Thursday, April 08, 2010

Iraq's Other Religions

Iraq is the cradle of western civilization.  The Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Chaldeans, and the Assyrians, all emerged from this land between two great rivers.  Abraham migrated from the great city of Ur to Palestine.  Noah is said to have resided there before building the ark.  Eden fits somewhere in the vicinity.  

Iraq has had a significant Christian presence from the earliest days of the church, a presence that has survived despite the fact that Iraq has been ruled by Muslims for 1400 years.  The Christian community is under great pressure, with many leaving the country for Syria or the United States.  But, as a BBC report makes clear, Christians aren't the only religious minority that has come under pressure since the US invasion.  In the chaos that followed the invasion, which erupted in religiously related conflict, many of the religious minorities became targets.

Among those groups are the Yazidi's, an ancient religion, that claims to be the oldest living religion -- claiming connections to Noah.  This is their story, according to BBC correspondent Ed Stoughton:

The Yazidis' main shrine is high in the hills of Iraqi Kurdistan, at a place called Lalish.

It has close associations with the story of Noah. I spotted a serpent sculpted into the wall by the main entrance, and, with all the talk of devil worship in mind, enquired what it meant.

My guide explained that when the Ark sprang a leak, one of the snakes on board coiled its body into a bung to close it up.

The Yazidis claim their religion as the oldest in the world.

Then there are the Mandaeans.  These followers of John the Baptist, who see themselves as close cousins to Christianity, are under even greater threat than the Yazidis, who live in a more sheltered area of Iraq.  There is great concern that this ancient religion will survive, considering that most of its adherents live outside Iraq and there are questions whether those outside Iraq will continue to maintain their traditions.  As the report also notes, this community embraces pacifism.
It is important that we lift up these stories, so that we can understand that these regions aren't religiously monolithic.  There are ancient faiths that we should know about. 

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