SABIANS, are members of a Gnostic sect with Judaeo-Christian overtones. The name was also applied to a pagan sect in Syria. The Gnostic Sabians ( Mandaeans), a sect of uncertain origin, perhaps dating from the 4th or 5th century a. d., practiced baptism and cleansing of sin by immersion. Their name derives from the Arabic al-Sabiah, which comes from a Semitic stem meaning “to immerse.“
The Sabians (Mandaeans) are mentioned three times in the Koran, which accorded them the toleration guaranteed to the “people of the Book,” notably Christians and Jews. The Sabians, who flourished on the marshy plains near the southern Euphrates River, also became known as the Christians of St. John the Baptist.
Müslim writers confused the Sabians with a pagan community in Harran (ancient Carrhae in northern Syria), which presumably adopted the baptism rite to secure the Koran’s tolerated status. These pseudo-Sabians, who were actually moon worshipers, were overrun by the Mongols in the 13th century. However, a small community of real Sabians has survived, chiefly in Iraq. Under the name of al-Subba, the sect is especially noted for delicate metalwork in Baghdad.