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The Kurds

The Kurds and Islam
It has been said that Kurds "hold their Islam lightly," meaning that they are not so vehement about Islam and do not identify as closely with it as the Arabs do. This is perhaps due to two factors: First, many Kurds still feel some connection with the ancient Zoroastrian faith, and feel it is an original Kurdish spirituality that far predates the seventh century AD arrival of Muhammad. Secondly, their principal oppressors and antagonists for over one thousand years have been fellow Muslims, who have showered far more pain than pleasure upon the Kurds.

Nonetheless, most Kurds are Muslims, and about 75% today are at least nominally members of the majority Sunni branch. As many as four million Kurds are Shiites, living mostly in Iran where the Shiite faith predominates. However, the Kurds generally strive to express their Islam in a distinct fashion. For example, the Sunni Muslim Kurds of Turkey have adopted the Shafi'i legal code, ignoring the general rule among the surrounding Arabs and Turks, who adhere to the Hanafi school. Mystical practices and participation in Sufi orders are also widespread among Kurds. Many of these orders are considered heretical by rigid orthodox Muslims. Drawing heavily on shamanism, Zoroastrianism and elements of Christianity, Kurdish mysticism places emphasis on the direct experience of God through meditation, ecstatic experiences and the intercession of holy men or sheiks. Most Kurds possess a tangible sense of the supernatural, readily acknowledging demonic activity in the form of evil spirits and curses; they often worship at shrines or other holy places.

The rest of the Kurds are followers of several indigenous Kurdish faiths of great antiquity and originality. The most notable of these are the Yezidis. Although often charged with worshiping Lucifer, the Yezidis embody a distillation of the Jewish, Deavic, Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic beliefs which have consecutively ruled their mountainous homeland for three millennia. Central to the Yezidi cosmology is the Heptad, a group of seven archangels through which God is said to delegate his authority. Although statistically small in number, the Yezidis are a source of great pride for Kurds of every tradition.

Throughout the Middle East, smaller communities of Jews, Christians and Baha'is also consider themselves Kurds. Israel's 150,000 Kurds constitute the greatest concentration of these non-Muslim groups. The Kurdish Jews emigrated to Israel in the 1950s, having lived in Mesopotamia since the Assyrian exile: "The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria, settled them in Halah, on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes." (2 Kings 18:11) Like the Yezidis, the Israeli Kurds are highly regarded throughout Kurdistan.

Historical Background | Kurdistan Today and Tomorrow


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