraq, a small community of some 75,000 believers.
Sabaeans also live in neighboring Iran. There are a total of 150,000 members worldwide.
Sabaeans are a lonely and reclusive community. Helo says they have not proselytized since 70 years after the death of Jesus Christ, when 365 Sabaean priest were killed in a single day in Babylon.
There is only one way to become a Sabaean, according to Helo: to be born to parents who both belong to the faith.
Helo, dressed in a white robe, with a long beard and flowing hair, speaks about darkness and light, good and evil, life and death, and the role of human beings in these unfolding cosmic events.
He says Sabaeans pray three times a day to God in Aramaic, a language close to the one spoken by Jesus Christ: "In the name of the living Great, in the name of the One and the Only One who is the world of pure light who gives a soul, gives health, peace and peace of heart and forgiveness of sins with the force of the explosions of light."
A Sabaean house of prayer, which bears a cross, resembles a Christian church. There is a difference, however, the Sabaean cross is half-covered with a piece of cloth.
Helo says the symbol has nothing to do with Christianity and Sabaeans do not consider Jesus Christ to be the son of God. The Sabaean cross has a different meaning.
"The symbol [of the cross] -- Darf -- symbolizes two branches of the olive tree [put on one another] making a plus sign, and the plus sign represents four sides of the universe," Helo says. "And God's light is symbolized by pure silk cloth [put on the sign]."
Helo says Sabaeans have no doubts their religion is older than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.
"We believe our religion is older than Judaism, Islam or Christianity, and has nothing to do with those religions," he says. "The teaching we have is inherited generation by generation by copying [our sacred book] by hand. We believe that he who re-writes the book from the first to the last page will receive great blessings."
Helo says Sabaeans share some similarities with both Muslims and Christians. "We are similar with Islam in describing the God as one and indivisible," he says. "And we, like Christians, believe in the secret powers of baptism and give immense importance to Prophet Zakariya [John the Baptist]." Some say it is one of the reasons that Sabaean communities prefer to live near the water.
However, the differences seem to overweigh the similarities. Helo says the teachings of the Sabaeans was sent to Adam, the first human being on earth, by an archangel.
Sabaean dogma is written in the holy book "Kinzeraba," or "The Holy Treasure." The book describes light as fighting against darkness or evil. White and other light tones are the favored colors of Sabaeans.
Helo explains why: "Wearing white means belonging to the world of light and means wearing the clothes of angels. We [priests] do not wear anything but white. We pray only when we wear white. All colors come from the color white. You can't make any colors from black."
Sabaeans need to obey the provisions written in "The Holy Treasure." They are forbidden to kill, lie, commit adultery or theft, or consume alcohol. They are also forbidden to mourn the dead, and must fast 36 days a year, abstaining from eating meat, eggs, and fish.
Members of the community should help poor people, making no distinction between co-religionists and outsiders. Wafah Sabah, a woman in her 20s, tells RFE/RL that Sabaeans treat one another as members of a family.
"We are all brothers and sisters. If somebody needs help, we will help," Sabah says. "If you help another person, another day he will help you. We, Mandeans, are one family; we are all brothers and sisters. There is no difference between this man and that girl."
However, nowadays Sabaeans are often disliked by radical Muslim groups.
"We suffered from [the Saddam Hussein] regime but our main grievance is that we suffer as a nation which is [always] treated as third-rate,” says Helo. “Not only Sabaeans [suffer] but also our Christian brothers [in Iraq]. This is a complex [of this society]. They consider those of us who are not Muslims to be atheists. And it is permissible to kill or rob an atheist.
Helo says that some radical Shi'a Muslim clerics have delivered fatwas, or religious orders, condemning Sabaeans.
"A courageous Muslim cleric should go and read our sacred book and see that what we follow is a pure teaching," Helo says.
"Old religion survives on banks of Tigris" by Khaled Yacoub Oweis
BAGHDAD, June 17 (Reuters) - Iraqi devotees of an obscure religion
perform virginity tests on their brides and take a dip in the murky
Tigris river every Sunday to purify the soul.
"It is okay if the bride has lost her virginity. Only the ceremony would
be different," Sheikh Asaad Fayyad of the Sabea Mandean Nation, a relic
of the ancient Gnostic religions, said at a wedding for five couples at
the sect's compound in Baghdad.
John the Baptist, New Testament forerunner to Jesus Christ, is the
central figure for the world's 20,000 or so Mandeans, most of whom live
in southern Iraq and southwestern Iran.
The Mandeans, forbidden to marry outside the sect, are dwindling in
number. Their scholars trace the religion's roots to Adam, whom they say
lived 980 million years ago -- pushing mankind's origins far earlier
than those proposed by science.
Apart from a now tiny Jewish community, the Mandeans form the smallest
group on Iraq's religious spectrum, which ranges from majority Shi'ite
and Sunni Muslims to minority Christians and Yazidis, an offshoot of
Mandeans are secretive, wary of revealing their rites for fear of
antagonising their compatriots, especially after the U.S.-led invasion
that ousted Saddam Hussein in April.
The former Iraqi ruler did not interfere with them and allowed an Arabic
edition of their holy book, Kanz Irba (Great Treasure), to be published
two years ago.
