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Yazdânism, or the Cult of Angels, is a pre-Islamic, native religion of the Kurds. The term was introduced by Kurdish scholar Mehrdad Izady to represent what he considers the "original" religion of the Kurds as the primary inhabitants of the Zagros Mountains, until their increasing Islamization in the course of the 10th century.
According to Izady, Yazdânism is now continued in the denominations of Yazidism, Yarsanism, and Ishik Alevism. The three traditions subsumed under the term Yazdânism are primarily practiced in relatively isolated communities; from Khurasan to Anatolia, and parts of western Iran.
The concept of Yazdânism has found a wide perception both within and beyond Kurdish nationalist discourses, but has been disputed by other recognized scholars of Iranian religions. Well established, however, are the "striking" and "unmistakable" similarities between the Yazidis and the Yaresan or Ahl-e Haqq, some of which can be traced back to elements of an ancient faith that was probably dominant among Western Iranians and likened to practices of pre-Zoroastrian Mithraic religion. Mehrdad Izady defines the Yazdanism as an ancient Hurrian religion and states that Mitanni could have introduced some of the Vedic tradition that appears to be manifest in Yazdanism.
Mehrdad Izady derived the term from a Zoroastrian concept of Holy beings (Middle Persian: Yazdān), often translated as "angels" or "archangels". While he refers to "Yazdânism" as possibly being the real name of this old religion and the sources of modern designation, Yezidi, he has published evidence of this assertion only in his 1992 book, Kurds: A Concise Handbook.
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In Yazdani theologies, an absolute transcendental God (Hâk or Haq) encompasses the whole universe. He binds together the cosmos with his essence, and manifests as the heft sirr (the "Heptad", "Seven Mysteries", "Seven Angels"), who sustain universal life and can incarnate in persons, bâbâ ("Gates" or "Avatar"). These seven emanations are comparable to the seven Anunnaki aspects of Anu of ancient Mesopotamian theology, and they include Melek Taus (the "Peacock Angel" or "King"), who is the same as the ancient god Dumuzi son of Enki and the main deity in Yazidi theology, and Shaykh Shams al-Din, "the sun of the faith", who is Mithra.
Yazdânism teaches the cyclic nature of the world with reincarnation of the deity and of people being a common feature, traversing incarnations of the soul of a man into human form or an animal or even a plant. These religions also teach that there are seven cycles of the universe, six of which have already happened, while the seventh one is yet to unfold. In each cycle, there is a set of six reincarnated persons (one female, five male) who will herald the new cycle and preside over it (the seventh one in the set being the ever-lasting, the ever-present Almighty).
The reincarnation of the deity could be in one of the three forms: a "reflection incarnation", a "guest incarnation", or the highest form, an "embodiment incarnation". Jesus, Ali, and the three leaders of the three primary branches of Yazdânism are all embodiment incarnations, meaning Godhead actually born in a human body.
Seven divine beings
The principal feature of Yazdânism is the belief in seven benevolent divine beings that defend the world from an equal number of malign entities. While this concept exists in its purest form in Yârsânism and Yazidism, it evolves into "seven saints/spiritual persons", which are called "Yedi Ulu Ozan" in Alevism. Another important feature of these religions is a doctrine of reincarnation. The belief in reincarnation has been documented among the Nusayri (Shamsi Alawites) as well.
The Yazidis believe in a single God as creator of the world, which he has placed under the care of these seven “holy beings” or angels, whose “chief” (archangel) is Melek Taus, the “Peacock Angel”. The Peacock Angel, as world-ruler, causes both good and bad to befall individuals, and this ambivalent character is reflected in myths of his own temporary fall from God’s favor, before his remorseful tears extinguished the fires of his hellish prison and he was reconciled with God.
Melek Taus is sometimes identified by Muslims and Christians with Shaitan (Satan). Yazidis, however, strongly dispute this, considering him to be the leader of the archangels, not a fallen angel. According to Christine Allison:
- The Yazidis of Kurdistan have been called many things, most notoriously “devil-worshippers”, a term used both by unsympathetic neighbours and fascinated Westerners. This sensational epithet is not only deeply offensive to the Yazidis themselves, but quite simply wrong.
Because of this connection to the Sufi Iblis tradition, some followers of Christianity and Islam equate the Peacock Angel with their own unredeemed evil spirit Satan, which has incited centuries of persecution of the Yazidis as ‘devil worshippers’. Persecution of Yazidis has continued in their home communities within the borders of modern Iraq, under both Saddam Hussein and fundamentalist Sunni Muslim revolutionaries. In August 2014 the Yazidis were targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, in its campaign to ‘purify’ Iraq and neighboring countries of non-Islamic influences.
