Not to be confused with the Sabaeans in South Arabia (Sheba) (Arabic: ٱلسَّبَئِيُّوْن as-Sabaʾiyyūn)

Sabian Mandi (place of worship), Nasiriyah, Iraq (2016)
Official Marriage Office, Ahvaz County Court, Dispute Resolution Council, Sabian Branch, Ahvaz, Iran (2015)

The Sabians (Arabic: الصابئة al-Ṣābiʼah or الصابئون al-Ṣābiʼūn) (sometimes also spelled Sabeans or Sabaeans) are a religious group mentioned three times in the Quran as a People of the Book, along with the Jews and the Christians.[1]

Interest in the identity and history of the group increased over time. Discussions and investigations of the Sabians began to appear in later Islamic literature. The criteria for acknowledgement as People of the Book essentially include having a recognized prophet as well as possessing a monotheistic scripture.[2][3]: 5  Scholars such as Daniel Chwolson,[4] Ernest Renan,[5]: 152  Julius Wellhausen,[6][7] Charles G. Häberl,[8][9]: 5 [10] Şinasi Gündüz,[11]: 1, 5  Ethel S. Drower,[12][13]: IX, 111  Brikha Nasoraia,[14] Jorunn J. Buckley,[3]: 5  Kurt Rudolph,[15] Nathaniel Deutsch,[16] James F. McGrath,[17][18] Andrew Phillip Smith,[19] Shak Hanish,[20]: 164  Muhammad Asad,[21] Khazal Al Majidi[22][23] and others identify the Sabians with the Mandaeans.

The Sabians follow the teachings of their prophet Yahya ibn Zakariya (John the Baptizer) and are also often referred to as Sabian-Mandaeans (Arabic: ٱلصَّابِئَة ٱلْمَنْدَائِيُّون aṣ-Ṣābiʾah al-Mandāʾiyūn) and Johannites (Arabic: اليحياويون al-Yaḥyāwiyūn).[24] Baptism is the most important ceremony in the religion and Sabians are often seen baptizing in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq as well as the Karun river in Iran.[25] They are monotheistic with their holy book known as the Ginza Rabba.[12][26]: 1  Sabian prophets include Adam, Seth, Enoch, Shem and John the Baptizer with Adam being the founder of the religion and John being the greatest and final prophet.[14]: 45 [26]: 207 [27]

Mandaeans are recognized as Sabians (Sabeans) in the Iraqi constitution and by fatwā in Iran.[28][29]


According to Charles G. Häberl, "The cognate in Neo-Mandaic is Ṣabi 'to baptize' (Classical Mandaic: ࡑࡁࡀ ṣba) 'baptizer'. To their non-Mandaean neighbours in Iraq and Iran, they are more commonly known as the Ṣābi'ūn, i.e. 'the Sabians‘, or colloquially as the Ṣubba, meaning 'the baptizers'."[10][8][19] This is corroborated by Daniel Chwolson,[4] Muhammad Asad,[21] Kurt Rudolph,[15] James F. McGrath,[17] Andrew Phillip Smith,[19] Khazal Al Majidi[23] and Brikha Nasoraia.[14]: 35 

When relating to a religion, the term "Sabian" can connote one who left his former religion.[30]

Mandaeans are also known as Johannites (Arabic: اليحياويون al-Yaḥyāwiyūn) since they are followers of Yahya ibn Zakariya (John the Baptizer) who is considered their greatest prophet.[24]

In the Quran

The Quran briefly mentions the Sabians in three places, with hadith providing additional details as to who they were:

Indeed, the believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabians—whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day and does good will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.[Quran 2:62]
Indeed, the believers, Jews, Sabians and Christians—whoever truly believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.[Quran 5:69]
Indeed, the believers, Jews, Sabians, Christians, Magi, and the polytheists (who associated others with Allah) [1] [2]—God will judge between them all on Judgment Day. Surely Allah is a Witness over all things.[Quran 22:17]

The Book of Yaḥyā (John the Baptizer) (Arabic: كتاب يحيى, Kitāb Yaḥyā), is a scripture that is mentioned in the Qur'an 19:12. Although some believe that the Book implied here is the Torah, it may actually be in reference to the Book of John or the Ginza Rabba. The Qur'an mentions that wisdom and a Book (Kitāb) was given to the prophet Yaḥyā:

