Followers of the Mandaean religion have lived in Iraq for well over 1,000 years. However, since the U.S. invasion in 2003, Mandaeans have faced all sorts of persecution from their fellow Iraqis, including murder, kidnapping, rape, confiscation of property and forced conversion. Their numbers have dropped from about 60,000 in the 1990’s to less than 5,000 today. The Mandaeans have fled to Kurdistan, Jordan, Syria, the United States, and other countries.
While the Iraqi Mandaeans are able to resettle in other countries, the concern is that they will be disbursed throughout the world and their religion will die out.
The end of the Mandaean religion would be a great loss. From a New York Times article on the Mandaeans (re-posted on Red Ice Creations):
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.
The Mandaean religion is pacifistic, and followers are not allowed to carry weapons, even for self defense. Until the 2003 war, most of the world’s Mandaeans lived in Iraq. Now the insular community has been divided into small groups and resettled as refugees. Such groups are too small to create sustainable communities, and the fear is that the dispersion is the beginning of the end for the Mandaeans.
In the U.S., one of the largest refugee populations of Mandaeans is in Boston, which is home to about 450 individuals. Mandaean activists hope to resettle enough refugees there to create a sustainable community. According to the Boston Globe, nations don’t take in refugees from just a single ethnic or religious group, and the receiving countries face capacity issues.
In this instance, the UN and the receiving countries should make a greater effort to resettle the Mandaeans in larger number in order to create sustainable communities. If not, this ancient religion could vanish forever.