Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Religious Sect Fears Extinction in Iraq by Betsy Hiel from Pittsburgh Tribune Review

ERBIL, Iraq -- Humam Abdel Jabar sits on a bench in a friend's jewelry shop. Shoulders hunched, head down, he nervously plays with his fingers while recounting a tale of kidnapping and torture that is familiar to many Iraqis.

In April, "four armed men wearing face masks came at 8 o'clock at night and broke down the door of my house," the tall, dark-eyed man with a full moustache wearily recounts.

They shoved him into a car trunk and drove to a nearby house, then blindfolded and bound him.

Jabar stares at the floor. "They beat me and terrorized me. They used a water hose ... punched and pushed me."

He points to scars on his face and shoulders.

"They said, 'You are an infidel, and this is an Islamic state. Either you pay the jiziyah (a tax that Islamic governments once levied on non-Muslims) or it is hallal (religiously sanctioned) to kill you.' "

The kidnappers demanded that the goldsmith pay a $100,000 ransom.

"If you do not give us this, how would you like to be killed -- by shooting or beheading?" they asked him. "We will send your head back to your family in a bag."

Jabar, 42, belongs to the Mandaeans, a tiny religious sect that survived for 2,000 years in Iraq and Iran. Now scattered by Iraq's bloodshed, its leaders fear the sect will disappear.

Not Jews, Christians or Muslims, Mandaeans venerate John the Baptist in rituals revolving around water. Their religious leaders still speak a dialect of Aramaic that is closest to that of the Babylonian Talmud.

"They are one of a variety of groups that appeared around the same time as Christianity ... offering alternative interpretations -- in the case of the Mandaeans, one that scholars have identified as Gnostic," explains Nathaniel Deutsch, a Mandaean expert at Swarthmore College. "The Mandaeans are the one community ... that still survives from this period, and that is extraordinary." ....... Please click on title to this post to view full article.

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