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Obscure Mandaean faith risks extinction in Iraqcomment (0)

January 3, 2008


BAGHDAD, Iraq — The Iraq war has claimed many victims, but perhaps the least known is a small religion that scholars say is the last remaining link to ancient faiths that flourished during the time of the Roman Empire.
Mandaeanism, a monotheistic belief that follows the teachings of John the Baptist, has called Iraq home for almost 2,000 years. But sectarian violence and political strife have placed its followers in jeopardy, forcing many of them to flee to Jordan, Syria and elsewhere.

While Christians, Jews and other minority faiths in Iraq face similar difficulties, Mandaeanism — with only 60,000 members, no converts and a pacifist bent — faces the greater threat of outright extinction.
Now a Mandaean high priest is on a crusade to educate the West about the little-known faith and its struggle to simply survive.

“Our culture, our heritage, our religion is in danger. It has no roots anywhere on Earth,” said Sattar J. Hilo Al-Zahrony, 51, a Mandaean ganzabra, or high priest. “We are facing systematic destruction.”

As a Gnostic offshoot, Mandaeanism is related to Christianity but does not consider Jesus Christ as a prophet. Instead followers develop spiritual knowledge through prayer and study to forge their own personal path to God and the “world of light” that awaits them in the afterlife.

Historians consider the faith a living link to the past when Gnostic faiths — rival sects that were left on history’s cutting-room floor — competed with Christianity for supremacy in the Mediterranean.
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