Their numbers in Iran are estimated to be 5,000 and 10,000, though no census count exists. Not officially recognized by Iran’s constitution, they lack opportunities afforded by the Shia Muslim majority. The Mandaeans suffer varying degrees of discrimination in education and employment.
Throughout a journey into the Mandaeans' world and everyday lives and practices, this story explores the untold dimensions of being an ethnoreligious minority in Ahvaz, in southwestern Iran.
The Mandaeans believe that natural flowing waters are pure, sacred, and life-giving; despite this, the Karun River, where they practice their religious rituals, is becoming ever more polluted. They baptize in the Karun and imbibe it during religious ceremonies.
The sacred yet sullied river blurs the boundaries of the long-existing dichotomy of the sacredness of religiosity and profanity of contamination, as the Mandaeans are occasionally and arbitrarily labelled as Najis, ritually unclean, by the Muslim community of Ahvaz. This twofold tension between the Mandaeans' imagery of the purity of the Karun River and the Muslim community's image of Mandaeans as ritually unclean, as well as the reality of the pollution of the Karun river, shapes the story.