يَا يَحْيَى خُذِ الْكِتَابَ بِقُوَّةٍ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْحُكْمَ صَبِيًّا [Quran 19:12]
O Yahya [John]! take hold of the Book with strength, and We granted him wisdom while yet a child.[Quran 19:12]

Samuel Zinner suggests that the final word in this verse (Arabic: صَبِيًّا Sabiyan) (usually translated as 'child') is phonetically similar in Arabic to Sabian which may change the meaning of the verse to:[31][32]

O Yahya [John]! take hold of the Book with strength, and We granted him the Law (or wisdom) of the Sabians.

Quotes from scholars

At the beginning of the Muslim conquest of Mesopotamia, the leader of the Mandaeans, Anush bar Danqa, appeared before Muslim authorities in c. 640 CE (Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas)[20]: 164  showing them a copy of the Ginza Rabba, the Mandaean holy book, and proclaiming the chief Mandaean prophet to be John the Baptizer, who is also mentioned in the Quran by the name Yahya ibn Zakariya. Consequently, the Muslim caliphates provided them acknowledgement as the Quranic Sabians and People of the Book.[3]: 5 [13]: IX 

Jorunn J. Buckley writes:

Firm historical evidence comes from scribal information in the Mandaean liturgies, which state that in 639–40, at the beginning of the Muslim expansion, the Mandaean “head of the people” and “head of the age,” Anuš, son of Danqa, appears with a delegation of Mandaeans before Muslim authorities. Showing the Muslims the holy Ginza and proclaiming the chief Mandaean prophet to be John the Baptist—who was well regarded by Muslims—the Mandaeans ask for protection. They know that the two criteria of a holy book and a prophet are essential for acknowledgment as a "People of the Book" (ahl al-kitab), that is, a legal minority religion, and they appeal to this. The Mandaeans appear to succeed, for the religion flourishes, with intense scribal activity. Mandaean texts are collected, compared, and consolidated as conscientious leaders among the priestly copyists exert themselves to weed out local variations in ritual texts...[Mandaeans are] [s]till known today as "Sabeans" [Sabians] ("dippers," "dyers," "baptizers," "converts") by their Muslim neighbors.[3]: 5 

Nathaniel Deutsch writes:

In the aftermath of the Muslim conquest, Mandaeans were identified with the Sabians, a "people of the book" ('ahl al-kitab) mentioned three times in the Qur'an. Beginning in the ninth century, however, a pagan group in Mesopotamia known as the Harranians adopted the title Sabians in an effort to gain protection under Islamic law. From this point on, Muslim authorities frequently conflated the Mandaeans with the "Sabians of Harran" and condemned them as star worshipers. Over the centuries this identification has led to periodic persecutions of the Mandaeans. In response, the Mandaeans have vehemently denied the charges of idolatry and defended their status as a protected people.[16]

Shak Hanish writes:

The Mandaeans are called the Sabaeans (Sabians) in Islam, and they are mentioned separately in the Qur'an in three different verses. They are considered believers in One God...However, some Muslims have mistakenly tried to link them with those who worship the stars, and therefore Mandaeans were often persecuted. In the seventh century AD, one of the Mandaeans, named [Anush bar Danqa], negotiated with the Islamic leader Saad ibn Abu Waqqas over his faith. He and his followers were granted protection by paying the special tax, the jizya, as other monotheist Christians and Jews did.[20]: 164 

In The Message Of The Qur'an, Muhammed Asad writes:

The Sabians seem to have been a monotheistic religious group intermediate between Judaism and Christianity. Their name (probably derived from the Aramaic verb tsebha', "he immersed himself [in water]") would indicate that they were followers of John the Baptist - in which case they could be identified with the Mandaeans, a community which to this day is to be found in Iraq. They are not to be confused with the so-called "Sabians of Harran", a gnostic sect which still existed in the early centuries of Islam, and which may have deliberately adopted the name of the true Sabians in order to obtain the advantages accorded by the Muslims to the followers of every monotheistic faith.[21]

Van Bladel includes an account of al-Ḥasan ibn Bahlūl, the earliest known non-Mandaean text to identify them as the Quranic Sabians.

