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This article is about the Middle Eastern ethno-religious group. For the Gnostic religious belief, see Mandaeism.
Total population
60,000[1] to 70,000[2]
Regions with significant populations
 Iraq 3,000[3] to 7,000 (as of 2010)
 Iran 5,000 to 10,000 (2009)[3]
 Jordan 49 families[1]
 Syria 1,250 families[1]
 Sweden 8,500[4]
 Australia 3,500 to 5,000 [5][6]
 United States 1,500 to 2,000
 United Kingdom 1,000[7]
 Canada 1,500[5]
 Germany 1,200[8]
 Denmark 650[9]
 Indonesia 23 [8]
Ginza Rba, Qolusta
Mandaic as liturgical language
Arabic and Persian

Mandaeans (Modern Mandaic: מנדעניאMandaʻnāye, Arabic: الصابئة المندائيونaṣ-Ṣabi'a al-Mandā'iyūn) are an ethnoreligious group indigenous to the alluvial plain of southern Mesopotamia and are followers of Mandaeism, a Gnostic religion. The Mandaeans were originally native speakers of Mandaic, a Semitic language that evolved from Eastern Middle Aramaic, before many switched to colloquial Iraqi Arabic and Modern Persian. Mandaic is mainly preserved as a liturgical language. During the century's first decade the indigenous Mandaic community of Iraq, which used to number 60–70,000 persons, collapsed in the aftermath of the Iraq War of 2003; most of the community relocated to nearby Iran, Syria and Jordan, or formed diaspora communities beyond the Middle East. The other indigenous community of Iranian Mandaeans has also been dwindling as a result of religious persecution over that decade.[3]



There are several indications of the ultimate origin of the Mandaeans. Early religious concepts and terminologies recur in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and "Jordan" has been the name of every baptismal water in Mandaeism.[10] This connection with early baptismal sects in the eastern Jordan region and the elements of Western Syrian in the Mandaean language attests to their Levantine origin.[10] The ultimate Jewish origin of the Mandaeans can still be found despite the vehement polemics against the Jews in Mandaean literature, in which Moses is a false prophet and Adonai (one of the names used in the Jewish bible) is an evil god.[11][12] There are fewer indications of a relation between early Christians and Mandaeans, which make the connection more problematic. Some scholars, including Kurt Rudolph connect the early Mandaeans with the Jewish sect of the Nasoraeans.[12]

The emigration of early Mandaeans from the Jordan Valley took place the latest at the second century due to pressure from Orthodox Jews.[10] The migrants first went to Harran in Assyria and entered the southern provinces of Mesopotamia during the third century. It appears that Mani, the founder of Manichaeism, was partly influenced by the newcomers. The Mandaeans had also hostile relations with the Byzantine Church and the Babylonian Jews.[10]

Early Persian periods[edit]

A number of ancient Aramaic inscriptions dating back to the 2nd century CE were uncovered in Elymais. Although the letters appear quite similar to the Mandaean ones, it is doubtful whether the inhabitants of Elymais were Mandaeans.[13] Under Parthian and early Sasanian rule, foreign religions were tolerated. The situation changed by the ascension of Bahram I in 273, who under the influence of the zealous Zoroastrian high priest Kartir persecuted all non-Zoroastrian religions. It is thought that this persecution encouraged the consolidation of Mandaean religious literature.[13] The persecutions instigated by Kartir seems to temporarily erase Mandaeans from recorded history. Traces of their presence can still however be found in the so-called Mandaean magical bowls and lead strips which were produced from the 3rd to the 7th centuries.[14]

Islamic Caliphates[edit]

The Mandaeans re-appear at the beginning of the Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia, when their "head of the people" Anush son of Danqa appears before Muslim authorities showing them a copy of the Ginza Rabba, the Mandaean holy book, and proclaiming the chief Mandaean prophet to be John the Baptist, who is also mentioned in the Quran. The connection with the Quranic Sabians provided them acknowledgement as People of the Book, a legal minority religion within the Muslim Empire. They appear to have flourished during the early Islamic period, as attested by the voluminous expansion of Mandaic literature and canons. Tib near Wasit is particularly noted as an important scribal centre.[14] Yaqut al-Hamawi describes Tib as a town inhabited by Nabatean (i.e. Aramaic speaking) Sabians who consider themselves to be descendants of Seth son of Adam.[14]

