Yazidism: Meet the Devil you will love

“Violent and extreme as their culture was, the Jewish version of the ‘Yazidi Genesis’ has somehow created a Devil out of the Peacock Angel”

Yazidis trapped by Islamic State fighters on Sinjar Mount (Northern Iraq)
Yazidis trapped by Islamic State militants on Sinjar Mount (Northern Iraq)

By Dr. Ashraf Ezzat


Few, if hardly anyone, have ever heard of the Yazidis before they were recently targeted by the fighters of the Islamic state (IS). In August 2014, the world was horrified by pictures of thousands of starving and dehydrated Yazidis besieged on the Sinjar Mountain after they were chased out of their native land in Northern Iraq. Since the savage onslaught of IS terrorists seemed unstoppable the Yazidis simply had to flee (yet again) for their lives. Watch video of a dramatic rescue mission of  desperate Yazidis on Sinjar Mount.

This is not the first time the Yazidis were targeted. Due to their esoteric practices, the Yazidis have been persecuted many times before. That’s why a collective feeling of absolute vulnerability is deeply entrenched in their tradition. Fear seems to be part of their ancient culture since the Yazidis have long been deemed as ‘The Devil Worshippers’.

That’s the main reason why IS fighters were out to target/exterminate the Yazidis. From the ‘Islamic’ perspective of IS, hunting down the ‘Devil Worshippers’ and finishing them off to the last one was the ‘religiously’ right thing to do.

Yazidis on the Sinjar Mount at Northern Iraq in 1920s.
Yazidis on the Sinjar Mount at Northern Iraq in 1920s.

Persecuting and targeting Yazidis for their seemingly blasphemous beliefs has been a recurring theme throughout history. The Turks in 1915 – 1918 (during the WWI) killed more than 200,000 Yazidis in a silent genocide (not spoken of compared to the case of the Armenian genocide).

But is it true. Do the Yazidis really worship the Devil/Satan? Who is in his right mind would do such a thing as to glorify Satan!

If we dig deep into the history and books of the Yazidis we will strangely not find any allusion to this appalling idea of worshipping the Devil/Satan. The truth of the matter is that the Yazidis worship God and glorify his leading archangel, the Peacock angel (Malak Tawus/Tawsi Melek in Arabic/Kurdish). Uttering the word ‘Satan’ is absolutely banned within the Yazidi sect. Whoever dares to say the forbidden name will be punished by death.

We tend to find this idea of glorifying the Devil/Satan appalling because we were fed, as we grew up, the Biblical story of Satan (Shaitan in Arabic) as the one who dared defy God. The ‘Devil’ to us is God’s primal enemy and the master of evil.

According to the Biblical story, which had been heavily reiterated in the Islamic traditions, Satan did not only disobey God’s order but he had also lured Adam to follow suit and eat from the forbidden tree of knowledge. Once that was discovered Satan (also known as Azazil in the ancient Arabian tradition) had become a fallen angel and therefore was cast out of God’s celestial gardens. Since Satan deserved to be damned for eternity, so were the people who followed and glorified him. This is the secret behind the long persecution of the Yazidis.

However, that is one side of the story, the Abrahamic tradition’s side, for there is a rather different and much older version; the Yazidi version.

Yazidis reject that their faith is about worshiping the Devil. They also insist that their ancient narrations tell what they believe to be the true story of God and Satan, known to them as Malak Tawus.

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The Yazidi Genesis

The Yazidi story of creation (Genesis) tells of a primordial pearl that existed long before there were any signs of life as we know it today in our time and space. In a unique and potent gesture of creation, God had caused the pearl to explode (analogous to the Big Bang). The pearl shattered into six directions, above and below, left and right and to the front and behind. In this way a three dimensional grid/reality had been created in six days (note how the Bible/Qur’an states that the world was also created in six days).

