Texas Means a Better Life for Mandaean Refugees

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Tony Maples Photography


If you’re driving along Highway 29, you may notice a small, white sign which indicates a Mandaean cemetery. Although easy to miss, this cemetery belongs to a relatively new group in Texas. Both a religion and an ethnic group, Mandaeans are scattered around the world and count about 60,000 to their numbers. The Hill Country has become the home of a growing community, partially due to its proximity to flowing rivers and warm climate. These aspects are essential, as baptism is a core aspect of the Mandaean faith, occurring multiple times within a person’s life, at significant moments.

Mandaean is a monotheistic religion that reportedly dates to the first or second century. Followers believe angels taught river-style baptism practices to Adam, the first man. John the Baptist is considered one of their chief prophets. Nonviolence is advocated by the Mandaean faith. Due to persecution in the Middle East, Central Texas has become a haven, especially San Antonio. About 1,200 Mandaeans are estimated to reside here. In the 1990s, over 60,000 Mandaeans lived in Iraq, but by 2007, the number was barely 5,000. Other United States cities where Mandaeans live include Austin, Houston, Amarillo, Boston, and Detroit.

Texas Means a Better Life for Mandaean Refugees

Photo: @julianneng via Twenty20

The San Antonio Mandaean community is gathered around their cultural center for Sunday meetings and weddings. Someday, they would like to own property near a river to minimize travel for baptism ceremonies. Refugees seeking asylum are assisted by Catholic Charities, who help in learning the language and culture of their new home. This area has historically welcomed those fleeing violence; Afghans, Burmese, Congolese, Eritrean, Ethiopians, Somalis, and others also live here. Mandaeans do not accept converts and are not associated with the Muslim religion. Also, Mandaean women do not wear hijabs. Do you have any Mandaean neighbors? How many people in your community are from different religions and backgrounds?