Other Religions and Sects

Mandaeans (Sabians)

Mandaeans practice the only surviving Gnostic religion. They are approximately 50,000 in number and have lived in the borderland area of Southern Iraq and Iran since the 1st century AD. They speak Mandaic, a language related to Aramaic. Mandaeans believe that Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad were false prophets; instead they acknowledge John the Baptist, whom they see as one of their greatest teachers and believe Adam to be the first Mandaean.

They have a hierarchical clergy, practice frequent baptism, wear white and hold public worship on Sundays. They abhor fasting and monasticism. There are many Mandaean scriptures, the most important being the Ginza Rba, a collection of history, theology and prayers. Their places of worship have a wooden cross draped with a folded cloth. Many have had to flee the Middle East in recent years, because of oppression. This has worsened since Saddam Hussein’s fall, because of increasing Islamic fundamentalism.

Yezidis (Yazidis)

Yezidis are adherents of a small Middle Eastern religion with ancient origins. They are primarily ethnic Kurds, and most live near Mosul, Iraq with smaller communities in Syria, Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Armenia, and are estimated to be half a million in size. It is believed to be the original religion of the Kurds.

Yezidis have often been wrongly labeled as devil-worshippers for centuries. The Yazidi faith contains elements of Zoroastrianism, Manicheism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Gnostic and local pre-Islamic beliefs. The Yazidi holy books are the Book of Revelation and the Black Book and they believe themselves to be descended from Adam. The twice-daily prayer services must not be performed in the presence of outsiders, and are always performed in the direction of the sun. Yazidis believe in God, but his role stops there. The active forces in their religion are Malak Ta’us and Sheik Adii. According to Yazidis, Malak Ta’us is a fallen peacock angel who repented and recreated the world that had been broken. He filled seven jars with his tears and used them to quench the fire in Hell. The most important ritual is the annual six-day pilgrimage to the tomb of Sheikh Adii in Lalish, north of Mosul. During the celebration, Yazidi bathe in the river, wash figures of Malak Ta’us and light hundreds of lamps in the tombs of Sheikh Adii and other saints and sacrifice an ox.

Yazidis don’t intermarry even with other Kurds, accept converts or enter temples possessed by the others. But they have developed a special relationship with Muslim Kurds. When a Yezidi family circumcises their child, they invite a Muslim Kurd for the child to be operated on that Muslim’s knees. This event starts a life-long relationship. In Kurd culture, this relationship is often more important than those with close relatives.

Zoroastrians

Zoroastrians of Iran have survived centuries of persecution. Communities exist in Tehran, as well as in Yazd and Kerman, where many still speak an Iranian language, called Dari, that is distinct from Persian. Zoroastrianism is known as the first monotheistic faith. In fact, UNESCO declared 2003 a year to celebrate the "3000th Anniversary of Zoroastrian Culture," with special events held throughout the world. Zoroastrianism was the favored religion of the two great dynasties of ancient Persia, the Achaemenids and Sassanids. The size of the Iranian Zoroastrian community is unknown, because of Iran’s theocracy that suppresses them.

Central to Zoroastrianism, which began in Persia, is the world's constant struggle between Good (Supreme God Ahura Mazda) and Evil. (Evil Spirit Angra Mainyu) Zoroastrianism had a large influence on Judaism, Mithraism, Manichaeism, Islam and Christianity. Zoroastrians beliefs include: equality of the sexes, hard work and charity, no intermarriage or recruitment, importance cleanliness of the environment, the symbol of fire (much like the cross in Christianity) and a condemnation of oppression toward human beings.

Zikris

The Zikri faith is a Messianic Islamic sect that is based around the teachings of Nur Pak, who lived in the 1400s in Baluchstan, or southwestern Pakistan. He claimed to be the Mahdi (which is akin to a Messiah in Christianity) and is seen by Zikris as a prophet. The name Zikri comes from the Arabic word zikr, which means ‘remembering the Almighty.’ This reflects Zikri worship, which centers on the repeated recitation of Islamic credos. Zikris don’t perform the five daily prayers (Salah) or the Hajj to Mecca. Instead, they have their own pilgrimage, to a local shrine of Koh-e-Murad, in the Baluchi city of Turbat that is done on the twenty seventh night of Ramadan.

Most Zikris live in Baluchistan (practically all 750,000 are ethnic Baluchis) and tend to vote for secular parties in elections. Zikris have faced persecution from other Muslims, but this usually occurs in areas where they are a minority such as Iran or the city of Karachi. Although, in 1987, almost of all the Islamic religious demanded for a proclamation by the government to declare Zikris as non-Muslims. That Ramadan, they gathered in Turbat and tried to stop Zikris from performing their rituals.

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