On Sunday, the first day of the Yazidi Genesis, God has created Malak Tawus (also known in the Yazidi mythology as Azra’il). Returning to the center where this whole creation process took off, a seventh point was added. It was the point of the beginning/center and also of the end. At that point the creation had been completed after which God was to rest. That day of completion and rest was Saturday (Sabbath/Sabbt in Hebrew and Arabic).

Do you see how the so-called Biblical vocabulary in Arabic/Hebrew is linguistically more or less similar, do you know why? It is because both Judaism and Islam sprouted from the same cultural ground of Ancient Arabia (as explained in my recent book). Also interesting is how the words, Azazil, Azrail and Israel, share the same Arabian phonetics.

Worshipper blessed by a Yazidi Priest at Lalish Temple.
Worshipper blessed by a Yazidi Priest at Lalish Temple.

If you are not familiar with the geography of the ancient Near East, North Iraq, the homeland of the Yazidis lies at the cross land between Arabia and Ancient Persia. As a matter of fact, the Yazidi sect derives its name from the ancient Persian city of ‘Yazd’, the sacred homeland of ‘Zoroastrianism’, where God is glorified as the light radiating from the sun or the illumination brought about by the flames of the sacred fire.

Just like the ancient Yazidis were misunderstood as the devil worshippers, the followers of Zoroaster were also unjustly perceived as the fire worshippers (Magi/Magos/Magicians) by the ancient Arabians, Jews and Muslims alike.

According to the Yazidi story, the role of God was completed after he had created the world/universe the progeny of Adam were to inhabit. The administration of the affairs of Adam and Eve’s children and their newly created universe was entrusted to ‘Malak Tawus’ as God’s representative and principal archangel.

By now we could begin to discern some striking similarities between the Yazidis’ story of creation and that of the Judaic, Christian and Islamic version (Six day creation – Satan vs. God – Adam and Eve – Sabbath as day of rest).

Scholars of comparative religion and mythology who examined those parallels have often viewed them as Biblical and Islamic influences that have left their mark on the Yazidi theology. But I find that interpretation so short sighted for ignoring how ancient the Yazidi sect/faith really is.

According to the Yazidis’ history and oral tradition they are currently in the year 6765 of their calendar. It is almost seven millennia now since Malak Tawus had landed on earth and blessed the Yazidi community as his chosen people (another Jewish parallel). In other words, we are looking at what could well be the most ancient faith on earth. And if we bear in mind that the Yazidis are indigenous to Northern Iraq and that they are strictly endogamous, we could come to grasp how the main core/theme of their mystic beliefs must have been kept (in their oral tradition) more or less unaltered throughout thousands of years

The point at which ‘Malak Tawus’ made his divine landing is ‘Lalish’ – the now Yazidis’ holiest site and pilgrimage destination in Northern Iraq. it is also the sacred burial of ‘Sheikh Adi‘ the saint/prophet of the Yazidis who died in 1162 AD.

Yazidism has been the subject of meticulous analysis by so many scholars over the last couple of centuries. But according to my research, most of those scholars go about it the wrong way. Instead of respecting the antiquity/originality of the Yazidi mythology, they tend to interpret many sides of the Yazidi mythology and faith as Abrahamic influences, where it is actually the other way around.

Yazidi temples have Islamic Moque-like architectural design.
Yazidi temples have Islamic Mosque-like architectural design.

The whole original story of Genesis is not the one that we find in the Bible, but indeed it is the story told in the ancient Yazidi narrations and mythology. We could trace many themes in the so-called Abrahamic religions (Christian ritual of baptism, Jewish tradition of circumcision and Islamic Mosque-like architecture and five daily prayers) back to its original source in the Yazidi mythology and spirituality.

The Yazidi tradition/myth recounts that before God created Adam, he had clearly warned all his archangels not to bow before any creature lower than them. God’s archangels’ lofty status came from the fact that they were immortal emanations of God’s own light. When the moment came to test ‘Malak Tawus’, he refused to bow to Adam on the grounds of Adam’s mortal status, as he was created from dust/mud. This is the moment that all Abrahamic traditions decisively pinpoint as when Satan/Azazel/Shaitan fell from God’s grace and deserved eternal damnation. But then again, The Yazidi’s narrative/mythology tells a totally different story.