The earliest source to describe their social life, however, is an Arabic work of al-Ḥasan ibn Bahlūl (fl. circa 950–1000), another learned member of the Church of the East. His work is also the earliest to identify the Mandaeans unambiguously as Ṣābians, marking their transition to a status legitimate under Muslim rule. [...] One of the chapters of his Kitāb ad-Dalāʾil presents an extraordinary, detailed, and detached (if not sympathetic) description of sectarian villagers, deriving from the first half of the tenth century, cited from an author whom Ibn Bahlūl names as "Abū ʿAlī" [Ibn Muqla]. The people described in this excerpt are not called Mandaeans, but rather Ṣābians but it will be clear that they were antecedents of the modern Mandaeans. This is, I believe, the single most informative text about Mandaean life and custom written by a non-Mandaean before modern times, and is all the more important in that it derives from circa 900. It has never been discussed before in scholarship on the Mandaeans. I begin with a translation. [...]
Abū ʿAlī—may God have mercy on him—said: They are the ones by whose epithet the Ḥarrānians are called. They are the ones mentioned in the Qurʾān. Their status as ḏimmīs is sound. There is no relationship between them and the Ḥarrānian pagans (ḥunafāʾ), nor is there any point of comparison in any aspect of their religious laws (aššarāʾiʿ). Rather they are distinct from them in every way. A few of them came into my presence in the City of Peace [Baġdād] in the days of my employment as secretary (kitbatī) for Sāra, the daughter of al-Muʿtaḍid billāh [the caliph, r. 892–902]—may God have mercy on him—and my employment as secretary for her mother and for her sister Ṣafīya. I had requested for Sāra’s mother as an administrative land grant (istaqṭaʿtu) [the site of] Bayādir, known as "the Jewish" (al-Yahūdī), in al-Ğāmida [al-Jāmida], and ad-Dūl in aṣ-Ṣalīq, all of whose inhabitants are Ṣābians (Ṣābiʾūn). So I investigated their situation and queried them about it thoroughly. I found that they profess the religion of Seth (Šīṯ) son of Adam, peace be upon him. They say that he is their prophet. They acknowledge John son of Zachariah [Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyāʾ, i.e. John the Baptist].[33]: 47–48 

Al-Biruni in al-Āthār al-bāqiya, p. 206, (c. 1050) writes:

It is said that the Harranians are not the real Sabians, nay they are called ḥanīfs and idol worshippers in the (holy) books. The (real) Sabians are those who stayed behind in Bābil from among the tribes (of Israel) when they (the other tribes) returned to Jerusalem during the days of Kūrush [Cyrus the Great] and Arṭaḥshast [Artaxerxes I of Persia]. They (the ones who stayed behind) inclined towards the laws (sharā'i') of the Magians (al-Majūs) and had a liking towards the religion (dīn) of Bucktnaṣṣar [Nebuchadnezzar]. Thus they have selected a doctrine mixing (mumtazij) Magianism with Judaism like the Samaritans did in Syria.
Most of them live in Wāsiṭ and the countryside (sawād) of Iraq near Ja'far and al-Jāmida and the twin rivers of aṣ-Ṣila. They trace their origin back to Anūsh ibn Shīth and they disagree with the Harranians and criticize their doctrines. They agree with them only in a few things; they even turn their face in prayer towards the North Pole whereas the Harranians turn towards the South.[34][35]

Christopher Buck reflects on Al-Biruni's description of the Sabians:

While al-Biruni does not designate them by any other name than the general category Sabians, the religion described here is clearly that of the Ṣubba or Ṣabba, the more formal self-designation being the Mandai or Mandaeans.

