Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Yazidis: the Misunderstood Sect. The horrific bombings yesterday made me think of this, of course. When I was growing up in Lebanon, I never liked the way the majority perceived or historically persecuted the small, often misunderstood, religious minorities (and this is a feature of all societies). But certainly the Yazidis have suffered, largely at the hands of Kurdish tribal chiefs who would try to convert them or even exterminate them. Reports or news that deal with Yazidis often bring about (in Western and Eastern languages) layers of ignorance and misconceptions about them. Start with the name: that is not the name that they use to refer to themselves: it is rather a new name. Contrary to widely held views, they are not connected to Yazid bin Mu`awiyah (and we know how Shi`ites feel about him) nor to Yazid bin Anisah (a Kharijite). The name is derived from the Persian ized which signifies NOT worship of Satan, as ignorant enemies would have it, like this Salafi source here, but worship of God. The tragedy of Yazidis in my opinion is that their beliefs are too complex (in comparison to the beliefs of Jews, Muslim, and Christians) to be easily understood. This explains the history of ignorance and misconceptions about them. That they took from different religions different elements only made them hated more: because they are seen as corrupters by all those religions (dualism from Zoroastrism; circumcision, pilgrimage, fasting from Islam; some dietary restrictions from Judaism; famously baptism from Christianity, as well as wine drinking; and transmigration of souls from Sabaeans; visitation of tombs from Sufis, etc). And Yazidism--all stereotypes to the contrary especially with the references to them as Satan worshippers (in Turkish they were referred to as "dog-collars")--can be said to be monotheistic (although they believe in intermediaries between God and man/woman) just as the trinity is not seen as polytheistic by Christians. The belief system centers on God and Malak Tawus (peacock angel). But God is not active in the universe; that is left to Malak Tawus. He was formerly Satan who was able to rehabilitate himself. So the fallen angel in the familiar monotheistic religions, is no more disgraced. He was able in fact to fill 7 jars in 7000 years with tears from non-stop crying for repentance. What else do they want from him. His tears put off the fires of hell. So the notion that they worship evil or Satan is so wrong simply because Yazidis don't even believe in evil or in Satan. It seems that ignorance and prejudice against them increased over time: Arabic historical references were less ignorant, I find. In Mu`jam Al-Buldan, for example, they are referred by Yaqut Al-Hamwi as Al-`Adwiyyah in reference to `Adiyy Ibn Musafir (who hailed from Ba`albak by the way). In Al-Kamil Fi-Tarikh, `Adiyy is referred to as "zahid" (the ascetic). Ibn Taymiyyah says that they "ghalu fi Shaykh `Adiyy..." (they went to excess in [belief in] Shaykh `Adiyy) although he seems to absolve Shaykh `Adiyy himself from responsibility for these excesses. Today, on Al-Arabiya, an reporter said, clearly mockingly, that Yazidis prohibit the eating of lettuce for reasons that nobody knows." No, we know. It is not a secret: there is a story of how Shaykh `Adiyyah was once turned away from an orchard where he wanted to eat lettuce. Finally, I don't want to romanticize the group or their beliefs: there are sexist practices and beliefs but that is another story.