The Yazidi oral narrations claim that God was not enraged by his archangel not bowing to Adam, rather God was so pleased with ‘Malak Tawus’ response/choice that he authorized him and another six archangels to administer and control life on earth. The Seven Archangels are represented by the colors of the rainbow halo that appear around the sun/God. In that sense, Malak Tawus acted as God’s deputy on earth, a demiurge ruling for ten thousand years over our earthly world. In the Yazidi ancient narrations Malak Tawus is not depicted as God’s adversary, and indeed not as the devil.

According to the Yazidi mythology, there was no primordial curse cast on Satan nor was there a primordial sin committed by Adam. The story of Adam & Eve and the tree of knowledge goes back to a Sumerian myth that later found its way into the Jewish scripture.

The Yazidi ancient narrations refer to Malak Tawus as their savior. Once he saw the pain and suffering of the world, a river of tears flew out of Malak Tawus’ eyes that filled seven gigantic jars. It was by his tears that the flames of hell were eternally extinguished. However, some Yazidi narrations claim that though God was not offended by the chief archangel’s response toward Adam, still Malak Tawus sensed he needed redemption. Or perhaps feeling the shame and bearing the brunt of being unfairly branded as the devil worshippers, this bit/segment about redemption in the story of Malak Tawus was added in a much later time to try and reconcile the Yazidis with aggressive neighboring communities.

 Azazel in the form of devil-goat, the work of Collin de Plancy Dictionnaire Infernal (Paris, 1825)
Azazel in the form of devil-goat, the work of Collin de Plancy Dictionnaire Infernal (Paris, 1825)

Either way, Malak Tawus had served his role in the story that was based on dualism as was the norm in ancient mythology. For example, the Egyptian God Seth represented the forces of chaos, but nevertheless he got to keep his divine status in the Egyptian pantheon of deities. Seth was defeated by the God Horus, but he was not killed nor eternally damned. Malak Tawus, just like Seth, carried on with his divine role in an ancient world view that depended on the mythological concept of dualism, but he was never demonized or portrayed as the Devil.

The Devil theme came much later with Judaism. Actually, the prototype of the Devil is the ancient Arabian concept of Jinn/Iblis. Archeological evidence found in Northern Arabia seems to indicate that the worship of Jinn was an ancient and widespread practice (long before Judaism and Islam).

Confirming its Arabian origin, Azazel/Iblis is stylistically portrayed in the form of goat, the traditional sacrificial animal in ancient Arabia. In fact many verses in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud denote that Azazel (Devil) was revered as an ancient Arabian deity and sacrificial rituals (of goats) were regularly performed for him.

“And Aaron shall place lots upon the two goats: one lot “For the Lord,” and the other lot, For Azazel”— Leviticus 16:8

Many rabbinical explanations of the above verse will play on the meaning of the word ‘Azazel’ to try and detach early Judaism from rituals of polytheism and deifying the chief Jinn/Iblis/Satan. Still the very fact of mentioning the ritual of sacrificing ‘goats’ to ‘Azazel’ is a strong indication that early Judaism is of ancient Arabian origin.

Due to their tribal mindset, the ancient Arabian Jews could not see/allow a tolerant God. Violent and extreme as their culture was, the Jewish version of the ‘Yazidi Genesis’ has somehow created a Devil/Azazel out of ‘Malak Tawus. Many centuries later Christianity and Islam blindly walked in the footsteps of Judaism, thus unwittingly reinforcing the Devil’s theme in their traditions.

Yazidism for scholars of comparative mythology and theology should be like ancient artifacts and archeological finds for historians. Just like the pieces of broken pottery, the mythology and ancient traditions of the Yazidis could help us reconstruct man’s first steps in his search for the divine forces, and not for the Devil.

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