Who Are the Yezidis: Are they Zoroastrians ?

The article below is an edited and abridged version of the original article that apepared in the Deen Parast. We thank Soonu, good friend and regular reader of Parsi Khabar for editing the article.

 

THE YEZIDIS OF KURDISTAN – ARE THEY REALLY ZOROASTRIANS ???

by Noshir H. Dadrawala

This article uses academic sources and reference material to describe the religious ideas of the Yezidis. It shows that these ideas are non-Zoroastrian, and that the Yezidi religion is not Zoroastrian.

 

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The arch above the entrance to the 13th Century Lalich temple in Iraq. It houses the tomb of a key Yazidi figure, Sheikh Adi, who died in 1162.

Since some time, certain individuals have been regaling the community in India and abroad with colourful stories about “millions” of Zoroastrians in Kurdistan or Tajlkistan.

But who are the Yazidis (also spelt Yezidi, Azidi or lzdi)’?

‘The Encyclopaedia Britannica 1986’ explains : “The Yazidi religion is a syncretic combination of Zoroastrian, Manichaean, Jewish, Nestorian Christian and Islamic elements. The Yazidi themselves are thought to be descended from supporters of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid 1. They themselves believe that they are created quite separately from the rest of mankind, not even being descended from Adam, and they have kept themselves strictly segregated from the people among whom they live. Although scattered and probably numbering fewer than 1,00,000, they have a well-organized society, with a chief shaykh as the supreme religious head and an amir, or prince, as the secular head.

The chief divine figure of the Yazidi is Malak Taus (‘Peacock Angel’), worshipped in the form of a peacock. He rules the universe with six other angels, but all seven are subordinate to the supreme God, who has had no direct interest in the universe since he created it. The seven angels are worshipped by the Yazidi in the form of seven bronze or iron peacock figures called sanjaq, the largest of which weighs nearly 700 pounds.

Yazidi are anti-dualists; they deny the existence of evil and therefore also reject sin, the devil, and hell. The breaking of divine laws is expiated by way of metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls, which allows for progressive purification of the spirit. The Yazidi relate that when the devil repented of his sin of pride before God, he was pardoned and replaced in his previous position as chief of the angels; this myth has earned the Yazidl an undeserved reputation as devil worshippers. Shaykh Adi, the chief Yazidi saint, was a 12th century Muslim mystic believed to have achieved divinity through metempsychosis.

The Yazidi religious centre and object of the annual pilgrimage is the tomb of Shaykh ‘Adi, located at a former Christian monastery in the town of Ash-Shaykh ‘Adi, north of Mosul. Two short books written in Arabic, Kitab al-jilwah (‘Book of Revelation’) and Mashaf rash (‘Black Writing’), form the sacred scriptures of the Yazidi, and an Arabic hymn praise of Shaykh ‘Adi is held in great esteem.”

According to the ‘Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics’: “The name of Yezldis has been given to a religious sect numbering about 50,000 persons, scattered from Mossul to the Caucasic region (districts of Mossul, Van, Diarbekr, Bitlis). They call themselves Dasni and speak a Kurdish dialect.

“At the head of the community is a khalifah, who is a descendant of Shaikh Adi. Under him are shaikhs, kavvals, and faqirs. Priesthood is hereditary. Morality is above the average in that part of the world. They are brave and shrewd. Their temperament is cheerful but calm. They have cleanly habits. Their women are not veiled and may receive strangers. They feel great repulsion for the colour blue. Being completely illiterate, they handed down their traditions orally. Their greatest festival is on 10th Aug., when a procession of flagellants takes place in the village of Ba’adri. There is the grave of their great saint, Shaikh Adi ben Musafir, who died in A.D. 1155. All around fires of naphtha and bitumen are kept burning.

“The origin of the word Yezidi been much discussed. Most probably it is related to Av. Yazata, ‘deity,’, Pers. Yazdan, ‘God’. It was given to them in contrast either to the Zoroastrians or to the Muhammadans. Although their priesthood is of the Muhammadan type and they recognize Muhammad and Abraham as prophets, they are far from being a Mubammadan sect. Nor are they Nestorians, although they have baptism and regard Christ as an angel in human form. In fact, they perpetuate with various admixtures a doctrine of the Magian type, combining Iranian and Assyrian elements. Their cult of fire is Iranian.

Dr. R. C. Zaehner in ‘The Hutchinson Encyclopaedia of Living Faiths,’ considers the Yezidi faith as an “aberrant form of the Sufi movement”.

Joseph T. Parfit writes in his book, ‘Marvellous Mesopotamia’, “… It is hardly correct to call the Yezidees ‘Devil worshippers’, for they all believe in a great God who created the universe; but they pay deference to the ‘Prince of this world’, lest they should suffer his vengeance. They avoid the use of words that begin with the same letter as Satan’s name, and instead of using the common Arabic words for the devil, they speak of him as the ‘Prince of Darkness’, ‘Lord of the Evening’ or the ‘Exalted Chief’. Many of the Yezidees practise baptisms; they make the sign of the cross, and kiss the threshold of Christian Churches.”

The Yezidis have a regular hierarchy of seven orders of Priesthood. They hold a great annual feast at Sheikh Adi in October; which is continued for eight days, and is attended by all the faithful who can come. Pilgrimage to Sheikh Adi is incumbent on every Yezidi, but he is not commanded to pray, and he leaves that duty to his priests. Fasting can also be performed by deputy, and a group of Yezidis will select one of their number to do all their fasting for them, confessing to him the acts which need expiation and paying him a capitation fee for carrying out the corresponding penances.

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Let all those who live in a world of fantasy, study all this evidence with a clear mind and then placing a hand over their heart, say whether the Yezidis or Kurds are really Zoroastrians. Fantasy is one thing, reality quite another. A true Zoroastrian, while sympathetic to the former, should live for the latter.

Noshir H. Dadrawala,

Deen Parast magazine. __,_