Sunday, January 4, 2009

Update on the Mandaeans: They Still Need Your Help and Prayers

I was pleased to find no new major news about Mandaeans when I did a Google news search. This group, which originated in Iraq and Iran has had far more than its share of sorrow. Even with the relative quiet of recent months, the Mandaeans still face daunting challenges.

The Mandaeans are a monotheistic religious group that has existed in its present form since the around the first century of the common era. They revere Adam, Noah and John the Baptist along with numerous other figures who precede Abraham. Judaism and Christianity are regarded by the Mandaeans to be false religions. Despite this, the Mandaeans present no danger to members of other faiths. They do not accept converts. A Mandaean must have pure Mandaean lineage in order to be Mandaean. Mandaeans absolutely refuse to use violence, even in self defense. The Catholic Exchange reports as follows about the difficulties they face as follows.

The position of minorities in Iraq is drastic, although most victims are Moslems and no one is safe when gangs rule and the police are complicit or helpless. However while Christians can return to their historic villages in the Kurdish region, Mandaeans are not welcome there.

The 4000 Mandaeans in Australia are good migrants, law-abiding and hard working but many have difficulty in obtaining entry into Australia as refugees.

Recently a small delegation of locals accompanied the religious head of their community the Reverend Ganzevra Sattar to speak with me, as he is in Australiaing levels of oppression and even persecution, these have sunk to new levels and their position is desperate. seeking to publicize the awful plight of his people. Dressed in white, with similarly colored turbans, their leaders also had flowing grey beards. While history has taught them to expect varying levels of oppression and even persecution, these have sunk to new levels and their position is desperate.

They are currently subject to a campaign of kidnappings. Girls who are kidnapped are forcibly married to their abductors. The girl’s parents are threatened with the same fate for their other daughters if they complain.

Mandaean women are also being brutally targeted in a campaign of rapes. Local Muslims regard Mandaeans as unclean and will not eat food they have touched. But immediately after a Mandaean woman is raped she is told she has now been ritually purified!

Ganzevra Sattar himself was attacked by Shiite militia, shot at, pulled from his car and dragged along the street by his beard, while Iraqi soldiers watched impassively. After being taken to a school building, probably as a preliminary to being shot, an alert Iraqi officer recognized His Holiness and explained the public furor that would follow any execution. He was the

n released. Iraq and Iran have been the historic homeland of the Mandaeans. This has been very problematic in the years since the fall of Sadam Hussein, a time in which Islamic fanatics have made many grabs for power in the new Iraq. The Mandaeans in the time of Mohammed had dhimmi status, which meant that they were second class citizens with official protection. Had they been considered idolators, they would have been faced with a choice to convert to Islam or die.

The Muslim warlords in Iraq and corrupt Muslim authorities in Iran have removed this protected status. Whether it is out of ignorance or avarice is hard to fathom. Mandaeans prohibit circumcision of their membership. Islam requires it. Mandaeans tend to be in middle class occupations. Many are jewelers. Since they are pacifists, they are seen as easy targets


The world of the Mandaeans was thrown into complete turmoil in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s overthrow. In most cases a neighborhood or area was under the control of a warlord in the years after Saddam Hussein was overthrown . In the worst of times, an area was contested. Instead of keeping one big tyrant happy, one had to satisfy a multitude of little chieftains who might be out of power in a day. In these troubled times, robbery, rape and murder were common place. Mandaeans fled for their lives.

The Mandaean religion requires access to a body of fresh running water for the performance of their weekly baptism rituals. Unlike Jews who can build indoor structures according to Talmudic specifications for frequent regular immersions, Mandaeans must immerse only in a river that meets specifications. Under current conditions, there is a shortage of Mandaean clergy to transmit the faith and officiate over its rituals. Together with the trauma, displacement and disorientation of exile to far away places, the continued existence of the Mandaeans is in peril. This group, which existed in the final days of the Second Temple and at the time of the death of Jesus has different perspectives on events than Christians, Jews or any other faith. The loss of this group to the world would mean that a window of inquiry into our collective past has been closed and bricked over. It is groups like the Mandaeans that bring life to ancient artifacts. Through them, arguments that exist only in books come back to life on the tongues of living people.