The status of the Mandaeans became an issue for the Abbasid al-Qahir Billah. To avoid further investigation by the authorities, the Mandaeans paid a bribe of 50,000 dinars and were left alone. It appears that the Mandaeans were even exempt from paying the Jizya, otherwise imposed upon protected non-Muslims.[14]

Late Persian and Ottoman periods[edit]

Early contact with Europeans came about in the mid-16th century, when Portuguese missionaries encountered Mandaeans in Southern Iraq and controversially designated them "Christians of St. John". In the next centuries Europeans became more acquainted with the Mandaeans and their religion.[14]

The Mandaeans suffered persecution under the Qajar rule in the 1780s. The dwindling community was threatened with complete annihilation, when a Cholera epidemic broke out in Shushtar and half of its inhabitants died. The entire Mandaean priesthood perished and Mandeism was restored due only to the efforts of few learned men such as Yahia Bihram.[15] Another danger threatened the community in 1870, when the local governor of Shushtar massacred the Mandaeans against the will of the Shah.[15] As a result of these events the Mandaeans retired to the more inaccessible Central Marshes of Iraq.

Modern Iraq and Iran[edit]

Following the First World War, the Mandaeans were still largely living in rural areas in the lower parts of British protected Iraq and Iran. Owing to the rise of Arab nationalism, Mandaeans were Arabised at an accelerated rate, especially during the 1950s and '60s. The Mandaeans were also forced to abandon their stands on the cutting of hair and forced military service, which are strictly prohibited in Mandaenism.[16]

The 2003 Iraq War brought more troubles to the Mandaeans, as the security situation deteriorated. Many members of the Mandaean community, who were known as goldsmiths, were targeted by criminal gangs for ransoms. The rise of Islamic Extremism forced thousands to flee the country, after they were given the choice of conversion or death.[17] It is estimated that around 90% of Iraqi Mandaeans were either killed or have fled after the American-led invasion.[17]

The Mandaeans of Iran lived chiefly in Ahvaz, Iranian Khuzestan, but have moved as a result of the Iraq-Iran War to other cities such as Tehran, Karaj and Shiraz. The Mandaeans, who were traditionally considered as People of the Book (members of a protected religion under Islamic rule) lost this status after the Islamic Revolution. Local authorities in Iranian Islamic Republic are known to encourage harassment and persecution of the Mandaeans.[18]


Mandaeans in Iraq[edit]

Further information: Iraqi minorities § Mandaeans

The pre-Iraq War, Iraqi Mandaean community was centered around Baghdad. Mandaean emigration from Iraq began during Saddam Hussein's rule, but accelerated greatly after the American-led invasion and subsequent occupation.[19] Since the invasion Mandaeans, like other Iraqi ethno-religious minorities (such as Assyrians, Armenians, Yazidi, Roma and Shabaks), have been subjected to violence, including murders, kidnappings, rapes, evictions, and forced conversions.[19][20] Mandaeans, like many other Iraqis, have also been targeted for kidnapping since many worked as goldsmiths.[19] Mandaeism is pacifistic and forbids its adherents from carrying weapons.[19][21]

Many Iraqi Mandaeans have fled the country in the face of this violence, and the Mandaean community in Iraq faces extinction.[22][23] Out of the over 60,000 Mandaeans in Iraq in the early 1990s, fewer than 5,000 remain there; as of early 2007, more than 80% of Iraqi Mandaeans were refugees in Syria and Jordan as a result of the Iraq War. [24]

Iranian Mandaeans[edit]

The number of Iranian Mandaeans is a matter of dispute. In 2009, there were an estimated 5,000 and 10,000 Mandaeans in Iran, according to the Associated Press.[3] Whereas Alarabiya has put the number of Iranian Mandaeans as high as 60,000 in 2011.[25]

Until the Iranian Revolution, Mandaeans had mainly been concentrated in the Khuzestan province, where the community used to exist by side with the local Arab population. They had mainly been practising the profession of goldsmith, passing it from generation to generation.[25] After the fall of the shah, its members faced increased religious discrimination, and many sought a new home in Europe and the Americas.

In Iran, the Gozinesh Law (passed in 1985) has the effect of prohibiting Mandaeans from fully participating in civil life. This law and other gozinesh provisions make access to employment, education, and a range of other areas conditional upon a rigorous ideological screening, the principal prerequisite for which is devotion to the tenets of Islam.[26] These laws are regularly applied to discriminate against religious and ethnic groups that are not officially recognized, such as the Mandaeans, Ahl-e Haq, and Baha'i.[27]

In 2002 the US State Department granted Iranian Mandaeans protective refugee status; since then roughly 1,000 have emigrated to the US,[3] now residing in cities such as San Antonio, Texas.[28] On the other hand, the Mandaean community in Iran has increased over the last decade, because of the exodus from Iraq of the main Mandaean community, which used to be 60,000–70,000 strong.

