“He who allows oppression shares the crime” – D.Erasmus
With the rise of ISIS in 2014, Yazidis in Iraqi Kurdistan were tortured, sold and massacred. Thousands of Yazidi women were sold on the slave market, and younger girls were forced to marry ISIS fighters. ISIS previously announced that Yazidis are “devil worshippers”, and they began a campaign to ‘cleanse’ Iraq of them. Not only was this an ethnic cleansing campaign, but a religious one too. Yazidis were not persecuted for their Kurdish ethnicity, but on the basis of their religion – Yazidism. Yet very few people actually know what the religion is about and so we ask one of the most misunderstood questions – what is Yazidism?
Yazidism is a monotheistic religion. God, who is referred to as Yazdan, created the world and entrusted it to 7 angels. The head angel is called Malik Tawus (peacock angel). Yazidis believe that God created Adam and Eve, and then ordered all the angels to prostrate to Adam. However the Malik Tawus did not prostrate as he believed one must only prostrate to God. Consequently, he was sent to Hell where his tears extinguished the fires of hell, and he was forgiven by God.
It is this belief that has been the basis of the Yazidi persecution. The story is very close to the Islamic one, where Iblis (Satan) refused to prostrate to Adam and was banished from Paradise. Yazidis do not believe Malik Tawus is Satan because he was forgiven by God and is not a source of evil, unlike the Islamic belief. Yazidism holds Malik Tawus in high esteem, and they often pray to him and ask for help. According to Christian scholars, the Malik Tawus is a peacock because peacocks represented immortality in early Christianity.
Yazidis believe that the 7 angels are often reincarnated into human form. Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir (12th century) is a central figure who is believed to be an incarnation of Malik Tawus. His tomb in Northern Iraq is a site of Yazidi pilgrimage. Yazidis believe they are descendants of Adam alone, whilst the rest of humanity descended from Adam and Eve.
Yazidism is a syncretic religion which incorporates parts of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism and Ancient Mesopotamian religions. Yazidis pray facing the sun at sunrise, noon and sunset every day. Wednesday is their holy day and Saturday is the day of rest. Children are baptised and circumcised at birth, and conversion to Yazidism is not possible – one must be born a Yazidi. The two holy books are the Book of Revelation and Black Book, although most teachings are passed down orally.
Whether or not Yazidi beliefs contradict my own is not important. Imam Ali (as) once said that “our enemies are not the Jews or Christians, our enemy is our own ignorance.” Yazidis have faced persecution for centuries because of what they choose to believe. It is wrong to punish people for their beliefs, especially in the modern world we have built. This is a truth I know too well. Iraq has a long history of religious persecution. Jews and Christians have been driven out of their homes, particularly in the late 20th century. Shia Muslims were subjected to huge extermination campaigns under Saddam Hussein’s rule, and are still massacred today at the hands of ISIS. Now, Yazidis are also being oppressed in Iraq. We cannot have one rule for some and not others. If we are to demand freedom of religion, we must grant it to everyone. As human beings we do not have the authority, nor the privilege, of holding each other to judgement. That is something only God can do.
Yesterday we were fighting for the rights of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Today, we must fight for the lives of Yazidis.