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.