These so-called "Christians of St. John" did (and still do) face the Polar Star as their qibla—the North is the source of light, enlightenment, and healing. This is a heritage from the Babylonians, distinct from both the Zoroastrians and the Harranians, who would turn south. A further point of agreement with al-Biruni’s account regards the tradition of the "founder" of the religion, since Mandaean priests count Anush or "Enoch" as the first priest. The final point of accord touches on origins. In the second passage referred to above, al-Biruni reports of the Sabians: "For the Sabians are the remnant of the Jewish tribes who remained in Babylonia, when the other tribes left it for Jerusalem in the days of Cyrus and Artaxerxes. Those remaining tribes felt themselves attracted to the rites of the Magians, and so they inclined (were inclined, i.e. ṣābi) towards the religion of Nebukadnezzar, and adopted a system mixed up of Magism and Judaism like that of the Samaritans in Syria." In the Mandaean legend of "Nebuchadnezzar’s Daughter” we find a similar report of their origins:

Some of the Jews fled until they reached Babylon. The King Nebuchadnezzar (Bukhtanaṣṣar) said to the rabbis and cohens, "Why did you thus? Why did you kill these people of your own blood without right?" . . . They said, "The Nasurai have a secret doctrine, and that was the reason." The king replied, "I myself, and my following, we will go also and become of their company." He and his wise men left the Kingdom and went to the Mountain of the Mandai . . . and . . . were made Mandai.[36]: 174–175 

Brikha Nasoraia explains:

The Sabians mentioned in the Qur’an are the same people as the Mandaeans, who are in fact, one of the earliest monotheists (and true believers in one God). In later Islamic sources another group of ancient people by the name of Harranians (who lived mainly in Harran, south of Turkey) were confused with the Mandaeans, and this is because they adopted the designation Sabian from the time of Al-Ma'mun. The difficult task has been to distinguish [between] the two groups and not until recently has there been sufficient scholarly evidence to make a case for the difference between Sabian Harranians and the Sabian Mandaeans. However, at the same time, I believe that some Sabian Harranians were actually Sabian Mandaeans who lived in Harran (and many other places including both al-Jazirat, Kutha, Mosul and also south of Iraq / southwest of Iran), who were likewise widely known and successful in the Islamic court and capital of Baghdad.

