Yazidism

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Malak Ta’us, the peacock angel

The Yazidi or Yezidi (Kurdish language: Êzidîtî or Êzidî) (Arabic,يزيدي or ايزيدي) are adherents of a pre-Islamic Middle Eastern religion with ancient origins. The Yazidi belong to the smallest of the three branches of Yazdânism. The other branches of Yazdânism, Alevism and Yarsanism, differ from Yazidism by recognizing the Shiite practice of taqiyya (dissimulation). The three branches are geographically split and mutual contacts are rare.

The denomination drew international attention in 2007 when news outlets carried cellphone video footage of the stoning murder of Du’a Khalil Aswad, a 17-year-old Yazidi girl whose boyfriend was not of the faith.[1]

Yazidis are primarily ethnic Kurds, and most live near Mosul, Iraq with smaller communities in Armenia (some 40,000 according to 2001 census), Georgia (country), Iran, Russia (31,273 as per 2002 census), Syria, and Turkey. They number around 500,000 individuals in total, but estimates vary on their population size, partially due to the Yazidi tradition of secrecy when asked about one's religious beliefs. Yazidi refugees also live in Europe and the United States.[2]

Origins

The origins of Yazidism are ultimately shrouded in Middle Eastern prehistory. Although the Yazidis speak Kurdish language, their religion shows strong influence from archaic Levantine and Islamic religions. Their principal holy site is in Mosul, Iraq. The Yazidis' own name for themselves is Êzidî or Êzîdî or, in some areas, Dasinî (the last, strictly speaking, a tribal name). Some scholars have derived the name Yazidi from Old Iranic yazata (divine being), while others say it is a derivation from Umayyad Caliph Yazid I (Yazid bin Muawiyah), revered by the Yazidis as an incarnation of the divine figure Sultan Ezi (this is no longer widely accepted). Yazidis, themselves, believe that their name is derived from the word Yezdan or Êzid meaning God; however in ancient vernaculars of Kurdistan such as Urartian_language the term 'izid-u' (vb.) means 'command' or 'admonish'. The Yazidis' cultural practices are observably Kurdish language, and almost all speak Kurmanjî (Northern Kurdish), with the exception of the villages of Baiqa and Bahazane in Northern Iraq, where Arabic is spoken. Kurmanjî is the language of almost all the orally transmitted religious traditions of the Yazidis. Thus, religious origins are somewhat complex.

The religion of the Yazidis is a highly syncretistic one: Sufi influence and imagery can be seen in their religious vocabulary, especially in the terminology of their esoteric literature, but much of the mythology is non-Islamic, and their cosmogonies apparently have many points in common with those of ancient Persian religions. Early writers attempted to describe Yazidi origins, broadly speaking, in terms of Islam, or Persian, or sometimes even paganism religions; however, publications since the 1990s have shown such an approach to be over-simplistic.[1]

The origin of the Yazidi religion is now usually seen by scholars as a complex process of syncretism, whereby the belief-system and practices of a local faith had a profound influence on the religiosity of adherents of the Adawiyya Sufi order living in the Kurdish mountains, and caused it to deviate from Islamic norms relatively soon after the death of its founder, Sheikh Adi ibn Mustafa who is said to be of Umayyad descent. He settled in the valley of Laliş (some thirty-six miles north-east of Mosul) in the early 12th century AD. Shaeikh Adî himself, a figure of undoubted orthodoxy, enjoyed widespread influence. He died in 1162, and his tomb at Lalish is a focal point of Yazidi pilgrimage. During the fourteenth century, important Kurdish tribes whose sphere of influence stretched well into what is now Turkey (including, for a period, the rulers of the principality of Jazira) are cited in historical sources as Yazidi.

Religious beliefs

In the Yazidi worldview, God created the world, which is now in the care of a Heptad of seven Holy Beings, often known as Angels or heft sirr (the Seven Mysteries). Pre-eminent among these is Melek Taus (Tawûsê Melek in Kurdish language), the Peacock Angel, who is equated with Satan or Devil by some Muslims and Christians. According to the Encyclopedia of the Orient, "The reason for the Yazidis reputation of being devil worshipers, is connected to the other name of Melek Taus, Shaytan, the same name as the Qur'an's for Satan."[2] However, according to the Kurdish linguist Jamal Nebez, the word Taus is most probably derived from the Greek language and is related to the words Zeus and Theos, alluding to the meaning of God. Accordingly, Malak Ta'us is God's Angel, and this is how Yezidis themselves see Melek Taus or Taus-e-Malak ([3], page 21).

