Basam Fazel, the religious leader for the Mandean community living in Texas, prepares for a baptism ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 26. As part of the preparations for the ceremony he asks the river permission to enter it.
Over 1,200 Mandaen refugees live in San Antonio, TX. They are originally from the border area between Iraq and Iran. An ancient community that dates back before the second century, the Mandaeans follow their own set of prophets, including John the Baptist. The Mandaeans living in San Antonio now use the Guadalupe River to perform their baptisms.
Azita Ebad is baptized. The Mandaeans believe they can only perform their baptisms in living water, like a river or spring. In addition to the Guadalupe River, they sometimes perform their ceremonies at Barton Springs, a popular natural swimming pool, in Austin, TX.
Community members watch a baptism in progress. The Mandaeans believe in non-violence and they avoid altering their body, which means some members don't cut their hair. Their minority status has led to centuries of persecution. There were around 60,000 Mandaeans living in Iraq in 2003. Now there are less than 5,000.
The Mandaean community has its own language, shown here. It's closely related to Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. The Mandaeans living in San Antonio are starting regular classes in the language in hopes of passing it down to their children.
Community members pray to the river, asking it to witness the ceremony. The Mandaeans perform baptisms at important milestones in their lives, like birth, and even death. This is five-year-old Elssa Ebad's first baptism.
Community members offer each other holy water to drink. One of the benefits of moving over 1,000 families to the same city is that families were able to stay intact and keep the close social ties they had in Iraq and Iran.
Community members wrap themselves in blankets to keep warm after the baptism is finished. Here, three generations of the same family sit together.
After the baptism, everyone gathers for lunch. Most of the Mandaeans live in the same neighborhood in San Antonio and shop at the local H-E-B. But they still mostly eat their traditional, largely vegetarian dishes.
A local family pulls up next to the baptism site to go for a swim as Shahram Ebadfardzadeh wades toward the baptism site. The Mandaeans are sometimes harassed during their ceremonies by local Texans who assume they are Muslim. This family only stared curiously.