First Published: 2003-04-26

 
Sabean Mandeans pray for peace in Iraq
 

On banks of Tigris, Sabeans praying for suffering in war, for future Iraq that must retake path of unity, democracy.

 

Middle East Online

By Beatriz Lecumberri - BAGHDAD

The origins of the Sabean Mandeans are disputed

Just off the banks of the Tigris River in the heart of Baghdad's old city lies the temple of Sabean Mandeans, a tiny community that despite its reclusiveness has been hit hard by the war.

In a rite of purification, Sabean Mandeans with long beards, white tunics and rustic sandals immersed themselves up to their waists in water.

"Thirty-three of our followers were killed in the American air strikes. They were civilians who were at home," temple priest Ala Dehle Kama recalled with clear bitterness.

The dead, he explained, had parted the world without receiving their final baptism, a ritual of utmost significance as it is supposed to bring the follower out of suffering and into the light.

For Kama, the Sabean Mandeans are praying not only for their dead, but for all who suffered in the war, and for a future Iraq that must "retake the path of unity and democracy."

Estimates of the world's Mandean population range anywhere up to 50,000, confined to Iraq and Iran. Along with their enclave in Baghdad, the sect has a presence in the southern Iraqi cities of Nasiriyah and Basra.

The origins of the Sabean Mandeans are disputed. They revere John the Baptist, and some say the man who baptized Jesus Christ was the founder of the faith. Other scholars believe the sect originated as a heretical branch of Judaism that emigrated from Palestine centuries ago.

The Sabean Mandeans themselves view Adam, the first man, as their first prophet.

The word "Mandean" is derived from the Aramaic for "knowledge." Followers say "Sabean" comes from "saba," or the Aramaic for baptize, but the term Sabean is also mentioned in the Muslim holy book the Koran as a people having a religion revealed by God, alongside Christians and Jews.

Over the centuries a variety of religious groups coexisting with Islam have been considered the Koran's Sabeans, particularly faiths in India when it was under Muslim rule.

Iraq's Sabean Mandeans have traditionally been reserved toward foreigners and refrained from speaking to curious journalists about anything other than the faith.

"In the house of God we do not talk about politics," said one follower.

According to Sabean Mandeans here, under Saddam Hussein's 24-year rule they had freedom of religion, but faced injustices.

"We were living under a dictatorship and the people wanted a democracy, that is true," said Adel, one of the worshippers.

"But it wasn't us who toppled this dictatorship, it was the Americans. Now there is no alternative, but we don't want them to stay here," he said.

Despite their humble appearance, many members of the community hold distinguished positions in the capital as jewelers, professors and artists. Many travelled to the temple gates in lush automobiles.

"Our religion has nothing to do with Bush's (Protestantism)," stressed Kama, the priest.

"The rituals are difference, the beliefs don't resemble each other and neither do the worshippers," he said.

On top of the temple's portal rest two branches of an olive tree in the form of a cross, strikingly akin to the branches from which John the Baptist sprinkled holy water.

The image of Sabean Mandean prophet Yahia and the holy book the Ginza adorn the temple.

With water such a central element in the faith, no one at the purification ritual hesitated at drinking it, despite warnings about contamination amid the war-time damage to infrastructure.

"It never gets us sick. Water is the secret of life and purification," said one of the worshippers.

"Where there is no water there can be religion, but without water there can be no religious rituals, no prayers, no food," he said.

 

Iran airs "confessions" of researcher facing death for spying

Mayor of Libya's Misrata assassinated

Macron sees war on IS in Syria will be won in February

Israeli air traffic halted due to strikes

Christmas in Jordan dimmed by Jerusalem crisis

Kuwait likely to face political uncertainty

Lebanon arrests suspected killer of British embassy worker

Israel targets Hamas site in Gaza

Turkey slams Austria ‘discrimination’

Iran's schools suffocate in smog

Tunisia elections delayed

Istanbul summit strong on the rhetoric, weak on concrete steps

Two Danes stabbed by man shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ in Gabon

Morocco’s Islamists elect new leader, walking away from predecessor’s populism

UN considers rejecting Trump Jerusalem decision

Palestinians call for protests against Pence Jerusalem visit

Palestinian billionaire detained in Saudi Arabia

Egypt opens Rafah crossing for four days

Turkey court releases 7 suspects in New Year attack trial

Palestinian activist killed in Gaza protests

Foreign fighters a worry as IS struggles to survive

Over half Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in 'extreme poverty'

Palestinians killed in continuing protests over Jerusalem occupation

Bourita: Extraordinary meeting between ECOWAS, Morocco to be held beginning of 2018

Saudi-led air strikes, clashes as Yemen forces battle rebels

Sahel force funding shows terrorism fight is Saudi 'priority'

UN 'appalled' at mass execution of jihadists in Iraq

Iraq's Sistani says Hashed should be under government control

Middle-class Egypt adapts as costs soar

Somalia's budget meets IMF terms

Israel PM questioned in graft probe

US says Iran supplied ballistic missile to Yemen rebels

Lebanon approves bid for oil, gas exploration

US to present 'irrefutable evidence' of Iran violations

Istanbul 'to remove Gulen links' from street names

Iraq hangs 38 jihadists

Pence to visit Middle East despite controversy

Hamas chief calls for continued Jerusalem protests

EU to repatriate 15,000 migrants from Libya in two months

Syria Kurds fear US ally will desert them after IS defeat

Israeli drugmaker Teva to cut 14,000 jobs over two years

Turkey rescues 51 migrants stranded on rocks

Saudi, UAE hold talks with Yemen Islamists

18 killed after bomber strikes Mogadishu police academy

Israeli air strikes target Hamas military facilities