The Yezidi or Yazidi (Kurdish; Êzidî) are adherents of a small Middle Eastern religion with ancient origins. They are primarily ethnic Kurds, and most Yazidis live near Mosul, Iraq with smaller communities in Syria, Turkey, Iran, Georgia and Armenia, and are estimated to number ca. 500,000 individuals in total.
There are also Yazidi refugees in Europe. The Yazidi worship Malak Ta’us, apparently a pre-Islamic peacock angel who has fallen into disgrace. Malak Ta’us has links to Mithraism and, through it, to Zoroastrianism. The Yazidi maintain a well-preserved culture, rich in traditions and customs.
In the region that is now Iraq, the Yazidi have been oppressed and labeled as devil worshippers for centuries. During the reign of Saddam Hussein, however, they were considered to be Arabs and maneuvered to oppose the Kurds, in order to tilt the ethnic balance in northern Iraq. Since the 2003 occupation of Iraq, the Kurds want the Yazidi to be recognized as ethnic Kurds.
The Yazidi’s own name for themselves is Dasin. While popular etymology connects the religion to the Umayyad khalif Yazid I (680–683), the name Yazidi is actually most likely derived from the Pahlavi (Middle Persian) word "yazd," meaning angel, probably in reference to Malak Ta’us.
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Yazidi faith contains elements of Zoroastrianism, Manicheism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Gnostic and local pre-Islamic beliefs. It might have originally been based on the original religion of the Kurds. In about 1162, Sheikh Adii Ibn Mustafa radically reformed the religion, so that some believe the previous form was a different religion from current belief. Different clans may also have different interpretations.
Yazidi believe in God, the creator, but his role stops there. The active forces in their religion are Malak Ta’us and Sheik Adii.
According to the Yazidi, Malak Ta’us is a fallen peacock angel who repented and recreated the world that had been broken. He filled seven jars with his tears and used them to quench the fire in Hell. Although primarily a monotheistic religion, Yazidism also includes minor deities and some clans venerate Sheikh Adii as a saint, subservient to Malak Ta’us. There are also 6 other minor deities that are honored.
Yazidi are exclusive and do not reveal most of their secrets to the uninitiated. The twice-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 fast in December.
The most important ritual is the annual six-day pilgrimage to the tomb of Sheikh Adii in Lalish, north of Mosul, Iraq. During the celebration, Yazidi bathe in the river, wash figures of Malak Ta’us and light hundreds of lamps in the tombs of Sheikh Adii and other saints. They also sacrifice an ox, which is one reason they have been connected to Mithraism.
Population and marriage customs
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 is the claim of their website. According to the same site, refugees in Germany number 30,000.
Yazidi are dominantly monogamous but chiefs may have more than one wife. Children are baptized 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. Yazidi clans do not intermarry 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.
Accusations and stereotypes
As a demiurge figure, Malak Ta’us is often identified by orthodox Muslims as a shaytan, 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 Yezidi have been accused of devil worship. Because of this and due to their pre-Islamic beliefs, they have been oppressed by their Muslim neighbors and the Ottoman Empire.
As a distant religious belief, 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". The Yezidis have also been claimed as an influence on Aleister Crowley's Thelema.