The Mandaean religion has survived as a unique and independent religion from the period of gnosticism that flourished in the Middle East at the time of early Christianity. It is one of the earliest monotheistic religions, with its own holy books and prophets, and spiritual leaders. Having survived centuries of repression and persecution, Mandaean communities worldwide are only too keenly aware of the challenges that face this ancient faith in contemporary society, and of the importance of its appreciation as a world religion.
The term 'Tarmida' refers to the second rank of Mandaean priesthood. Tarmida Yuhana Nashmi will speak today, briefly outlining the key beliefs structuring the Mandaean faith as context to the program Being Mandaean . This framework will bring into focus the contemporary issues that face the Mandaean communities in diaspora, as well as those remaining in Iraq and Iran .
Speech by: Tarmida Yuhana Nashmi
Liverpool Museum July 2004
Contemporary Issues for the Mandaean Faith
Thank you Professor Aobed
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen
The Mandaean religion is one of the ancient monotheists, independent religions. It has its own religious philosophy, a unique language, holy books and group of prophets, holy teachers and fathers.
The Mandaeans have lived in many regions over a wide geographical setting. Yet, they live mainly in Iraq and Ahwaz ( Southern Iran ). There are Mandaean communities in Europe, America , Australia and other countries. Their number does not exceed 100,000. Despite this little number, they have had an outstanding role in the fields of science, literature and knowledge since the Abassid age.
As with all religions, Mandaeism agrees with other religions on some points of belief and differs with them on others. It is the points of difference that give every religion its own quality.
At times, the Mandaeans have been referred to as a Jewish or Christian sect. However, we must say that Mandaeans are not a Jewish community because we do not follow the Torah's teachings.
And we are not a Christian sect because we do not acknowledge Jesus as god.
I would like to briefly outline some of the key beliefs of Mandaeans:
• The Mandaeans believe in one god, who we call Haii Rabi , which translates to mean THE GREAT LIFE or The GREAT LIVING GOD.
The Mandaeans believe that life on earth is only a part of many lives in the universe.
• The Mandaeans believe there is always conflict or fighting between the good and bad and that the good is represented by the light (Nhora) and the flowing living water (Maia Haii) and that the bad is represented by the dark (Hshokh) and the dead and salty water (Maia Tahmi).
• Mandaeans believe that the two waters are mixed within all things on earth to achieve a balance.
• They believe in next life or a heaven, which we call the WORLDS OF LIGHT.
• The Mandaeans believe that a person consists of body and soul .. and the soul equal to the mind which we call (Mana). We call the soul Neshemtha and it is a part o the great life and this part must return back to the life. The Mandaeans don't believe that there is a perfect good person or perfect bad person. And this, then, creates a full life cycle whereby the soul returns to god (Haii Rabi) who created it and it will get into a body of light and life (Damotha).
However, to reach the Worlds of Light, a person must account for what they did on earth.
• The Mandaeans believe in repeated baptism (Masbuta), which is the key ritual in the Mandaean faith to cleans us of our sins and to save our souls from all earthly bad effects.
• The Mandaeans also believe in knowledge and education about our religion and the universe as the way to reach god. Manda means knowledge in Aramic, and from this comes the name Mandaean.
• Peace is also central to the Mandaean's faith, and the Mandaeans do not believe in using force or violence for any conflict.
• The Mandaeans believe in the great Mandaean Fasting, which means the abstinence from anything that, distorts man's relation with his God and other human beings. And this fasting must continue for ever life.
• The Mandaeans believe that " Adam " realized the existence of Haii through the Mandaean religion and considered to be their first prophet and teacher. Their second prophet was his son " Shetel " (Seth); followed by " Sam " the son of " Noah " and finally " Yahya Yuhana " (or John the Baptist).
• The Mandaeans believe that the life is significant resource of knowledge.
There are different ranks for the Mandaean clergymen, and this depends on his education, completion of certain religious rituals, and being elected by the other clergymen.
The first rank is Rabi. This is a very high rank, chosen by Haii, our god. Rabis are considered as prophet. The last person who reached this rank is John the Baptist more then 2000 years ago.