Other countries in the Middle East[edit]

Following the Iraq War, the Mandaean community dispersed throughout the Middle East. Living as refugees the Mandaeans in Jordan number 49 families,[1] while in Syria the are as many as 1,250 families.[1] Some Mandaeans might also have reached the Gulf countries.


There are small Mandaean diaspora populations in Sweden (c. 7,000), Australia (c. 3,500 as of 2006), the USA (c. 1,500), the UK (c. 1,000), and Canada.[22][29][30][31][32][33] Sweden became a popular destination because a Mandaean community existed there before the war and the Swedish government has a liberal asylum policy toward Iraqis. Of the 7000 Mandaeans in Sweden, 1,500 live in Södertälje.[29][34] The scattered nature of the Mandaean diaspora has raised fears among Mandaeans for the religion's survival. Mandaeism has no provision for conversion, and the religious status of Mandaeans who marry outside the faith and their children is disputed.[3][20]

The contemporary status of the Mandaeans has prompted a number of American intellectuals and civil rights activists to call upon the U.S. government to extend refugee status to the community. In 2007, The New York Times ran an op-ed piece in which Swarthmore professor Nathaniel Deutsch called for the Bush administration to take immediate action to preserve the community:

The United States didn’t set out to eradicate the Mandeans, one of the oldest, smallest and least understood of the many minorities in Iraq. This extinction in the making has simply been another unfortunate and entirely unintended consequence of our invasion of Iraq—though that will be of little comfort to the Mandeans, whose 2,000-year-old culture is in grave danger of disappearing from the face of the earth. . . . . When American forces invaded in 2003, there were probably 60,000 Mandeans in Iraq; today, fewer than 5,000 remain. . . . Of the mere 500 Iraqi refugees who were allowed into the United States from April 2003 to April 2007, only a few were Mandeans. And despite the Bush administration’s commitment to let in 7,000 refugees in the fiscal year that ended [September 30, 2007], fewer than 2,000, including just three Iraqi Mandean families, entered the country. If all Iraqi Mandeans are granted privileged status and allowed to enter the United States in significant numbers, it may just be enough to save them and their ancient culture from destruction. If not, after 2,000 years of history, of persecution and tenacious survival, the last Gnostics will finally disappear, victims of an extinction inadvertently set into motion by our nation’s negligence in Iraq.

—Nathaniel Deutsch, professor of religion, Swarthmore CollegeOctober 7, 2007[35]

Iraqi Mandaeans were given refugee status by the US State Department in 2007. Since then around 1200 have entered the US.[3] Many Mandaeans have began returning to Iraq during the past two years, as the circumstances in Iraq have improved.[citation needed]