The term "Sabians" – (in Arabic called Ṣabi'un or Ṣabi'at or, in some local Iraqi dialects as Ṣubba)...refer[ring] to the frequent purification and immersi[on] with (the colour of) living water - is another name for the Mandaeans, usually used by outsiders (especially in Islam), and not a common self-designated name. It is derived from the Aramaic-Mandaic verb ṣba meaning "to baptize" "to dip" "to immerse [in water]." Thus, Sabians are the Baptizers, mean[ing] the ones who baptize themselves with the name of One God and with His bless[ed] holy 'Water of Hiia', the Living One, i.e. God. This is matched with another term by which the Mandaeans are known to outsiders, mughtasilah, designating those who wash or cleanse or baptize themselves in water. However, the term "Sabians" is often confused with a similar word in Arabic, ṣabi'un (plural of ṣabi' [or] ṣabi’i), which means – (according to some [traditional] Arabic dictionaries [not] composed in the very early Islamic periods) –, "to change" or "to convert," often used in the context of "changing one’s religion." In this sense, the term carried a negative association. There are two verbal roots linked with this word. The first is ṣaba'a ("to change" "to convert" "to return"). The second verbal root is ṣaba ("to incline" or "turn over") used by Arabs for a man who had left his religion. Maybe in this way, the pagan Arabs similarly called Muhammad a ṣabi "one who changed his religion." That is to say, "the one who became a Sabian" or "the one whose religion became like the Sabians, who accept and worship only One God, without (respect to) any physical mediator(s), like idols."
The negative connotations of the term was reintroduced in the statements of later Muslim scholars as [a] general designation [for] "pagans and idolaters," in particular to define those who had "changed their religion for another or turned from the religion of prophets to [a] false religion." As such, the Muslims of this later period called all non-Muslims, with the exception of Jews and Christians as Sabians, but this inclination was chiefly meant for the Sabians of Harran or the Harranians in Iraq. There are great religious and cultural differences between the Sabians of Harran (who lived in [the] north of Mesopotamia) and the original monotheistic Sabians, the Sabians of the Bata'ih, al-Mughtasilah, the Mandaeans (who lived in the middle and the south of Mesopotamia, close to the Arabs)...
The Sabian Mandaeans are those who pay the Jezyat (Muslim tax designated [for] the People of the Book - Jews, Christians, Magians and Sabians). Sabian Mandaeans were paying the Jezyat from the early Islamic period and continued to do so to the present day. Al-Qadhi (the judge) Abu Yousof, in his famous book al-Kharaj, which [was] composed during the time of the Caliphate [of] Haroun al-Rasheed...mentioned that the Sabians exist[ed] in many places in Ardh al-Sawad (the land of the laity of Iraq, i.e. the original people of Iraq/ Mesopotamia before Islam, who lived mostly as farmers in the middle and south of Mesopotamia), and al-Jazirat, including Madinat al-Salam (i.e. Baghdad), Basrah and Kufah.
Important evidence has been forwarded by scholars to point out the rightful status of the Sabians in Iraq as a group of people who have a "monotheistic kind of belief-system." Early Islamic sources highlight a special connection between the term sabi', used for the prophet, and his teachings. Since the polytheists used to refer to the prophet that "he has become a Sabian" - accordingly, the Arab pagans knowing full well that the Sabians were monotheists and they clearly connected the teaching of the prophet "with the beliefs of the Sabians who lived in Iraq" especially when the most characteristic aspect of Muhammed’s teaching was the idea of the Unity of God: "there is no God but Allah." In addition, the words (Arabic: صبأ ṣba'a), (Aramaic Mandaic: ṣba or Arabic: صبا) are similar to (Arabic: صبغ [ṣibgh], 'to paint,' 'to baptize'). All of them have a similar meaning including the positive change, i.e. to baptize and to change to a pure and monotheistic status. This status is "al-Ṣibghat (of Abraham)" (Arabic: صبغة أبراهيم). The origin of Sabian is not from the Arabic: صبأ ṣba'a but it is from the Aramaic Mandaic ṣba (to baptize, to immerse and purify in the water). The most recent linguistic Arabic and Qur'anic studies proved this and prefer to go in this direction.
Therefore, not all Sabian Harranians are pagans and idolaters. In fact, many of them were Sabian Mandaeans who remained in Harran and neighbouring areas when the majority of the Sabian Mandaean community migrated towards the middle and south of Mesopotamia in the first and second century [of the] Common Era. The connection between the two groups continued until the first destruction of Harran (932 C.E.). Scholars generally acknowledge the prominence of Sabian Harranians as the well-reputed scholars and translators of Islamic Mesopotamia. However, this is not entirely true. When the Muslims occupied Mesopotamia, many Sabian Mandaeans moved to the main cities (Baghdad, Kutha, Basra, Tib) during the Abbasid period, becoming renowned as great scholars of the court. For example Ibrahim, (Abu Ishaq al-sabi) (309 A.H.) and his relative Thābit ibn Qurra (365 A.H. or 369 A.H.), and their families, were both prominent Sabian Mandaean scholars in Baghdad. We know they were Mandaean based on an observation of their genealogy and also the nature of their works.

The Sabians who are mentioned in the Qur'an and the Muslim sources were in fact the Sabian Mandaeans who continue to the present day under the title of the People of the Book in Iraq and Iran.[14]: 34–39 

In later sources

Other classical Arabic sources include the Fihrist of ibn al-Nadim (c. 987), who mentions the Mogtasilah ("Mughtasila", or "self-ablutionists"), a sect of Sabians in southern Mesopotamia who are identified with the Mandaeans or Elcesaites.[37][14]: 35 [38]

According to Abu Yusuf Absha al-Qadi, Caliph al-Ma'mun of Baghdad in 830 CE stood with his army at the gates of Harran and questioned the Harranian Hermeticists about what protected religion they belonged to. As they were neither Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Magian, the caliph told them they were non-believers. He said they would have to become Muslims, or adherents of one of the other religions recognized by the Quran by the time he returned from his campaign against the Byzantines or he would kill them.[39]: 26  The Harranians consulted with a lawyer, who suggested that they find their answer in the Quran II.59, which said that Sabians were tolerated. It was unknown what the sacred text intended by "Sabian" and so they took the name.[39]: 26–27 

