Iran Mandaeans in exile following persecution


More than 300 Iranian families were forced to leave their homeland in the western province of Khuzestan after facing a series of discriminatory acts for following the faith Sabian Mandaeism which is not officially acknowledged in the Islamic republic.

Sabian Mandaeans had been an integral part of the Iranian social and national fabric especially in Khuzestan where most of the community used to live, said Emad Fawzy, a 44-year-old Sabian Mandaean who immigrated to the United States a year ago.

“This is no longer the case, for after the fall of the Shah we are not even allowed to talk about our faith or our rituals,” he told Al Arabiya.

Enaam Hamed, 39, is not surprised that Iranians harbor all this hate against Mandeans and against Arabs in general, of whom they are considered part.

“I used to work as an Arabic language teacher in Khuzestan and I know how instilling this hatred starts from school curricula,” she told Al Arabiya. “Everything Arab is condemned; our community was part of the Arab community in Khuzestan and its capital Ahwaz.”

Hamed explained that she and other members of her community suffered dual persecution, for being Arab and for being Mandaean and were accordingly robbed of both national and religious rights to which minorities are entitled.

“Iranian authorities refused to list our faith as one of the officially recognized languages.”

According to Hani Salah, a refugee in the United States, the Iranian authorities committed several crimes against the Mandaeans but none of them was known to the world because of lack of media coverage inside Iran.

“Three years ago, the Iranian government desecrated Mandaean graves in Ahwaz city,” he told Al Arabiya. “If we can’t protect our dead, how can we protect our living?”

Talal Nasser, 55, spoke about the double standards of the Iranian regime which becomes apparent when they practice the opposite of what they preach.

“They keep persecuting Mandaeans while calling for inter-faith dialogues and eliminating sectarian and racial discrimination,” he told Al Arabiya.

A website administered by the Mandaean community in Denmark reported that Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of Iran’s first post-revolution Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, received in August 2011 several members of the Zoroastrianist faith. This, Mandaeans argued, is indicative that Iranian leaders are treating Zoroastrians in a much better manner.

The report added that Zoroastrianists, who number 40,000, have a representative in the Iranian parliament and the same applies to Jews, whose number does not exceed 35,000.

According to the report, both groups are granted political and cultural rights and they have their own schools and their own newspapers.

Other groups represented in the parliament, the report added, include Armenians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians.

All those groups, said the report, have their places of worship too.
The report stated that this is not the case with Mandaeans, whose number is estimated at 60,000 and who have to hide in little villages in order to practice their rituals in improvised temples.

According to Article 13 of the Iranian Constitution, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism are officially acknowledged religions and there is no mention of Sabian Mandaeism.

Sabian Mandaeans originally lived in Palestine where John the Baptist was born then they immigrated to several countries in the region like Iran, Iraq, and Syria, and few of them went to Jordan. Mandaeans in Iran mainly live in the province of Khuzestan, commonly known as Arabstan owing to its Arab population. They particularly live by rivers since water constitutes a basic part of their faith rituals.

Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Mandaeans were known for working as goldsmiths, a craft they had been passing from one generation to another for years.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)