Yazidis believe that Melek Ta’us is not a source of evil or wickedness. They consider him as the leader of the archangels, not a fallen angel. Also they say that the source of evil is in the heart and spirit of humans themselves, not in Melek Ta’us. The active forces in their religion are Melek Ta’us and Sheik Adî. The Kitêba Cilwe (Book of Illumination) which claims to be the words of Melek Ta’us, and which presumably represents Yazidi belief, states that he allocates responsibilities, blessings and misfortunes as he sees fit and that it is not for the race of Adam to question him. Sheikh Adî believed that the spirit of Melek Ta’us is the same as his own, perhaps as a re-incarnation. He is believed to have said : "I was present when Adam was living in Paradise, and also when Nimrod (king) threw Abraham in fire. I was present when God said to me: (You are the ruler and Lord on the Earth). God, the compassionate, gave me seven earths and throne of the heaven."

Yazidi accounts of creation (theology) differ from that of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They believe that God first created Melek Ta’us from his own illumination (Ronahî in Kurdish) and the other six archangels were created later on. God ordered Melek Ta’us not to bow to other beings. Then God created the other archangels and ordered them to bring him dust (Ax) from the Earth (Erd) and build the body of Adam. Then God gave life to Adam from his own breath and instructed all archangels to bow to Adam. All archangels obeyed except Melek Ta’us. As God inquired, Malak Ta’us replied, "How can I submit to another being! I am from your illumination while Adam is made of dust." Then God praised him and made him the leader of all angels and his deputy on the Earth. Hence the Yazidis believe that Melek Ta’us is the representative of God on the face of the Earth, and comes down to the Earth on the first Wednesday of Nisan (March/April). Yezidis celebrate this day as the New Year's day. God created Melek Ta’us from his illumination (Ronahî ) on this day. Yazidis argue that the order to bow to Adam was only a test for Melek Ta’us, since if God says something then it happens (Bibe, dibe). In other words, God could have made him submit to Adam, but gave Ta’us the choice as a test. They believe that their respect and praise for Melek Ta’us is a way to acknowledge his majestic and sublime nature. This idea is called "Knowledge of the Sublime" (Zanista Ciwaniyê ). Sheikh Adî has observed the story of Melek Ta’us and believed in him.[4]

One of the key creationism beliefs of Yazidism is that all Yazidis are descendants of Adam rather than Eve.

Yazidis believe that good and evil both exist in the mind and spirit of human beings. It depends on the humans, themselves, which one they choose. In this process, their devotion to Melek Ta’us is essential, since it was he who was given the same choice between good and evil by God, and chose the good.

Yazidis, who have much in common with the followers of Ahl-e Haqq (in western Iran), state that the world created by God was at first a pearl. It remained in this very small and enclosed state for some time (often a magic number such as forty or forty thousand years) before being remade in its current state. During this period the Heptad were called into existence, God made a covenant with them and entrusted the world to them. Besides Melek Ta’us, members of the Heptad (the Seven), who were called into existence by God at the beginning of all things, include Sheikh Adî, his companion Shaikh Hasan, and a group known as the four Mysteries, Shamsadin, Fakhradin, Sajadin and Naserdin. The Yazidi holy books are the Kitêba Cilwe (Yazidi Book of Revelation) and the Mishefa Reş (Yazidi Black Book).

Two key and interrelated features of Yazidism are: a) a preoccupation with religious purity and b) a belief in metempsychosis. The first of these is expressed in the system of caste, the food laws, the traditional preferences for living in Yazidi communities, and the variety of taboos governing many aspects of life. The second is crucial; Yazidis traditionally believe that the Seven Holy Beings are periodically reincarnated in human form, called a koasasa.

A belief in the reincarnation of lesser Yazidi souls also exists. Like the Ahl-e Haqq, the Yazidis use the metaphor of a change of garment to describe the process, which they call kiras guhorîn in Kurdish (changing the garment). Alongside this, Yazidi mythology also includes descriptions of heaven and hell, and other traditions incorporating these ideas into a belief-system that includes reincarnation.

Organization

Yazidi society is hierarchical. The secular leader is a hereditary emir or prince, whereas a chief sheikh heads the religious hierarchy. The Yazidi are strictly Endogamy. In addition, members of the three Yazidi castes, the murids, sheikhs and Islam Pirs, marry only within their group.