The pagan (Hermeticist) people of Harran identified themselves with the Sabians in order to fall under the protection of Islam.[40]: 5 [13]: 111–113  Sabians were mentioned in the Qur'an, but they were the group that descended from Noah and followed John the Baptizer known as the Mandaeans (a Gnostic religion).[13]: 111–113 [40]: 5  The Harranians may have identified themselves as Sabians in order to retain their religious beliefs.[40]: 5  These newly dubbed Harranian Sabians acknowledged Hermes Trismegistus as their prophet and the Hermetica as their sacred text, being a group of Hermeticists. Validation of Hermes as a prophet comes from his identification as Idris (i.e. Enoch) in the Quran (19.57 and 21.85).[39]: 27 

However, this account of the Harranian Sabians does not fit with the existence of earlier records making reference to Sabians in Harran. Usamah ibn Ayd, writing before 770 CE (his year of death), already referred to a city of Sabians in the region where Harran lies.[41] The jurist Abu Hanifa, who died in 767 CE, is recorded to have discussed the legal status of Harranian Sabians with two of his disciples proving that Sabians existed in Harran before the pagan Harranians dubbed themselves as Sabians.[42] Not all the Sabians in Harran were Hermeticists or polytheistic pagans, star worshippers and idolaters. Likely, some of them were the monotheistic Sabian-Mandaeans.[14]: 38 

The Sabian-Mandaeans played a vital role in Baghdad and in the rest of the Arab world during the Abbasid caliphate; serving as great scholars and a source of science as well as shaping intellectual life and were likely part of the Sabians in Harran. The most prominent of the Sabian-Mandaeans was Thābit ibn Qurra (Thebit), but there were others as well such as Abu Is'haq Al-Sabi'.[14]: 39 [13]: 111  Drower names other famous Sabian-Mandaean scholars and physicians such as Abu'l-Fath Al-Mandāi (i.e. 'the Mandaean'), Ibrahim ibn Zahrūn Al-Harrani and Hilal ibn Ibrahim ibn Zahrūn Al-Sābi Al-Harrani (Zahrūn is a favoured Mandaean name).[13]: 112  Maʿrūf al-Karkhi and Abu al-Fatḥ al-Wāṣiṭi are believed to have Sabian-Mandaean origins.[43]: 401  Jabir ibn Hayyan[44]: 95 [45]: 233 [46] and Al-Battani[47]: 317 [48] are also mentioned to be originally Sabians from Harran and may have been Sabian-Mandaeans.

In Baháʼí writings

The Sabians are also mentioned in the literature of the Baháʼí Faith. These references are generally brief, describing two groups of Sabians: those "who worship idols in the name of the stars, who believed their religion derived from Seth and Idris" (Harranian Hermeticists), and others "who believed in the son of Zechariah (John the Baptizer) and didn't accept the advent of the son of Mary (Jesus Christ)" (Mandaeans).[note 1] 'Abdu'l-Bahá briefly describes Seth as one of the "sons of Adam".[49] Bahá'u'lláh in a Tablet identifies Idris with Hermes Trismegistus.[50] He does not, however, specifically name Idris as the prophet of the Sabians. Sometimes referred to as Sabeans, this religious group has been mentioned in the Baha’i Faith among the many early religions of the previous dispensations. In the Baha’i Writing, Secrets of Divine Civilization by `Abdu’l-Bahá’ the Sabeans are attributed with possibly being the source of contributing some foundations to the science of logic.[51]

Modern identification

Daniel Chwolson

According to Daniel Chwolson's Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus (1856), Chwolson differentiates between the pagan pseudo-Sabians of Harran with the real Sabians which he identifies as the Mandaeans of the marshes of Iraq. The Caliph Mamun asked the pagan Harranians (Hermeticists) to choose a recognized religion, become Muslim or die. They subsequently identified themselves with the Sabians. Chwolson also connected the Elcesaites with the Mandaeans and with the Essenes.[4][13]: 98, 111 

Nicolas Siouffi

The Syriac Christian,[52][53] and later French Vice-Consul at Mosul, Nicolas Siouffi in his Études sur la religion des Soubbas ou Sabéens, leurs dogmes, leurs moeurs (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1880) claimed to have identified 4,000 Sabians in the Mandaean population. Siouffi's work was well received by the Theosophist G. R. S. Mead.[54]

