There are about 260 Mandaean Iraqi refugees living in Worcester, most coming within the past five to eight years, but while they call the city home, there is something missing. Actually, there are many things missing. A community of people the Mandaeans may be, but they are finding it difficult to assimilate themselves. From conducting baptisms, as is their custom, to filling out the proper tax exemption forms – community leaders here are asking for help in truly making Worcester their home.

“When we arrived here, they told us you are a free people in a free country,” says Saffaa Mhawi, who runs an organization called Haimnotha, or “the faith,” out of a small office they use for free at Central Las Americas on Sycamore Street. “We want to [do] our baptisms, our ceremonies, everything. We want to do it here.”

Read More


BOSTON (AP) — Refugee activists are developing plans to build a Mandaean cultural center somewhere in Massachusetts so the increasing number of Iraqi Mandaeans settling in the area can try to preserve their rapidly disappearing two-millennia-old religion.

Mandaean doctor Wisam Breegi said activists hope to raise $2.5 million for a cultural center in Boston or Worcester to offer job training to Mandaean refugees and teach Mandaean religion to refugee children.

Mandaeanism is a tiny, ancient religion that views John the Baptist as its great teacher. Around 60,000 Mandaeans remain in the world after fleeing Iraqi and Iran because of persecution.

Breegi said a center could attract one of the world’s two dozen remaining Mandaean priests to Massachusetts, where more than 100 families have resettled, making the state home to one of the largest Mandaean settlements in the United States.

“We’re getting to be diluted and we’re going to lose our identity if we don’t do something,” said Breegi, who has helped hundreds of refugees resettle in Massachusetts and is leading efforts to create a center. “It will probably take a long time, but I think we can do this.”

So far, organizers are in the early stages of an effort to raise funds for a planned center that will be used to expose Mandaean religion to youth and teach Mandaean adults modern jewelry techniques, as many Mandaeans were jewelers back in Iraq.

Breegi said organizers are looking at a number of potential sites located beside a running body of water — a requirement for a Mandaean house of worship.

By Russell Contreras. Associated Press / July 25, 2009

WORCESTER – Suha Abdula walks through the streets of her new country, acutely aware that no one notices her.

Silent are the voices that called her dirty in her native Iraq. Gone are the fingers that pointed and threatened as she passed. Absent are the bombs that destroyed her husband’s store – all because she and her family practice Mandaeanism, an ancient religion that views John the Baptist as its great teacher.

Here, in the quiet of this Central Massachusetts city, Abdula and 150 others have formed the largest Iraqi Mandaean refugee settlement in the United States. Here, they are not infidels, not subject to forced conversions, rape, or even murder by Islamic extremists.

“Now I can breathe,’’ says Abdula, 36. “It’s so peaceful.’’

Yet in her freedom comes a newfound fear: If no cares we’re here, who will care if we disappear?

That is the struggle across the globe for Mandaeans, whose ranks are fading quickly. Away from the land they had called home for more than two millennia, and without a permanent priest or proper place of worship for the next generation, the refugees worry their tiny, ancient religion is facing extinction.

“We’re saving the people but killing the faith,’’ said Wisam Breegi, a Mandaean doctor and US citizen who has helped bring dozens of Mandaean refugees to Massachusetts. “But right now we’re in survival mode.’’

Read More