Water pollution in Iraq threatens Mandaean religious rites
But unlike in ancient times, the storied river that runs through Baghdad is fouled by untreated sewage and dead carp, which float by in the fast-moving current.
"It's very saddening. Our religious books warn us not to defile the water. There are angels watching over it," said Sheikh Satar Jabar, head of Iraq's Mandaean community.
Iraq's soaring water pollution is threatening the religious rites of its tight-knit Mandaean community, already devastated by 15 years of war that has also affected the country's other minority sects.
Mandaeism follows the teachings of John the Baptist, a saint in both the Christian and Islamic traditions, and its rites revolve around water.
On the eastern bank of the Tigris recently, Jabar watched as a younger cleric blessed congregants in the river, then anointed them with holy oil and gave them a sacrament of bread and water on dry land.
|It's very saddening. Our religious books warn us not to defile the water. There are angels watching over it
- Sheikh Satar Jabar, head of Iraq's Mandaean community
The women, shrouded in white and their hair tucked under headdresses, went into the river first, receiving their blessings in a Mandaean dialect of Jesus's native tongue, Aramaic. Then the ceremony was repeated for the men.
Finally, a one-year-old child, Yuhana, received his first baptism, squirming and sputtering as his father dipped him in.
"When a Mandaean believer commits a sin or wants to ease the worries of life, he comes to the cleric to practice his religious rituals, where he must immerse himself three times in running water," said Jabar.
The faith holds that only flowing water can baptize the faithful, and that it should be clear, pure and fit for human consumption.
|Baghdad's river today is a stew of industrial chemicals, untreated sewage and poisonous agricultural runoff|
Agencies contributed to this report.
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