Thursday, July 24, 2003

Iraq: Will the Mandaeans Survive Post-War Iraq?

Date: Thursday 24 July 2003
Subj: Iraq: Will the Mandaeans Survive Post-War Iraq?
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


Mandaeans are a small pre-Christian sect that honours John the Baptist. They are believed to have originated in Jordan, but persecution in the first century forced them to emigrate east. There are an estimated 100,000 Mandaeans worldwide, mainly in Iraq and Iran.

The Mandaeans have survived 1400 years of Islamic persecution, which includes many massacres of Mandaeans throughout the centuries. In 1870 an entire Mandaean community was massacred at Shushtar, north of Ahwaz in southwestern Iran, close to the southern Iraqi border.

Other forms of persecution include harassment and abuse, often accompanied with violence, in the streets and at the daily public Mandaean baptisms. Mandaean couples are often forced to divorce so that Muslim marriages can be imposed upon them, thus ensuring the Mandaeans lose their Mandaean identity.

In Islamic communities, Mandaeans are regarded as infidels (kaffir) and unclean (najes), hence they can have great difficulty obtaining employment and education. Islamic persecution has led many Mandaeans to emigrate. Others flee as asylum seekers, many of whom struggle against misinformation and propaganda for the right to be granted refugee status.

As Islamic fervor has risen, persecution has increased. A report by the Sabian Mandaean Association of Australia (SMAA) notes, "While the secular regime of Saddam Hussein had, to some extent, kept Islamic extremism in check, in the period leading up to the outbreak of war the Iraqi regime had sought to appeal to Muslim feeling against the 'infidels' (kaffir). Accordingly, television received in Ahwaz, Iran (both Iraqi and Iranian TV), had been constantly pouring out venomous hatred of the 'infidels', and Muslim feeling has become inflamed."

Persecution has skyrocketed and more than 80 Mandaeans have been murdered since the fall of Baghdad in April. Now there is great concern that Iraq's Mandaean community, having survived 1400 years of struggle, may not survive post-war Iraq.



The Sabian Mandaean Association of Australia (SMAA), based in Sydney (home to some 2,000 Mandaeans) reports that more than 80 Mandaeans have been murdered in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad. In the days immediately following the fall of Baghdad, Islamists murdered some 30 Mandaeans in Baghdad alone. In the days after the fall of Baghdad, one Mandaean was attacked in his home and seriously wounded. A Mandaean doctor operated on him, without anaesthetic. The doctor was killed the next day.

Muslims have also raped at least 20 Mandaean women and young girls since the "end of the war", although this figure is likely to be much, much higher as most rape cases go unreported due to fear, shame and humiliation. As committed pacifists, the Mandaeans are extremely vulnerable as they are not only despised, but they are unarmed and defenceless.

The threat of sexual assault is particularly serious, as Islamic judges in Iran have set the precedent that the rape of a Mandaean woman can be regarded as an act of "purification", and as such, violators receive impunity. In Iran this defence has been used to acquit men of rapes on Mandaean girls as young as 8 years old.

Some 30 Mandaeans have been murdered in Basra in recent months. The remaining Mandaeans are fleeing and the SMAA has lost all contact with them. Allegedly, coalition forces are advising the Mandaeans to flee, as they cannot offer them protection. There is concern that Mandaeans may also have been murdered in the north, in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Dr. Edward Crangle is the Post-Graduate Research Co-coordinator in the Department of Studies in Religion with the University of Sydney. In a letter dated 21 April 2003, he wrote, "Since the demise of the recent Iraqi regime, many Sabian Mandaeans have been murdered by various extremist Muslim groups and tribes, including the extremely fundamentalist religious Sunni and Sheaat groups and parties such as Al-Wahabin, Al-Daawa Al-Islamiah and Ikhwan Al-Moslemin."


Above and beyond the human rights violations and threat to life, the Mandaean community actually fears that some Iraqi Islamists have genocidal intentions and would be willing to effect a 'Final Solution'.

According to mail received by SMAA from Iraq, amongst the abuse being meted out to Mandaeans are phrases such as, "You are kaffirs (infidels)! We will treat you like the Jews! Get out of Iraq! This is an Islamic country! This is a clean country!"

Very recently, the President of the SMAA was able to speak by phone to a Mandaean clergyman in Baghdad who said that Mandaeans are living in a state of terror. He said they fear that one night the Muslims will just kill all of them. He also said that many Iraqis who formerly supported the Hussein regime are now supporting the Islamists in their campaign against invaders and infidels.

Mandaeans in Ahwaz (in Iran) have reported to the SMAA that they also are receiving news of murders of Mandaeans in Iraq. The Mandaean Archbishop in Australia visited Iran from 5 March to 10 May. He testifies that the situation for Mandaeans in Iran has also deteriorated considerably since the fall of Baghdad, and there is much fear. (In Iran, Mandaeans are an illegal sect without religious or legal recognition.)

One Mandaean in Ahwaz reports that he was traveling in a taxi with Muslims who were unaware that he was Mandaean. One of the Muslim men remarked that he was hopeful the time would soon come when the Muslims would be given permission to attack the areas where the infidels live.


There are reports that many Mandaeans are sharing accommodation and living together out of fear for their lives. However, as soon as their homes are unoccupied, Muslims acquire them. One Mandaean woman lost her home to a Shi'a cleric this way. One family was forced out of their home by Islamists who then immediately fixed green flags to the roof and converted the home into a headquarters for their movement.

One Mandaean who corresponds with the SMAA through a brother in Australia reports that Muslims are threatening to take over the Mandaean's mandi (church) and convert it into a mosque. This builds on another precedent established in Iran where, in 1989, the Mandaean mandi in Awhaz was confiscated and converted into headquarters for the Islamic Religious Police.


The Mandaeans, like the Christians, are also living in fear of an Islamic state under Sharia law. The new 25-member Iraqi Governing Council is made up of thirteen Shi'a Arabs, five Sunni Arabs, five Sunni Kurds, one Assyrian Christian Arab and one Turkman.

The Shi'a group includes the secretary-general of the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood, and a Shi'a cleric named Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim who is the brother of Ayatollah Mohammad Baqr al-Hakim - the leader of Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). (The Ayatollah returned from exile in Iran in May and set up the SCIRI headquarters in Al-Najaf.) Also on the council are two representatives from the Shi'a Islamist al-Da'awa Party and two
from the Iraqi Hezbollah (Sunni). Stratfor Intelligence ( confirms that in all, seven members of the council are staunch Islamists.

U.S. President G.W. Bush said on 24 April, that he was determined to see an "Islamic democracy" built in Iraq. However, as Stratfor Intelligence notes, "The problem is that neither the United States nor the Iraqi people have a model of Islamic democracy to emulate." Also: "The Iraqi Governing Council is bound to face a crisis of legitimacy, since it is a U.S.-appointed, not elected, body." (Stratfor, Global Intelligence Report, 16 July 2003).

SCIRI, the best organised Shi'a political party in Iraq, initially rejected the Iraqi Governing Council because it is U.S.-appointed, not elected. However, the U.S. desire to have SCIRI represented on the council gave SCIRI leverage such that it was able to effect changes to the Iraq Governing Council membership in the last moments before it was unveiled, in exchange for SCIRI participation.

For further information on this issue see: "Iraq's New Governing Council: A Profile" (the first half of this article is an analysis, the second half is a profile of each member)


Mandaeans, along with other religious minorities in Iraq are at great risk at this time of instability and lawlessness, and the future is not looking much brighter.

- Elizabeth Kendal