The Marsh Arabs


Iraq.  Shi'a Muslims.  Unevangelized. 

Saddam Hussein.  Tribes.  Poverty


The Marsh Arabs (in Arabic, the Ma‛dan, meaning a dweller in the Adan or Plain).
The Marsh Arabs are a people who for centuries have lived in the South of Iraq (see Map of Iraq) between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (see Genesis 2:14).  They are all Shi'a Muslims. They existed mainly by fishing, tending their water buffalo (on the Marshes), reed matting and growing various crops.


The stately, imposing Mudhif (served as a tribal guest-house) was their distinct signature in the Middle East culture.  Overall their existence was hard.  Given that most of them were illiterate and that the city people tended to regard them with suspicion plus the occasional flooding of the rivers – their main source of livelihood – tended to isolate them in traditions and a way of life that remained largely handed down, unchanged, from their forefathers.


Also, of concern to us – great concern – is not only that there are no known Christians among them, but the Church has sadly overlooked this distinct people group.


 The original Marshes (Haur in Arabic), originally between 15,000 – 20,000 square kilometers. were famous for its flora and fauna.   Hunting wild boar (now extinct) was a steady source of foreign income.


Unfortunately, over time the Marshes became a melting pot of various tribes, Bedouin, fugitives from the law, army escapees and rebels – so that today Marsh Arab ancestry is difficult to trace.  Their ‘family tree’ is more than cosmopolitan  This only added further fuel to the fires of mistrust between the city dwellers and themselves.  For an Arab, lineage is very important.


In1979 Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq.  From 1980 – 1988 Iraq and Iran were locked in a deadly war from which no winner emerged.  The Marsh Arabs fought against Iran (the infamous  Ăyatu'llah Rūhu'llāh Khumayni was President of Iran) where the state religion is also Shi'a! 

In 1990 Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait.  In 1991 the American-led coalition forces expelled Iraqi troops from Kuwait but only after numerous oil wells were set alight – at present Kuwait is pressing Iraq for recompense for war reparations.


During this Gulf War (George Bush senior was president of the U.S.), U.S. planes showered leaflets over Iraq urging the people to topple Saddam Hussein.  This uprising or intifada was brutally crushed by Saddam Hussein – in particular he set out to try and totally destroy the Marsh Arabs and their habitation.  They were slaughtered in their thousands.  Many fled to Iran for safety – to live in makeshift refugee camps – or dug deep into the badly polluted Marshes to escape detention.  Their days had never been more bleak.


In 2003 the coalition forces invaded Iraq.  Slowly the Marsh Arabs returned to either the cities in the South of Iraq or to the slightly restored Marshes.  Then followed years of low-intensity warfare, crime, accusations of interference against countries Iran and Syria…but slowly the tide is turning.  Glimmers of hope are to be discerned in the landscape of a country that has been knee-deep in blood and bone. 


The Marsh Arabs continue to live in abject poverty…their horizon is totally devoid of hope yet the greatest tragedy of all:  there is no known Mission Outreach to them!  They are unreached.


Will you make a difference?

 Missionary Quote:


God’s passion is for the redeeming work of His Son to be proclaimed to all the peoples of the world.  We, as the Church, should be the ones to do it.

Patrick Johnstone.

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