Prayer and ceremonies are conducted in Aramaic, the language Jesus
spoke. The Mandean ethic is similar to the Judeo- Christian tradition.
They regard Jesus with suspicion, saying he added nothing to the message
of John the Baptist and prophets before him.
The Mandeans encourage procreation and prefer mass weddings.
2003-09-02 “Dwindling sect attempts to rebuild in Iraq” By Pamela Hess, UPI Pentagon Correspondent BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 2 (UPI) --
The end of the short war brought long-awaited news for the Mandeans, an
obscure religious sect that follows the teachings of John the Baptist
and takes a somewhat dim view of Christ and Mohammed though it respects
Documents recovered from the vaults of former Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein provided answers for what happened to 69 of the
sect's members who disappeared. They were executed. A mass funeral laid
their souls to rest Aug. 8.
The Mandeans, or Sabeans as they are
known in Iraq, are still awaiting news of 73 others, all of who
disappeared during the 40 years Saddam's Baath Party was in power. It's a
paltry number compared to what other groups have lost to political
violence in Iraq, but when you are among 20,000 like-minded believers,
each one counts, says Alaa Dhlh Kamar, the spokesman for the church in
The U.S. led war exacted its own toll -- 31 Mandeans died in the bombing of Baghdad, 13 of them in a single house, Kamar said.
the losses, which are felt grievously, it is a great relief for the
Mandeans to be free of Saddam. The regime made a big show of allowing
the Mandeans to practice their religion unfettered, as they were
considered "people of the book" -- actually mentioned in the Koran --
but Kamar says it was just that: show.
"We practices freely in the public media only," he said.
Mandeans were a periodic stop for the international media as it trouped
through pre-war Baghdad. Their unusual baptismal ritual -- often once
weekly, with the adherents in glowing white robes -- and multiple
simultaneous weddings made for good television and good public relations
for the regime, which systematically slaughtered Kurds, Shiites and
The Mandeans were not allowed to
have schools for their children to teach them the ancient Aramaic in
which their sacred texts are written. Al-Ginza Raba, which means "the
greatest treasury," their holy book was translated into Arabic by a
famous Iraqi poet two years ago after more than 2,000 years in the lost
language. The religion will have a hard time recovering from 40 years of
1994-03-21 "MANDAEANS IN EXILE IN AMERICA: A Report"
These years, there are several hundred Iraqi and Iranian Mandaeans in the U.S. and Canada, who have arrived especially during or after the wars since l980. A Mandaean family in La Mesa, California, headed by a poet famous throughout the Arab world, Lamea Abbas Amara, publishes an international newsletter-- mainly in Arabic--for Mandaeans (and others): Mandaee. The family would like to know whether anyone is interested in--and might find the means to make-- Mandaic computer fonts. Two other, larger, concerns that we wish to make known to the scholarly public are:
1. Ms. Amara possesses a number of original Mandaean manuscripts from her (deceased) maternal grandfather, Sheikh Jawda of Amara, Iraq. They are:
2 Ginzas; 1 book of 'nianas; 1 very long scroll containing 5 zraztas; 1 book of masbuta and masiqta prayers, bound together with 1 Book of John; 1 Book of the Zodiac.
All are in beautiful condition, in clear script, written in the present or in the l9th century. As very few Mandaean mss. --certainly none of the "great texts"-- exist in university libraries in the USA, it would be desirable to make these mss. available to scholars and research libraries in microfilm/ microfiche. However, funds are needed for this project. Suggestions and proposals are encouraged for arrangements whereby the original mss. would remain in L. A. Amara's ownership, microfilm/fiches made, and a fee paid to her each time new copies are ordered. For example, a university library or research institution house the first film/fiches, and arrange to have them multiplied under an agreement with L. A. Amara.
2. There is a strong wish to create a Mandaean center and museum on a river in Florida. So far, Mandaeans on this continent are unable to be baptised, married, and, at bodily death, be conveyed to the Lightworld (almad-nhura) in the prescribed manner. Considerable funds are needed to purchase land, build a culthut (mandi), and to support a priest either to live in Florida, or to travel regularly from the Near East to conduct ceremonies here. Other buildings, such as a museum with a library, a small Mandaean restaurant, and gold-and-silversmith shops, are also envisioned. The general public would be able to learn about Mandaean religion, and to watch ceremonials from a respectful, specified distance.
Currently, Australia has an immigration agreement with Iran enabling a Mandaean priest to enter annually to N.S.W. (to the Sydney suburbs) so that he may conduct ceremonials for the Mandaeans there. However, they have no mandi, so the rituals are not really "correct," and the Florida plan for the Mandaeans here would the most satifying arrangement, according to L. A. Amara.
It is our hope to elicit suggestions and proposals in these matters from among the AOS membership. Mandaeans wish to establish memselves on this continent as a religious group, not to be absorbed into the secular cultures, but to nourish and uphold their identity by making a sacred space here. In the strength of Yawar Ziwa and Simat Hiia! May Life be victorious!
Jorunn J. Buckley
Eastham, MA 02642
Lamea Abbas Amara
5757 Lake Murray Blvd. #50
La Mesa, CA 91942-2212