As the Sabaean Mandean community in Iraq celebrates the Baptism of John, worshippers pray for lasting peace in the country this shrinking community calls home.
On the 20th of May every year, the Sabaean Mandean religious community in Iraq celebrates “Dahfa Ada Dimana,” the Golden Baptism Day, which commemorates the Baptism of Prophet Yahya (John the Baptist).
“Today, the Sabaean Mandeans celebrate the Golden Baptism Day,” said Khalid al-Roumi, the chairman of the Sabaean Affairs Council in Erbil. “On this occasion, the Sabaeans celebrate with the first ritual of the day, the ceremony of baptism.”
During the ceremony, the worshippers meet together on the banks of a river, to carry out the baptism rituals along with other religious rites.
The Sabaean Mandean community, which is found mainly in Iraq, believes that Yihai Hannah Mubarakah, known in the Quran as Yahia, and the Bible as John the Baptist, is the final messenger in their monotheistic faith. Because of the shared beliefs with both Islam and Christianity, the Mandean community has been able to coexist with other faith communities in the southern Iraqi Provinces of Basra, Dhi Qar and Maysan. However, due to Saddam’s destruction and draining of Iraq’s Marshes, many Mandeans moved to Baghdad, due to the importance of rivers in their faith.
Following the fall of the regime in 2003, the rise of radical militants in the country, and the constant water crises that Iraq faces forced the community to seek refuge in other provinces and countries. As a result, the number of Sabaean Mandeans in Iraq has been reduced significantly, with some estimates saying that their numbers have dropped from 70,000 to only 10,000 today.
The remaining believers say they are praying for the day that all members of their community can return to the country and worship freely.
“The biggest hope is for Mandeans to reunite, as their number has significantly decreased in Iraq. We consider migration as a threat to any component,” said Faiza Diab, the director of the Mandean Culture Institute in Erbil. “We ask God that Iraq lives in peace so that its people will live safely in it, build it, and complete what our ancestors had built.”