The destruction of a Mandaean temple in the al-Ahshar district of Basra (Iraq) by Shi’ite guerillas on June 28 was the latest in a long series of attacks since the beginning of the occupation of Iraq, writes C.G. Haberl in the August issue (No.4) of the online newsletter The Arab Washingtonian. Mandaeans are the descendents of an ancient, pre-Islamic Gnostic sect, which recognizes John the Baptist as its main prophet and uses an ancient form of Aramaic. Mandaeans (also called Sabeans) are mentioned in the Quran, and thus considered by Islam as belonging to the “people of the book” alongside with Christianity and Judaism, and therefore enjoyed the same right to protection.
Mandaeans – also present in smaller number in Iran – used to live in harmony with their neighbors in Iraq. However, soon after the Americans seized control, the leader of the Shi’ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq issued a fatwa declaring the Mandaeans to be unclean – despite a fatwa to the contrary by Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mandaeans have been facing persecution ever since.
Many Mandaeans are reported to have fled the country, including members of the clergy. According to a human rights organization, out of 30,000 members, only 13,000 still remain and are under constant threat. In a recent development, the Mandaean community is reported to have applied for asylum in Kurdistan. Some observers are unconvinced that this would offer them lasting security, and Mandaeans might have no other option than to flee the country. “Whether they come to Kurdistan or emigrate elsewhere, the history of the Mandaeans in southern Iraq is coming to an end,” writes Haberl.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)