Yazidis are followers of an ancient religion that has some similarities to Islam but is different. Many of their beliefs derive from Christianity and followers revere both the Quran and the Bible.
Most Yadizis live in northern Iraq, Syria, Georgia, Armenia, and northwestern Iran. They number in the hundreds of thousands.
Yazidis believe in reincarnation and in an all powerful being called Yasdan who is never worshiped directly. Instead, Yazidis worship spirits that emanate from Yasdan, like the Peacock Angel, known as Malak Taus, who is considered to be the greatest of these sprits. The peacock was an important symbol in early Christianity because its flesh does not seem to decay.
Yazidis lived alongside Christians for centuries and, according to Gerard Russell in his book, Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, worked together against their Muslim overlords and sometimes would covert to each other's religion.
Many people mistakenly call the Yazidis devil worshippers. That's because Malak Taus, the Peacock Angel to whom Yazidis pray five times a day, has another name, "Shaytan," which means "devil worshipper" in Arabic.
Some Yazidi festivals like the sacrifice of bull, which is supposed to bring fertility in the spring and rain in the winter, involves reverence of a Sheik named "Shams" which reassembles the name of the ancient Assyrian sun god, Shamash. King Hammurabi invoked Shamash's name when he wrote his great law code.
In December, Yazidis fast for three days and then have a feast called Eid al-Swam. The sun figures in this feast as it does in the sacrifice of the bull. When the sun did not appear in ancient times, three days of fast led God to restore it.
The Yazidi faith is a mystery religion and clergy are reluctant to reveal inner messages. While this secrecy has helped keep them safe in the past, it has made it difficult for historians to learn a lot about the faith.
Extremist Sunnis like ISIL persecute the Yazidi because they believe the Yazidi name derives from an unpopular Umayyad caliph. But, according to the BBC Magazine Monitor, modern research shows that their name really has nothing to do with the second caliph of the Umayyad Dynasty.
Fighters for the Islamic State have bought, sold, and raped thousands of Yazidi women. They kidnapped young boys and indoctrinated them with ISIS beliefs. Over half a million Yazidi have been displaced from their homes and those that remain live in terrible refugee camps.
- Watch the one-minute video overview below from BBC. It provides a great introduction to t the faith.
- BBC Magazine Monitor has a terrific essay about the the Yazidi called Who, What, Why: Who are the Yazidis?
- The National Geographic, Who Are the Yazidis, the Ancient, Persecuted Religious Minority Struggling to Survive in Iraq?
- The Atlantic, The Yazidis, a People Who Fled