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Yezidiism (Yazidis)

Sheik Adi shrine

Mario Tama/ Getty Images

Related Subjects
Malek Taus, the Peacock Angel
The Meshaf Resh, or Black Book
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History/Founder: Yezidis are a Kurdish sect, named after their supposed founder Yezid, the Umayyad Caliph. The Yezidi revere the Prophet Mohammed and the Sufi mystic Adi Musafir, a descendent of the Umayyad Caliphs (Kalifs). Adi is credited with writing many of the Yezidi Holy texts and is possibly the originator of the faith. Islamic writings mention the religion as early as the fourteenth century, but some scholars link them to Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, and even ancient Iraqi Buzzard worshippers.

Yezidism is an enigma that has confounded scholars and incited debate for some time. The influence of Islam, especially Sufi ideas, on the religion is heavy and often obscures other aspects. Tantalizing clues point in every direction- rituals involving fire and prayers recited in the direction of the sun are distinctly Zoroastrian; taboos against eating lettuce and beans, baptisms, and the belief that Christ is a prophet hint at Manicheism. Other unusual aspects of Yezidi belief are the reverence of an immortal elemental spirit named Khidir; decorations of Yezidi temples in Lalish are distinctly Mithraic in flavor.

Current leader/governing body: Rulership is hereditary, and comes through the seven priestly lineages, hereditary Kurdish rulers.

Number of Adherents: About sixty-thousand in Iraq and Syria, 200,000 total worldwide.

Clergy: Yezidi clegy are patterned after the Islamic Hierarchy of Sheiks and Mullas. Pirs (priests) and Kawals (traveling preachers), kocheks, (ecstatics and soothsayers), and Murids (laymen who give financial support).

Requirements to join: Historically, Yezidis were not reluctant to proselytize, and converted many Christians, Jews, and Muslims over the years. In recent times, however, Arabic governments have made concerted efforts to ostracize the Yezidis (including making them a seperate group from their fellow Kurds), and their numbers are dwindling. One must now be born Yezidi, and converts are not accepted.

Malek Ta'us (Melek Tawus, Peacock Angel)
A Yezidi outside the temple of Lalish
/ Getty Images

Church/temple: The Khalwa, a simple, sparsely furnished temple for prayers and gatherings.

Scripture: There is no specific Yezidi Holy text, but important information about Yezidi practices is contained in the Mes'haf i Resh, or "black book" attributed to Adi's son, and the Jilwa, or "book of revelation," a brief homily attributed to Adi. Neither book is considered sacred, however- Yezidi tradition is strictly oral, and consists of prayers, songs, and hymns in the Kurdish language.

Required observances, dietary restrictions: Yezidi religion places taboos on the eating of fish or the meat of gazelles; the wearing of deep blue clothing is forbidden. Marriage outside of one's religion or caste is forbidden.

Malek Ta'us (Melek Tawus, Peacock Angel)Basic teachings and Beliefs of Yezidism: Yezidi beliefs are a complicated mixture of Islamic and Zoroastrian beliefs, with Gnostic, Jewish, and Shamanistic elements. Worship centers around Angels (Malek is from the Arabic word for 'angel'), the most important of which is named Melek Taus, or the "Peacock Angel," also known as Lucifer. Lucifer plays a different role in Yezidism, where he is considered the chief Archangel, and the creator of the material world. In Yezidi belief, Lucifer is not a fallen angel, nor Satan, nor the enemy of God. In Yezidi cosmology, the Universal Spirit (the Supreme, unknowable deity) created a pearl, which became shattered after a period of forty thousand years. Melek, or Lucifer, used the remains of the pearl to create the material world. After this creation, the Spirit created the remaining Angels. Yezidi theology claims that Lucifer was forgiven for his transgressions, and those who revere him are the spiritual elect of humanity. They are forbidden from referring to him as Satan.

The Yezidi believe that time is divided into six Epochs, and each Epoch has an Avatar, or Archangel. During the first Epoch, the material world and humankind were created. The Yezidi story of the creation of man follows the Judeo-Christian Adam and Eve, except that Malek is portrayed as a wise teacher rather than a temptor.

Holidays: The most important Yezidi Feast day is that of Jam, when the various Yezidi groups converge on Lalish, the burial place of Adi. During the Jam, the Peacock icon, representing Malek Taus, is presented to the worshippers during a seven day celebration. It coincides with an ancient Zoroastrian feast day, one of many coincidences that lead some scholars to make a connection between the two religions. Other festivals celebrated are NoRuz, the Zoroastrian New Year, marking the beginning of the astrological year, and other holidays derived from Zoroastrianism and Mithraism.

Symbols: The prevailing symbol is the Peacock, in particular the bronze icons central to Yezidi worship. The peacock is the symbol of Malek Taus.

For more information on this and other symbols, please see Religious symbols.

Myths and misconceptions: The Yezidi have long been accused of "Devil worship" due to misunderstandings of their religious doctrine. In the Yezidi religion, Lucifer is a beneficient deity, long since reconciled with the Creator.

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