Difference in practices from Islam
Yazdânis do not maintain any of the requisite five pillars of Islam; nor do they have mosques or frequent them. The Quran to them is as respectable as is the Bible, and yet each denomination of this religion has its own scriptures that the adherents hold in a higher esteem than any one of the former or others.
From the Yarsani (sometimes also called Ahl-e Haqq or Yâresân) point of view, the universe is composed of two distinct yet interrelated worlds: the internal (batini) and the external (zahiri), each having its own order and rules. Although humans are only aware of the outer world, their lives are governed according to the rules of the inner world. Among other important pillars of their belief system are that the Divine Essence has successive manifestations in human form (mazhariyyat, derived from zahir) and the belief in transmigration of the soul (or dunaduni in Kurdish). The Yarsani do not observe Muslim rites and rituals.
The term "Haqq" (as in Ahl-e Haqq) is often misrepresented and misinterpreted as the Arabic term for "Truth". Instead, its true meaning is clearly explained by Nur Ali Elahi (died 1974) – as being "distinct from the Arabic term and in fact, should be written as "Hâq" ("Hâq-i wâqi'") instead of "Haqq" and should be understood to be different in meaning, connotation, and essence."
Yazidis, who have much in common with the followers of Yarsanism, 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 Tawûsê Melek, members of the Heptad (the Seven), who were called into existence by God at the beginning of all things, include Sheikh ‘Adī ibn Musāfir al-Umawī (Şêx Adî), his companion Şêx Hasan and a group known as the Four Mysteries: Shamsadin, Fakhradin, Sajadin and Naserdin.
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The adherents of these faiths 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 these three beliefs follows geographic boundaries:
- The Alevis may be found in central and eastern Turkey and northwestern Syria and are Zaza Kurds.
- The Yârsâni or Ahl-e Haqq are located in the eastern (and northeastern) part of Iraq and in western Iran.
- The Yazidis come from the Turkish-Iraqi border region, and many of them reside in Armenia.
There are also large communities of people of Yarsani in some regions of Iranian Azerbaijan. The town of Ilkhichi (İlxıçı), which is located 87 km south west of Tabriz is almost entirely populated by Yarsani. For political reasons, one of which was to create a distinct identity for these communities, they have not been called Goran Kurds since the early 20th century. They are called under the various names, such as Ali-Ilahis and Yarsani. Groups with similar beliefs also exist in Iranian Kurdistan and elsewhere, with both the Zaza and Gorani, who are both considered to belong to the Hawramani branch of the North West Kurdish languages, adhereing to a form of "Kurdish Alawi faith" which resembles the religions of the Druze or Yazidi.
Many Kurds insist that they are in fact Muslim, in spite of being classified as "Yazdanist" by Izady.[page needed] Izady does not suggest that the Muslim Kurds are Yazdanis, rather that Yazdani Kurds are not Muslim, and identify themselves as such only to avoid harm and discrimination.
The view on non-Islamic identity of the Yazdanis is shared by Mohammad Mokri, the well-known Kurdish folklorist and historian, who states this religion to be "less Islamic than Baha'ism", which had emerged from Bábism as "a new non-Islamic religion".
The concept of ‘Yazdanism’ as a distinct religion has been disputed by a number of scholars. Richard Foltz considers Yazdânism, or the “Cult of Angels”, as Izady’s “invented religion”, which according to Foltz “owes more to contemporary Kurdish national sentiment than to actual religious history.”
The most notable case is that of Izady (1992) who, in his eagerness to distance the Ahl-e Haqq from Islam and to give it a purely Kurdish pedigree, asserts that the sect is a denomination of a religion of great antiquity which he calls “the Cult of Angels”. This 'Cult', he states, is "fundamentally a non-Semitic religion, with an Aryan superstructure overlaying a religious foundation indigenous to the Zagros. To identify the Cult or any of its denominations as Islamic is simply a mistake born of a lack of knowledge of the religion, which pre-dates Islam by millennia." He fails, however, to produce any evidence at all in support of his theory, and some of his assertions can only be called preposterous.
- Foltz, Richard. "Two Kurdish Sects: The Yezidis and the Yaresan". Religions of Iran: From Prehistory to the Present. p. 219. ISBN 978-1-78074-307-3. (Registration required (. ))
- Izady, 1992. pp. 170 passim
- Kreyenbroek 1995, pp. 54; 59.
- Foltz, Richard. Two Kurdish Sects: The Yezidis and the Yaresan. p. 219.
- Foltz, Richard. "Mithra and Mithraism". Religions of Iran: From Prehistory to the Present. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-78074-307-3. (Registration required (. ))
- "Exploring Kurdish Origins".
- Azar Kayvan (1645–1658). "Dabestan-e Madaheb, section 1-2".
- Kurdistanica – Encyclopaedia of Kurdistan: Cult of Angels
- Açıkyıldız 2010, p. 74.
