Saturday, February 10, 2007

How Can We Help the Mandaeans Survive?

I continue to be very worried and afraid for the Mandaeans, especially those trying to live in Iraq. The Mandaeans or "Knowers" are the only surviving Gnostic religion from antiquity. Their homelands primarily are Iraq and Iran. Mandaeans esteem John the Baptist as one of their heros. They practice multiple baptisms in rivers in order to journey to the world of light which they consider to be a better place than earth. These soul journeys are meant to prepare them for death, so that when the soul is released from the body it will know the way home and not become lost in purgatories along the way. Their books are very old, written in Mandaic, a Semitic dialect.

The Houston Chronicle today published an article that reported some startling statistics. In the early 1990s, there were 60,000 Mandaeans in Iraq. Today, the estimates range from 5,000 to 7,000. Many are trying to flee Iraq as they are a targeted by Islamic extremists. They are being killed, raped, and forced to convert to Islam. Their properties are being confiscated by these extremists, according to a report released last week by the Mandaean Society of America in Trenton, New Jersey. Many Mandaeans are convinced that very soon there will be no Mandaeans alive in Iraq.

Mandaeans leaders say that they are being scattered around the world now. They are becoming a diaspora community for the first time in almost two thousand years. There is a lot of concern about the survival of this Gnostic religion, not only because the Mandaeans are being killed, but also because of the consequences of the diaspora. They are beginning to marry outside the faith. Their spouses and children can never be Mandaeans since one must be born Mandaean to claim the religion. They have no mechanism (yet?) to bring children from mixed marriages into the fold. The few dozen Mandaean priests left are reluctant to agree on a mechanism for this.

There is a lobby working in Washington, D.C. to get the Mandaeans out of Iraq, as well as Jordan and Syria where many have fled, but still suffer abuse. They have no easy way to escape to countries like the US where they would be safe. It is not a powerful lobby because their numbers are so few. On January 17, congressional testimony by Assistant Secretary Ellen Sauerbrey said that the department has been expanding the ability of the US to bring in more Iraqi refugees, including the special populations of religious minorities.

How can we help them? Practical suggestions are encouraged.

10 comments:

Steve said...

Thanks for bringing this up. I have been thinking about them too lately.

Nicholas Kiger said...

How do we stop this from happening to any group that suffers at the hands of extremists? How do we stop it from happening in Darfur? Why couldn't we stop it from happening in Rwanda? I understand that these situations are very different, yet much the same. These things are wonderful examples of how important education is in these situations.

haeresis said...

A call to Gnostic bloggers and a letter-writing campaign to congress may do some good.

Chollie said...

This is the million dollar question. I too wish that there were more that we could do to help these people. My only suggestion is that you contact your senators and congressperson.

ChessNovice said...

The plight of the Mandeans may be such that it could fall under Article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court

Article 7: of the statute:

Article 7: Crimes against humanity

1. For the purpose of this Statute, "crime against humanity" means any of the following acts
when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian
population, with knowledge of the attack:
(a) Murder;(b) Extermination;
(c) Enslavement;(d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population;
(e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; (f) Torture;
(g) Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization,
or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
(h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national,
ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court;

(i) Enforced disappearance of persons;
(j) The crime of apartheid;
(k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or
serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.


The murder, rape, forced conversion, confiscation of property are crimes under the statute. Perhaps a petition to the ICC requesting an inquiry will focus attention on the plight of the Mandeans.

Nathan said...

Something absolutely must be done! From what I understand, there are quite a few Mandaeans living in and around Dearborn, MI... I don't know. This situation is horrible! I have a friend who is Mandaean, he almost cannot bear to speak of what's happening. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6412453.stm

There has to be a way to help them get out of Iraq.

Paul T Piehler said...

Practical Questions: 1. What is the most useful and informative Mandaean organization(s) for a non-Mandaean to support?
2. What is the best method to contribute funds for Mandaean needs? (It seems our Washington tax dollars are not yet doing an adequate job in this respect.)
3. Do we need some tough-minded political professional to organize a campaign - someone from the Sierra Club might lend us a hand - seems the Mandaens as a human species are as enedangered as any on this planet. Their cultural heritage is also precious and unique.

h_dabis said...

Firstly I would like to thank everyone for their interest in our community. I am based in UK and currently in the executive committee of the Mandaean Association of UK.
The tasks that we need to focus on are two fold. One is to keep Mandaeans together wherever they are in the world in order to keep the young children aware of their position. This can be done through gatherings but more importantly, the longer term objective, must be to build/purchase a place of prayer (Mendi) which ideally needs to be close to a river. Secondly, is to focus on helping the community in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. These people are going through very difficult times and are in urgent help. I have set up a web site (www.mandaean.org.uk) which people can visit and hopefully make a small donation to help the cause of this small but very historic community.

Homam Dabis (UK,Surrey).

h_dabis said...

Firstly I would like to thank everyone for their interest in our community. I am based in UK and currently in the executive committee of the Mandaean Association of UK.
The tasks that we need to focus on are two fold. One is to keep Mandaeans together wherever they are in the world in order to keep the young children aware of their position. This can be done through gatherings but more importantly, the longer term objective, must be to build/purchase a place of prayer (Mendi) which ideally needs to be close to a river. Secondly, is to focus on helping the community in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. These people are going through very difficult times and are in urgent help. I have set up a web site (www.mandaean.org.uk) which people can visit and hopefully make a small donation to help the cause of this small but very historic community.

Homam Dabis (UK,Surrey).

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