The Yazdanism (also rendered Ezidis, Yezidis or Yazidis) are followers of a religion established by a 12th century Arab mystic, Sheikh Adi Musafir, which draws on elements of Islam, Gnosticism and Zoroastrianism. They are mostly ethnic and linguistic Kurds, and their heartland largely overlaps with that of the Kurds, straddling eastern Turkey and northern Iraq. It has been thoerized that the Yazdâni faiths were the primary religion of the Kurds until their Islamization in the 10th century. The three religions of Yazdanism are primarily practiced in relatively isolated communities. The adherents of Alevism, Ahl-e Haqq and Yezidi are estimated to constitute about 1/3 of the Kurds. They have traditionally been derided by their Muslim neighbors as "devil-worshippers," although it is more accurate to say that they revere angels. Some sources maintain that the Ezidi religion predates not only Sheikh Adi but also Islam and even Zoroastrianism, and that the angels of Ezidi cosmology are actually a survival of the ancient Indo-European gods. Sheikh Adi is said to have given the Ezidis two books of revelation, but at least one has been lost (allegedly to a British museum), and their lore and history are largely kept alive via oral tradition under the direction of an hereditary priest-ruler, said to be Adi's successor, the Bab el-Sheikh. Some further elucidates their belief, noting that the divine being they revere as ruler of the earth, Malak Taus ("Peacock Angel"), is held to be fallen but not beyond redemption: an imperfect echo of both the Muslim Shaitan (Satan) and the Zoroastrian Ahriman. However, the Zoroastrianism.com atricle goes to great pains to emphasize that the Ezidi beliefs are described only to differentiate them from Zoroastrian beliefs and dispel confusion between the two groups. Some passages from the Ezidi "Black Book" or Meshaf i Resh, a collection of hymns attributed to Sheikh Adi.

In the Yazidi belief system, the world was created by a god, and the world is now in the care of a Heptad of seven Holy Beings, often known as Angels or heft sirr (the Seven Mysteries). Preeminent among these is Melek Taus (Tawûsê Melek in Kurdish), the Peacock Angel. 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 the Koran has for Satan". Furthermore, the Yazidi story regarding Malek Taus' rise to favor with God is almost identical to the story of the jinn Iblis in Islam, except that Yazidis revere Malek Taus for refusing to submit to Adam, while Muslims believe that Iblis' refusal to submit caused him to fall out of Grace with God, and to later become Satan himself.

Yazidis believe that Melek Taus is not a source of evil or wickedness. They consider him to be the leader of the archangels, not a fallen angel, and therefore comparable to the Christians' Lucifer, who is likewise considered the leader of the "seven who stand before the Lord" and of all other good angels. Also, they hold that the source of evil is in the heart and spirit of humans themselves, not in Melek Taus. The active forces in their religion are Melek Taus and Sheik Adî. The Kitêba Cilwe (Book of Illumination) which claims to be the words of Melek Taus, 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 Taus is the same as his own, perhaps as a reincarnation. He is believed to have said: "I was present when Adam was living in Paradise, and also when Nemrud 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 differ from that of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They believe that God first created Melek Taus from his own illumination (Ronahî in Kurdish) and the other six archangels were created later. God ordered Melek Taus 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. The archangels obeyed except for Melek Taus. In answer to God, Malek Taus 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. (This likely furthers what some see as a connection to the Islamic Shaytan, as according to legend he too refused to bow to Adam at God's command, though in this case it is seen as being a sign of Shaytan's sinful pride.) Hence the Yazidis believe that Melek Taus 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). Yazidis hold that God created Malek Taus on this day, and celebrate it as New Year's day. Yazidis argue that the order to bow to Adam was only a test for Melek Taus, since if God commands anything then it must happen. (Bibe, dibe). In other words, God could have made him submit to Adam, but gave Taus the choice as a test. They believe that their respect and praise for Melek Taus 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 Taus and believed in him.

One of the key creation 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, as to which they choose. In this process, their devotion to Melek Taus 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 Taus, 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 (Book of Revelation) and the Mishefa Res (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, with hell extinguished, and other traditions incorporating these ideas into a belief system that includes reincarnation.

The adherents of the faith were referred to as the "Sabians of Harran" (of Carrhae) in Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed. The Sabians are also mentioned in the Qur'an and in Bahá'í writings.

The distribution of the three Yazdani religions follows geographic boundaries the Alevi may be found in northwestern Iraq, Turkey and along the Syrian coast. The Ahl-e Haqq or Yarsani are located in the southernmost part of Iraq and in western Iran. The Yazidi come from the Turkish-Iraqi border region.

Page last updated: Sunday, July 13, 2008 12:10:52 -0400