The Mandeans, who belong to one of the world's oldest religions, carry out their sacred rituals along the banks of the Tigris River in Iraq as part of their "Creation Day" celebrations.
Members of the ancient Sabean Mandaean religion in Iraq are celebrating “Prunaya” or Creation Day along the banks of the Tigris River in Baghdad. The five-day celebration involves Mandaeans performing major rituals, including baptism in the river and remembering the souls of their loved ones who have passed away.
“It is an occasion to remember those dead, our fathers and our ancestors,” said Rifaat Obeid Awda, the head of the Khamisiya Mandean family. “We bless those dead through charity, and this is a great annual event.”
The worshippers who came together in Baghdad said that their faith preaches religious tolerance and love amongst members of society. They claim to have practised these ideals for thousands of years with other ethno-religious communities in Iraq.
“We want the world to know what the Mandaean religion is, especially that our brothers in the homeland have lived with us for thousands of years, around 6000 years,” said Dhia Nasser, a member of the Mandean religion. “They know that the Mandaean religion is a religion of tolerance, morality, chastity, and love. We have lived together for many years, and even our clans are unified.”
According to some historic reports, the Mandaean Sabeans are amongst the oldest monotheistic religions in Iraq, with their beliefs stemming from Saint John the Baptist, a revered figure in both Islamic and Christian texts.
Mainly located around Basra and Baghdad Provinces, the Mandaean community suffered under Saddam’s regime due to the environmental policies that the regime undertook in drying up the rivers and marshes that the worshippers used for their religious rites. Following the fall of Saddam, the conflicts that ensued drove many members of the community out of the country reducing their numbers from 70,000 to slightly over 10,000 today. Religious figures in the Mandaean faith say that while they were not subjected to ISIS’ cruelty, due to their communities being in the southern regions where ISIS’ reach was limited, they have faced discrimination and extremism in the past. As a result, the Mandaean community has called for reconciliation and healing amongst the different ethno-religious groups in Iraq.
Despite the various issues that threaten the community’s religious rituals, such as the recent water crisis, members of the faith say that they will remain steadfast in practising their religion and promoting the peaceful message that it carries.