Religious practices

Prayers

Yazidis have five daily prayers: Nivêja berîspêdê (Dawn Prayer), Nivêja rojhilatinê (Sunrise Prayer), Nivêja nîvro (Noon Prayer), Nivêja êvarî (Afternoon Prayer), Nivêja rojavabûnê (Sunset Prayer) [5]. The worshipers should turn their face toward the sun, and for the noon prayer, they should face toward Laliş. Such prayer should be accompanied by certain gestures, including kissing the rounded neck (gerîvan) of the sacred shirt (kiras). The daily prayer services must not be performed in the presence of outsiders, and are always performed in the direction of the sun. Wednesday is the holy day but Saturday is the day of rest. There is also a three-day feast in December.

It has been claimed [citation needed] the Chermera temple shrine is tied to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They believe God sent Azaziel or Al-Malek Al-Tawwus, known as the Peacock angel as well as chief of all angels, to move the stone that blocked Jesus' grave and that the angel stayed at the site of the temple.

Pilgrimage

File:Lalish.jpg
Tomb of sheik Adi in Lalish

The most important ritual is the annual six-day pilgrimage to the tomb of Sheikh Adi in Lalish, north of Mosul, Iraq. A sacred microcosm of the world, as it were, it contains not only many shrines dedicated to the koasasa, but a number of other landmarks corresponding to other sites or symbols of significance in other faiths, including Pirra selat (Serat Bridge) and a mountain called Mt. Arafat. The two sacred springs are called Zamzam and Kaniya sipî (The White Spring). If possible, Yazidis make at least one pilgrimage to Lalish during their lifetime, and those living in the region try to attend at least once a year for the autumn Feast of the Assembly which is celebrated from 23rd of Elul to 1st of Tishrei (September). During the celebration, Yazidi bathe in the river, wash figures of Malak Ta’us and light hundreds of lamps in the tombs of Sheikh Adî and other saints. They also sacrifice an ox, which in addition to the presence of the dog and serpent in their iconography compile the reasons they have been connected to Mithraism. The sacrifice of the ox is meant to declare the arrival of Fall and to ask for precipitation during winter in order to bring back life to the Earth in the next Spring. Moreover, in astrology, the ox is the symbol of Tishrei.

Festivals

The Yazidi New Year falls in Spring (somewhat later than Equinox). There is some lamentation by women in the cemeteries, to the accompaniment of the music of the Qewals, but the festival is generally characterized by joyous events: the music of dehol (drum) and zorna (shawm), communal dancing and meals, the decorating of eggs. Similarly the village Tawaf, a festival held in the spring in honor of the patron of the local shrine, has secular music, dance and meals in addition to the performance of sacred music. Another important festival is the Tawusgeran (circulation of the peacock) where Qewals and other religious dignitaries visit Yazidi villages, bringing the senjaq, sacred images representing the peacock and associated with Malak Ta’us. These are venerated, taxes are collected from the pious, sermons are preached, and holy water distributed. The greatest festival of the year for ordinary Yazidis is the Cejna Cemaiya (Feast of the Assembly) at Lalish, a seven-day occasion. A focus of widespread pilgrimage, this is an important time for social contact and affirmation of identity. The religious center of the event is the belief in an annual gathering of the Heptad in the holy place at this time. Rituals practiced include the sacrifice of a bull at the shrine of Shaikh Shams and the practice of sema.

Purity and taboos

The Yazidis' concern with religious purity, and their reluctance to mix elements perceived to be incompatible, is shown not only in their caste system, but also in various taboos affecting everyday life. Some of these, such as those on exogamy or on insulting or offending men of religion, are widely respected. Others, such as the prohibition of eating lettuce or wearing the color blue, are often ignored when men of religion are not present. Others still are less widely known and may be localized. The purity of the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, is protected by a number of taboos–against spitting on earth, water, or fire, for instance. Spitting on the ground, or pouring hot water on the ground, is discouraged by some Yezidi, because they believe that spirits or souls that may be present would be harmed or offended by such actions, if they happen to be hit by the discarded liquid. These may also reflect ancient Iranian preoccupations, as apparently do the taboos concerning bodily refuse, hair, and menstrual blood. Too much contact with non-Yazidis is also polluting. In the past Yazidis avoided military service which would have led them to live among Muslims, and were forbidden to share such items as cups or razors with outsiders. Auditory resemblance may lie behind the taboo against eating lettuce, whose name koas resembles Kurdish pronunciations of koasasa. Additionally, lettuce grown near Mosul is thought by some Yezidi to be fertilized with human waste, which may contribute to the idea that it is unsuitable for consumption.

Customs

Yazidi are dominantly monogamous but chiefs may have more than one wife. Children are baptism at birth and circumcision is common but not required. Dead are buried in conical tombs immediately after death and buried with hands crossed.