Main article: Mandaic language

The Mandaic language is an eastern dialect of Aramaic, although its alphabet is unique.[36] It has mainly survived as a liturgical language.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Who Cares for the MANDAEANS?, Australian Islamist Monitor
  2. ^ Iraqi minority group needs U.S. attention, Kai Thaler,Yale Daily News, March 9, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Contrera, Russell. "Saving the people, killing the faith – Holland, MI". The Holland Sentinel. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  4. ^ Ekman, Ivar: An exodus to Sweden from Iraq for ethnic Mandaeans
  5. ^ a b The Mandaean Associations Union:Mandaean Human Rights Annual Report November 2009
  6. ^ Hinchey, Rebecca: MANDAENS, a unique culture
  7. ^ Crawford, Angus: Mandaeans – a threatened religion
  8. ^ a b Society for Threatened Peoples:Leader of the world's Mandaeans asks for help
  9. ^ Schou, Kim and Højland, Marie-Louise: Hvem er mandæerne? (Danish), religion.dk
  10. ^ a b c d Rudolph 1978, p. 5
  11. ^ Deutsch 1999, p. 4
  12. ^ a b Rudolph 1978, p. 4
  13. ^ a b Buckley 2002, p. 4
  14. ^ a b c d e Buckley 2002, p. 5
  15. ^ a b Buckley 2002, p. 6
  16. ^ Mandaean Human Rights Group 2008, p. 5
  17. ^ a b Zurutuza, Karlos (29 January 2012). "The Ancient Wither in New Iraq". IPS. Retrieved June 5, 2012. 
  18. ^ Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen. "Mandaean Community in Iran". Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved June 5, 2012. 
  19. ^ a b c d Ekman, Ivar (April 9, 2007). "An exodus to Sweden from Iraq for ethnic Mandaeans". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  20. ^ a b Newmarker, Chris (February 10, 2007). "Survival of Ancient Faith Threatened by Fighting in Iraq". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  21. ^ Lupieri (2002), p. 91.
  22. ^ a b Iraq's Mandaeans 'face extinction', Angus Crawford, BBC, March 4, 2007.
  23. ^ Genocide Watch: Mandaeans of Iraq[dead link]
  24. ^ Deutsch, Nathaniel (October 6, 2007). "Save the Gnostics". The New York Times. 
  25. ^ a b "Iran Mandaeans in exile following persecution". Alarabiya.net. 2011-12-06. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  26. ^ Ideological Screening (ROOZ :: English)
  27. ^ Annual Report for Iran, 2005, Amnesty International.
  28. ^ Updated 33 minutes ago 12/17/2011 8:29:41 AM +00:00 (2009-01-07). "Ancient sect fights to stay alive in U.S. - US news – Faith – msnbc.com". MSNBC. Retrieved 2011-12-17. 
  29. ^ a b http://lt.se/nyheter/sodertalje/1.2102865-morgondopp-som-ger-gruppen-nytt-hopp
  30. ^ Survival of Ancient Faith Threatened by Fighting in Iraq, Chris Newmarker, Associated Press. February 10, 2007.
  31. ^ The Plight of Iraq's Mandeans, John Bolender. Counterpunch.org, January 8/9, 2005.
  32. ^ An exodus to Sweden from Iraq for ethnic Mandaeans, Ivar Ekman. International Herald Tribune, April 9, 2007.
  33. ^ Mandaeans persecuted in Iraq. ABC Radio National (Australia), June 7, 2006.
  34. ^ Ekman, Ivar (April 9, 2007). "An exodus to Sweden from Iraq for ethnic Mandaeans". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  35. ^ "Save the Gnostics" by Nathaniel Deutsch, October 6, 2007, New York Times.
  36. ^ [1]


External links[edit]

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Toward Freedom
Mon, 11 Aug 2014 18:18:45 -0700

My concern with the Mandaeans (also written as Sabean-Mandeans) came in the early 2000s after the US invasion when the Mandaeans were persecuted as being supporters of Saddam Hussein and most fled to Syria. A word about the faiths of the two ...
Patheos (blog)
Wed, 06 Aug 2014 05:56:15 -0700

Natsurai is, on the other hand, an important term used in Mandaeism, either as a designation for Mandaeans in general, or as a way of referring to those with particular insight into religious matters. In Mandaean literature, Jesus is viewed as a ...

Center for Research on Globalization

Center for Research on Globalization
Thu, 21 Aug 2014 12:22:11 -0700

A 2008 Minority Rights Group International studyconcluded that “Mandaeans face extinction as a people.” And an Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization report from June 2013—well into the Obama era—determined that “[t]he human rights ...


Thu, 07 Aug 2014 08:56:15 -0700

Mandaeans speak Iraqi Arabic and modern Persian, while the original Mandaic language is preserved as a liturgical language. They follow Mandaeaism, a form of Gnosticism. There is some overlap with Christian belief and practices; John the Baptist is a ...


Wed, 20 Aug 2014 20:14:33 -0700

There are the Mandaeans, who hold themselves, as Mani did, to be sparks of a cosmic light, and whose priests, like their Babylonian forebears, are obsessive astrologers. There are the Alawites, who revere Plato as a prophet, believe in reincarnation ...
Thu, 21 Aug 2014 05:22:30 -0700

[The events of Ave Maria take place in a single day. Two characters from an Iraqi Christian family who are drawn together by the situation in the country under the same roof in Baghdad narrate these events. Youssef is an elderly man in his seventies.
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Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:33:45 -0700

"We are witnessing today an act of religious and ethnic cleansing toward Christians as well as many other communities such as Sufis, Shabaks, Mandaeans, Yazidis, Turkmen, let alone Shi'is and Sunnis, as extremists drive people out of the lands that ...
Mon, 18 Aug 2014 14:11:15 -0700

"Neo-Mandaic" variety of Neo-Aramaic used by the Mandaeans of Iran and Iraq had dwindled substantially; today just a few hundred people speak it. Meanwhile, Western Neo-Aramaic was down to a single stronghold: the town of Maaloula and two of its ...

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