Sir Austen Henry Layard

Austen Henry Layard mentions in his travel diary[55] meeting a "travelling silversmith" who was "Sabaean or Christian of St. John [the Baptist]". He estimated around 300 to 400 families to live in Shushtar and Basra at the time. He also mentioned Sabians (spelled by Layard as Sabaeans) to be under oppression from Turkish and Persian authorities.[55]

Sabians today

Due to their faith, pacifism and lack of tribal ties, Sabians or Sabian-Mandaeans have been vulnerable to violence since the 2003 Iraq war and numbered fewer than 5,000 in 2007. Before 2003, the highest concentrations of Sabian-Mandaeans were in Amarah, Nasiriyah and Basra. Besides these southern regions and Ahvaz in Iran, large numbers of Sabian-Mandaeans were found in Baghdad, giving them easy access to the Tigris River. Today, they primarily live around Baghdad, where the high priest resides who conducts services and baptisms. Some have moved from Baghdad to Kurdistan where it is safer.[25]

The Mandaeans are recognized as Sabians (Sabeans) in the Iraqi constitution (Article 2(2))[28] and also recognized in Iran in the following fatwā numbered (S 322) in Persian and (Q 321) in the English translation:

س 322. تعداد زیادی از مردم در خوزستان زندگی می کنند که خود را «صابئه» می نامند و ادعای پیروی از پیامبر خدا حضرت یحیی(ع) را دارند و می گویند کتاب او نزد ما موجود است. نزد علمای ادیان ثابت شده که آن ها همان صابئون هستند که در قرآن آمده است. لطفاً بیان فرمایید که این گروه از اهل کتاب هستند یا خیر؟
ج. گروه مذکور در حکم اهل کتاب هستند.[56]

Translation of the Persian original:
S 322. There are a large number of people living in Khuzestan who call themselves Ṣābiʼah and who claim to follow God's holy Prophet Yahya (a.s.) and say that his book is available to us. According to religious scholars, it has been proven that they are the Sabeans mentioned in the Qur'an. Please state whether this group is from people of the book or not?
J: The mentioned group are people of the book.

Official English translation:
Q 321: There live a large number of people in Khuzestan who call themselves Sabeans and claim that they are the followers of Prophet John [Yaḥyā] (a.s.) and that they possess his scripture. It has also been established for the religious scholars that they are the Sabeans mentioned in the Qur’an. Please explain whether they are among the People of the Book.

A: The rule of the People of the Book is applicable to this group.[29]

Fatwā S 316 (or Q 315 in English) also discusses the Sabeans of the Qur'an:

س 316: مقصود از اهل کتاب چه کسانى است؟ معيارى که حدود معاشرت با آنها را مشخص کند چيست؟

ج: مقصود از اهل کتاب هر کسى است که اعتقاد به يکى از اديان الهى داشته و خود را از پيروان پيامبرى از پيامبران الهى(على نبينا وآله وعليهم‌السلام) بداند و يکى از کتاب‏هاى الهى را که بر انبياء عليهم السلام نازل شده، داشته [56]باشند مانند يهود، نصارى، زرتشتى‏ها و همچنين صابئين که بر اساس تحقيقات ما از اهل کتاب هستند و حکم آنها را دارند. معاشرت با پيروان اين اديان با رعايت ضوابط و اخلاق اسلامى اشکال ندارد.

Q 315: What are the religions whose followers are considered the People of the Book? What is the criterion for defining the limits of social relations with them?

A: By the People of the Book is meant all those who profess a divine religion and consider themselves the followers of one of the prophets of Allah, the Glorious and the Exalted (may peace be upon our Prophet and his progeny and upon them) and who possess a heavenly scripture from those revealed to the Prophets (a.), such as the Jews, the Christians, the Zoroastrians and similarly the Sabeans who, on the basis of our research, are among the People of the Book. Therefore, the rule of the People of the Book applies to the followers of these religions, and there is no objection to associating with them socially, while observing Islamic laws and morals.[29]


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