CAMBRIDGE, ONTARIO–It is one of the oldest religions in the world, predating Christianity. Mandaeans see John the Baptist as their greatest teacher and ritual baptisms are a staple of their faith. They speak a dialect of ancient Aramaic and are the only surviving Gnostic faith. Despite their antiquity, the Mandaean religion and people are in danger.
For two millennia, they've lived in Iraq. But since 2003, they've been leaving en masse, fleeing attacks by Islamic extremists who consider them infidels. Prior to the fighting, scholars estimate 60,000 Mandaeans lived in Iraq. Today there are fewer than 5,000. Most have fled to Syria and Jordan, among the nearly two million Iraqi refugees.
There are roughly 1,000 Mandaeans now living in North America, admitted as refugees during Saddam Hussein's reign. They are lobbying Congress to allow their Iraqi relatives to join them in the United States, where they hope to keep the their faith alive. Click the image above to view a video report on a Mandaean gathering in Canada.