The second rank is Reshama, which we call the Head of Nation. There is only one person in this position at any time.
The third rank is Ganzbra. This person has a high education in religious matters and can explain and interpret religious texts and occurances. There are currently four Ganzbras worldwide.
Tarmida is an initial rank of the clergyman, and he can perform religious ceremonies such as weddings, but is still building religious knowledge and teachings. Currently there are about 30 Tarmidas worldwide.
Shkanda are assistants to the clergyman and must be present when they are performing important religious rituals.
For me, I never imagined that I would become a Tarmida, as my family did not have religious lineage. But I was deeply interested and inspire in the Mandaean philosophy, traditions and customs of the Mandaean faith.
My becoming a priest is testimony to the fact that both society and religious ideals are changing. Now there are approximately 30 religious priests, mostly youths, who did not have ancestry of the clergy.
Many people within the community believe that Mandaean church should take new steps to survive within its new environments, especially due to social, economic and technological pressures and opportunities in our new homeland. If we work collaboratively there is the opportunity for the Mandaean faith to become stronger.
All the clergymen, and community, recognise that it is now important to hold a conference between the Mandaean Priests worldwide to discuss the issues that have arisen for the community in diaspora and in Iraq and Iran .
I pray to Haii to give us the courage and the motivation to reach these goals. I hope and expect that this conference may happen next year. It has been proposed that the conference be held in Iraq , Sweden or Australia as selected by the priests.
Some of the most important issues that are facing the Mandaean community are:
Firstly: Working to prove and promote the religious and official rights of the Mandaean people in Iraq and Iran .
Mandaean people are not considered in the constitutions of Iraq and Iran and there are no equal opportunities for the community in education, employment and legal representation.
This has led to a system of social persecution and a lack of recognition.
If we can achieve a secular constitution, removed from all religious influence, it will benefit all minority groups in Iraq and Iran , including Mandaeans.
Secondly: Maintaining a unified identity amongst diasporic Mandaean communities who are now spread throughout twelve countries.
Dating back to the Arab invasions of Mesopotamia approximately 1400 years ago; there is a history for Mandaean people to isolate themselves from the mainstream society and to try to avoid the pressures of new cultures, which bought persecution.
Today, for all of the communities in diaspora it is important that we don't follow the pattern of isolation again. We must be open to our new environments and try to build the community from the inside out, in order to integrate with our new homelands.
Thirdly: A return to true Mandaean practices.
Throughout history, Mandaean rituals and practices have become influenced by the pressures of living under Arab and Muslim rule, and as a consequence these practices have inherited rituals of other faiths.
Now that Mandaean communities are removed from this environment we have an opportunity to re-examine our rituals and teachings in order to return to the true spiritual side of the practice
Fourthly: The issue of Conversion.
There are many young Mandaean people who have married a person of another faith for the full variety of reasons that people marry in any culture, and many of these people remain determined to keep their faith and for their children to be considered Mandaean.
After a history of oppression the Mandaean community did isolate itself and it became practice not to permit conversions, and this idea has become adopted as a religious law. However, I feel we must discuss the idea of conversion somehow.
Lastly: the issue of Education.
It is important for both priests and the community to teach Mandaean studies to young people in a way that is attractive, fun and social so that the religion remains relevant to their lives. This is especially important now that youth face new pressures and opportunities in the new environment and culture.
Many Mandaeans throughout the world think that Australia is a suitable place for all of the community to come to rest. For us, Australia is a very suitable country from all aspects of government, environment and social recognition. In particular, the beautiful flowing and clean rivers in Australia are essential to the Mandaean practice of baptism. The democratic system of society also gives us freedom and a respect for our human rights.
In Australia , Mandaeans also receive opportunities to work, and because of the country's multiculturalism, there is the economic opportunity to build facilities and support for the Mandaean people as a whole.
In my eyes, Australia is opening opportunities for us to live in harmony and to give us what we were denied for centuries in our original homeland.
I hope and wish that the Mandaean community will be an active and productive one in our new homeland of Australia .
Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your listening to my speech and I hope that I was useful for all of you. And thank you also for your patient.
Please accept my full respect and my prayers to our Haii Rabi to give a happy and significant life to all of you.