Yazidi are exclusive; clans do not interreligious marriage even with other Kurds and accept no converts. They claim that they are descended only from Adam. The strongest punishment is expulsion, which is also effectively excommunication because the soul of the exiled is forfeit.

As a demiurge figure, Malak Ta’us is often identified by orthodox Muslims as a Shaitan, a Muslim term denoting a devil or demon who deceives true believers. In Islam, a common deception by shaytan is to assign partners to Allah. Thus, the Yazidi have been accused of devil worship. Because of this and due to their pre-Islamic beliefs, they have been oppressed by their Muslim neighbors. Such oppression of Yezidis was exceptionally harsh during the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

Myths

The tale of the Yazidis' origin found in the Black Book gives them a distinctive ancestry and expresses their feeling of difference from other races. Before the roles of the sexes were determined, Adam and Eve quarreled about which of them provided the creative element in the begetting of children. Each stored their seed in a jar which was then sealed. When Eve's was opened it was full of insects and other unpleasant creatures, but inside Adam's jar was a beautiful boy-child. This lovely child, known as son of Jar grew up to marry a houri and became the ancestor of the Yazidis. Therefore, the Yazidi are regarded as descending from Adam alone, while other humans are descendants of both Adam and Eve.

Recent history

It is alleged by some that during the regime of Saddam Hussein, Yazidis were considered to be Arabs and maneuvered to oppose the Kurds, in order to tilt the ethnic balance in northern Iraq [citation needed] , but this cannot be entirely substantiated. It is known, however, that the Yazidi's unique identity, despite being culturally Kurdish, was in fact used by the Baath Party regime to isolate one from the other. However, both groups fought against Baathist troops, often in joint Peshmerga units. Since the 2003 occupation of Iraq, the Kurds want the Yazidi to be recognized as ethnic Kurds to increase their numbers and influence.

File:Yeziditemple.JPG
The Chermera temple (meaning “40 Men” in the Yezidi dialect) on the highest peak on the Sinjar mountains in northern Iraq. The temple is so old that no one remembers how it came to have that name but it is believed to derive from the burial of 40 men on the mountain-top site.

Historically, the Yazidis are a religious minority of the Kurds. Purportedly, they have existed since 2000 BCE. Estimates of the number of Yazidis vary between 100,000 and 800,000, the latter being the claim of their website (in German). According to the same site, Yazidi refugees in Germany number 30,000.

Feleknas Uca, a Kurdish Member of the European Parliament for Germany's Party of Democratic Socialism was the world's only Yazidi parliamentarian until the Iraqi legislative election, 2005.

In her memoir of her service in an intelligence unit of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division in Iraq during 2003 and 2004, Kayla Williams (2005) records being stationed in northern Iraq near the Syrian border in an area inhabited by "Yezidis". The Yezidis were Kurdish-speaking, but did not consider themselves Kurds, and expressed to Williams a fondness for America and Israel. She was able to learn only a little about the nature of their religion: she thought it very ancient, and concerned with angels. She describes a mountain-top Yezidi shrine as "a small rock building with objects dangling from the ceiling", and alcoves for the placement of offerings. She reports that local Muslims considered the Yezidis to be devil worshippers.

In an October 2006 article in The New Republic, Lawrence Kaplan echoes Williams's sentiments about the enthusiasm of the Yezidis for the American occupation of Iraq, in part because the Americans protect them from oppression by militant Muslims and the nearby Kurds. Kaplan notes that the peace and calm of Sinjar is virtually unique in Iraq: "Parents and children line the streets when U.S. patrols pass by, while Yezidi clerics pray for the welfare of U.S. forces."[6]

On April 22, 2007, 23 Yazidis were shot and killed by gunman near the town of Bashika. The gunmen stopped the bus they were riding in and separated out Christian passengers. The remaining 23 Yazidis were driven to eastern Mosul where they were shot execution style. [7] This was apparently a reaction to video images of twenty Yazidi men from Bashika, stoning a young seventeen year old girl, to death. Du’a Khalil Aswad,[8] She was in love with a non Yezidi (Muslim) boy, and had been seen with him. [9][10]. The murder was videotaped by the men who publicly killed her, on numerous cellphones, and posted the videos to various internet sites.

Views of outsiders, fiction, stereotypes and controversies

As the Yazidi hold religious beliefs that are mostly unfamiliar to outsiders, many non-Yazidi people have written about them and ascribed facts to their beliefs that have dubious historical validity. For example, horror writer H. P. Lovecraft made a reference to "... the Yezidi clan of devil-worshippers" in his short story The Horror at Red Hook.