- Bidlisi, Izady. 2000. p. 80
- Meho, 1997. p. 302
- Elahi, Nurali (1975), Buhan-i Haq (in Persian), Teheran, pp. anecdote 487
- Izady 1992, pp. 170 passim.
- Kurdish Society by Martin Van Bruinessen, in The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview, ed. Philip G. Kreyenbroek, Stefan Sperl, Routledge, 17 Aug 2005, p. 29 “The Peacock Angel (Malak Tawus) whom they worship may be identified with Satan, but is to them not the Lord of Evil as he is to Muslims and Christians.”
- The Yezidis: The History of a Community, Culture and Religion, by Birgül Açıkyıldız, I. B. Tauris, 30 Sep 2010, p. 2 “Muslim and Christian neighbors of the Yezidis in the Middle East consider the Peacock Angel as the embodiment of Satan and an evil, rebellious spirit.”
- Allison, C. (1998). The Evolution of Yazidi Religion from Spoken Word to Written Scripture. ISIM Newsletter. https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/16757/ISIM_1_The_Evolution_of_the_Yezidi_Religion_From_Spoken_Word_to_Written_Scripture.pdf?sequence=1
- “The Peacock Angel (Malak Tawus) whom they worship may be identified with Satan, but is to them not the Lord of Evil as he is to Muslims and Christians.” In: Martin van Bruinessen (2005). "Kurdish Society". In Kreyenbroek, Philip G.; Sperl, Stefan. The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview. p. 29.
- “Muslim and Christian neighbors of the Yezidis in the Middle East consider the Peacock Angel as the embodiment of Satan and an evil, rebellious spirit”. In: Açıkyıldız 2010, p. 2
- Berman, Russell (2014-08-08). "A Very Brief History of the Yazidi and What They're Up Against in Iraq". The Wire. Retrieved 2014-08-13.
- "Iraq crisis: who are the Yazidis and why is Isis hunting them?". The Guardian. 8 August 2014.
- The Devil Worshippers, of Iraq. "The Devil Worshippers of Iraq". The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
- "Who are the Yazidi, and Why is ISIS Targeting Them?".
- Elahi, Nurali (1975), Buhan-i Haq (in Persian), Teheran, pp. anecdote 1143
- Z. Mir-Hosseini, Inner Truth and Outer History: The Two Worlds of the Ahl-e Haqq of Kurdistan, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol.26, 1994, p.267-268
- Elahi, Nurali (1975), Buhan-i Haq (in Persian), Teheran, pp. anecdote 1098
- "a belief system of great antiquity that is fundamentally a non-Semitic religion, with an Aryan superstructure overlaying a religious foundation indigenous to the Zagros. To identify the Cult or any of its denominations as Islamic is simply a mistake born of a lack of knowledge of the religion, which pre-dates Islam by millennia." in: Izady 1992, pp. 172 passim
- Mir-Hosseini 1992.
- Izady 1992, pp. 172 passim
- "A belief system of great antiquity that is fundamentally a non-Semitic religion, with an Aryan superstructure overlaying a religious foundation indigenous to the Zagros. To identify the Cult or any of its denominations as Islamic is simply a mistake born of a lack of knowledge of the religion, which pre-dates Islam by millennia." Mukri, Muhammad (1966), L'Esotrérism kurde (2nd (2002) ed.), Paris, p. 92
- Mir-Hosseini 1992, p. 132.
- Açıkyıldız, Birgül (2010). The Yezidis: The History of a Community, Culture and Religion. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84885-274-7.
- Bidlīsī, Sharaf Khān & Mehrdad R. Izady. The Sharafnama: or the History of the Kurdish Nation, 1597. Mazda Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1568590741
- Kreyenbroek, Philip G.; Stefan Sperl, eds. (2005). The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview. Routledge.
- Foltz, Richard (2013). Religions of Iran: From Prehistory to the Present. London: Oneworld. ISBN 978-1-78074-307-3.
- Izady, Mehrdad R. (1992). "The Kurds: a concise handbook". Washington & London: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-8448-1727-9.
- Kreyenbroek, Philip G. (1995). Yezidism—Its Background, Observances and Textual Tradition. Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 0-7734-9004-3.
- Meho, Lokman I. (1997). The Kurds and Kurdistan: A Selective and Annotated Bibliography. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313303975.
- Potter, Lawrence G. & Gary G. Sick (2004) Iran, Iraq, and the Legacies of War. Palgrave Macmillan.
- Mir-Hosseini, Ziba (1992). "Faith, ritual and culture among the Ahl-e-Haqq". In Philipp G. Kreyenbroek; Christine Allison. Kurdish culture and identity. London: Zed Books. pp. 111–34. ISBN 1-85649-330-X.