Many people think of the Arab world as a homogenous region containing one religion and one ethnicity only, however there is a wide variety of ethnicities and religions in the Arab world. In this post, I present some information about the Mandaeans (الصابئة المندائيون).
In the Arab world, Mandaeans live mainly in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. The largest population is in Iraq (around 10,000 people). Most Mandaeans speak Iraqi Arabic or Persian, but they use Mandaic is as a language of worship.
Mandaeans have a very long history in the Middle East. They flourished under the Islamic rule. However they suffered persecution under the Qajar rule in the 1780s, and they suffered from a Cholera epidemic which reduced the number of their community.
Following the First World War, the Mandaeans were still largely living in rural areas in the lower parts of British protected Iraq and Iran. Owing to the rise of Arab nationalism, Mandaeans were Arabised at an accelerated rate, especially during the 1950s and ’60s. The Mandaeans were also forced to military service, which are strictly prohibited in Mandaenism.
The 2003 Iraq War brought more troubles to the Mandaeans, as the security situation deteriorated. It is estimated that around 90% of Iraqi Mandaeans were either killed or have fled after the American-led invasion. Out of the over 60,000 Mandaeans in Iraq in the early 1990s, fewer than 5,000 to 10,000 remain there; as of early 2007, more than 80% of Iraqi Mandaeans were refugees in Syria and Jordan as a result of the Iraq War.
Mandaeans are a closed ethno-religious community, practicing Mandaeism, which is a Gnostic religion. The Mandaeans group existence into two main categories: light and dark. They have a dualistic view of life, which encompasses both good and evil; all good is thought to have come from the World of Light and all evil is considered to be a product of the World of Darkness. According to Mandaean beliefs, the world (i.e Earth) is a mixture of light and dark.
Baptisms are a central theme in Mandaeanism, believed to be necessary for the redemption of the soul. Mandaeans do not perform a single baptism, as in religions such as Christianity or Judaism; rather, they view baptisms as a ritualistic act capable of bringing the soul closer to salvation. Therefore, Mandaeans get baptized a numerous number of times during their lives. John the Baptist is a key figure for the Mandaeans; they even consider him to have been a Mandaean himself. Today, many Mandaeans are refugees and are not willing to accept converts into their religion.
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