My interest in the survival of this group is only partially a desire to preserve memories of the past and its contesting cultures. In a world in which G-d has hidden Himself, I feel it is incumbent upon us to imitate our Creator and not force others to accept a faith that they consider to be alien. It is the intellect that distinguishes humans from animals. It is therefore our duty to engage the intellect in drawing others to the truth as we see it. It is this belief that moves me to defend the Mandaeans.

The intricacies of Mandaean religious law present a daunting enough challenge to their survival. Now they are up against erroneous interpretations of Islamic law in Iraq and Iran. In addition to this manacing gauntlet of daily threats, they must now navigate the immigration bureaucracy of the United Nations refugee camps, where they languish in limbo, unable to work. After making it through the United Nations bureaucracy the Mandaeans must deal with the immigration authorities of the US, Canada, Australia and the many countries among which this close knit group has been scattered. Even in cases when families are split, the wheels of the law turn with glacial slowness for the Mandaeans.

In Australia there were cases of Iraqi Mandaeans being attacked by Muslims with whom they are incarcerated. There were numerous reports of Muslim inmates in Australian detention facilities attacking inmates of other faiths. Many Mandaeans were victims of such violence The Age, a major Australian newspaper reports as follows on this situation as follows in 2005 in one of several articles it printed on the subject.

The Immigration Department is under fire again for failing to protect a woman who was sexually abused in front of her daughter in a detention centre.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has found that the department failed in its duty of care and breached her human rights.

The woman, an Iranian refugee from a minority religious group, complained of two violent attacks by other detainees at the Curtin detention centre in Western Australia.

In one incident a man had tried to rape her, and in another a man punched her in the chest and face, tore her clothes off and broke her finger. Her young daughter, who came to her aid, was also punched.

In preliminary findings seen by The Age, Human Rights Commission president John von Doussa slammed the department and the manager of the Curtin centre, Australasian Correctional Management.

He said the department should have been aware of the risks of housing a woman from a religious minority in a compound with unaccompanied men of a different faith.

He said the department had a duty of care to provide “a safe place of detention, free from the threat of harassment, and that failing to do so constitutes a breach of her human rights”.

It is particularly crucial for immigration authorities to be watchful for criminals infiltrating the immigration process. Groups who fought back in their countries of origin should be separated in detention centers. People like the Mandaeans who are seeking asylum should not be victimized again in places where they have sought refuge. It might take some education of immigration authorities dealing with the Middle East to sort out and separate rival ethnic groups. Additionally, Mandaeans have merited by their exemplary behavior and the danger in which they find themselves to be put on an “express track” to be given asylum wherever they might seek it. At the very least, they should be separated in detention from those who would harm them.

Americans should be aware of this group and the unique challenges to its survival. Our country was founded in part by individuals fleeing religious persecution. Opening our doors to the Mandaeans is an affirmation of faithfulness to our country’s roots. Individuals can and should write their elected representatives to urge that Mandaeans awaiting entry into the US be accepted quickly.

Many members of this group are an a bureaucratic limbo in refugee camps in Syria and Jordan. They need material assistance as do the few remaining in Iraq and Iran.

I visited the Mandaean Union web site. It contained a lot of interesting information on this group, from which I was able to extract some useful Google search words. Most helpful to me was a link at the bottom of the page. I followed the instructions and donated thirty six dollars with the request that it go to humanitarian relief for Mandaeans in need. After having written several articals about them, I felt a moral obligation to “put my money where my mouth is”. The only reason I am making my donation public is to urge others to join me in helping the Mandaeans. Hopefully, the information I have provided will move readers to help as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing about this issue! God bless you

/a Mandaean