A fictional Yazidi character of note is the super-powered police officer "King Peacock", of the Top 10 (comic) series (and related comics). He is portrayed as a kind, peaceful, character with a broad knowledge of religion and mythology. He is depicted as conservative, ethical and highly principled in family life. An incredibly powerful martial artist, he is able to destroy matter, a power that he claims is derived from communicating with Malak Ta’us.

The Yazidis, perhaps because of their secrecy, also have a place in modern occultism. G. I. Gurdjieff wrote about his encounters with the Yazidis several times in his book Meetings with Remarkable Men.

According to the Assyrian International News Agency, A seventeen year-old Iraqi girl, Du’a Khalil Aswad, who went against her Yazidi religion to love a Muslim boy, was recently publicly stoned to death when she returned to her Yazidi village. Police officers can be seen complacently looking on as the child is publicly killed by twenty Yazidi men. AINA

This is a view from Secret Doctrine-II by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky:

Yezidis (Arabic) [possibly from Persian yazdan god; or the 2nd Umayyad Caliph, Yazid (r. 680 - 683); or Persian city Yezd] A sect dwelling principally in Kurdistan, Armenia, and the Caucasus, who call themselves Dasni. Their religious beliefs take on the characteristics of their surrounding peoples, inasmuch as, openly or publicly, they regard Mohammed as a prophet, and Jesus Christ as an angel in human form. Points of resemblance are found with ancient Zoroastrian and Assyrian religion. The principal feature of their worship, however, is Satan under the name of Muluk-Taus. However, it is not the Christian Satan, nor the devil in any form; their Muluk-Taus is the hundred- or thousand-eyed cosmic wisdom, pictured as a bird." (the peacock)

Yazidism has also been claimed as an influence on Aleister Crowley's Thelema.

The pseudonymous "Arkon Daraul", in the 1961 book Secret Societies Yesterday and Today, describes discovering a Yazidi-influenced secret society in the London suburbs called the "Order of the Peacock Angel".

In Wanted! God, Dead or Alive, an essay in The Book of Lucifer, the second volume in The Satanic Bible, Anton LaVey refers to the Yazidi as "a sect of Devil worshippers", and interprets their beliefs as follows:

They believe that God is all-powerful, but also all-forgiving, and so accordingly feel that it is the Devil whom they must please, as he is the one who rules their lives while here on earth.

Academic texts about Yazidis

  1. Reshid, T. Yezidism: historical roots, International Journal of Kurdish Studies, January 2005.
  2. Wahbi, T., Dînî Caranî Kurd, Gelawej Journal, N 11-12, Baghdad, 1940, pp. 51-52. (in Kurdish)
  3. Reshid, R. ,Etnokonfessionalnaya situasiya v sovremennom Kurdistane. Moskva-Sankt-Peterburg: Nauka, 2004, p. 16. (in Russian)
  4. Joseph, I. "Yezidi Texts". The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, 1908-1909/XXV, 2, pp. 111-156.
  5. Marie, A. 1911. "La découverte récente des deux livres sacrés des Yêzîdis". Anthropos, 1911/VI, 1. pp. 1-39.
  6. Drower, E.S. [E.S. Stevens]. Peacock Angel. Being Some Account of Votaries of a Secret Cult and their Sanctuaries. London: John Murray, 1941.
  7. Kreyenbroek, F.G. "Yezidism - its Background, Observances and Textual Tradition". Texts and Studies in Religion, 62. Lewiston, Queenston and Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995.
  8. Kurdoev, K.K. "Ob alfavite ezidskikh religioznykh knig" [Report on the alphabet of the Yezidi religious books]. Pis'mennye pamiatniki i problemy istorii kul'tury narodov Vostoka. VIII godichnaia nauchnaia sessiia LO IV AN SSSR. Leningrad, 1972, pp. 196-199. (In Russian)
  9. Kurdoev, K.K. "Ob avtorstve i iazyke religioznykh knig kurdov XI-XII vv. predvaritel'noe soobshchenie" [Preliminary report on the Kurdish religious books of the eleventh-twelfth centuries: their author and language]. VII godichnaia nauchnaia sessiia LO IV AN SSSR. Leningrad, 1971, pp. 22-24. (In Russian)
  10. Menzel, Th. "Yazidi, Yazidiya". The En
  • Allison, C. "YAZIDIS" in Encyclopedia Iranica [11] </ref>

  • References

    External links

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