Yazidi Temple entry at Lalish, northeast of Mosul, Iraq
Yazidi Temple entry at Lalish, northeast of Mosul, Iraq. Source: MikaelF (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Yazidis, also known as 'Yezidis' and 'Ezidis', are a Kurdish speaking ancient religious minority group living in northern Iraq, predominantly in the Nineveh Plains, in territories disputed by Arabs and Kurds. Estimates of Yazidis vary from 500,000 to a million and recently their community have been under brutal attack at the hands of the terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). They have been persecuted, and following the ISIS capture of Sinjar (heartland of Yazidis), they were compelled to flee to mountainous areas where they were reported by news services across the world in 2014 to have been at serious risk of starvation and death.

The persecution of Yazidis has now reached its worst levels, however the Yazidis have often been isolated and marginalised over the centuries by Muslims and non-Muslims in Iraq who have described them as ‘devil worshippers’. This long-held and unjust accusation of devil worship is unfounded and offensive to Yazidis.

They believe in one God who created the world and entrusted it in the hands of seven Holy Beings or Angels, with the pre-eminent angel being Melek Tawus, the Peacock Angel. The Yazidis believe that when God created Adam and Eve, he instructed the seven angels to bow to his creations. The only angel who refused to do this was Melek Tawus, because he believed that he should only bow and submit to God. Following his refusal he was banished to hell where he repented for his sins and became reconciled again with God.The resemblance of the Melek Tawus story with the Lucifer/Satan story, is often cited as the reason for Yazidis being unjustly labelled ‘devil worshippers’.

Melek Tawus is revered by the Yazidis as an intermediary between God and humanity and is celebrated in the form of a peacock.Their practices and beliefs have much in common with pre-Christian peoples of southern Turkey and northern Iraq. Their religion incorporates elements of ancient nature worship and elements of many faiths, including Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism, IslamChristianity and Judaism. Yazidis believe that good and evil exist in human beings, but it depends on the individual, which they choose to follow in their life.

Religious Observances

Yazidi men
Yazidi men. Source: Bestoun94 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The source of beliefs for Yazidis has mostly been through the oral transmission of traditions and through hymns. Marriage is monogamous, it is conducted within a caste system and marriage outside the Yazidi religion is not permitted. Yazidi children are baptised at birth and circumcision is common, although not a religious requirement. Yazidis bury their dead as early as possible and they are buried with their hands crossed in canonical tombs facing the East.

They have five daily prayers, with Wednesday as their holy day. The most celebrated festival of the Yazidi is the seven day Feast of the Assembly, from 23 September to 1 October. The festival marks the annual pilgrimage of the Yazidi to Lalish (also known as Laliş or Lalişa Nûranî) near Mosul, Iraq, the location of the tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, who is revered as the Yazidi religion’s founder.

History in Australia

Most Yazidis who have fled Iraq have resettled in neighbouring countries, such as Syria and Turkey, and others have migrated to Germany and the USA. Only a handful of Yazidis have resettled in Australia over the past few decades, but it is anticipated that since the 2014 targeted persecution of Yazidis, the number of Yazidi Australians is likely to grow, especially given that the Australian government has identified the Yazidi minority group as a community to resettle in Australia.

Further Reading & Materials