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Yazdânism, or the Cult of Angels, is a proposed pre-Islamic Mithraic religion of the Kurds. The term was introduced and proposed by Kurdish and Belgian scholar Mehrdad Izady to represent what he considers the "original" religion of the Kurds.[1]

According to Izady, Yazdânism is now continued in the denominations of Yazidism, Yarsanism, and Kurdish Alevism/Chinarism.[2][3] The three traditions subsumed under the term Yazdânism are primarily practiced in relatively isolated communities; from Khurasan to Anatolia, and parts of western Iran.

The concept of Yazdânism has found a wide perception both within and beyond Kurdish nationalist discourses, but has been disputed by other recognized scholars of Iranian religions. Well established, however, are the "striking" and "unmistakable" similarities between the Yazidis and the Yaresan or Ahl-e Haqq,[4] some of which can be traced back to elements of an ancient faith that was probably dominant among Western Iranians and akin, but separate from Zoroastrianism[1][5] and likened to practices of pre-Zoroastrian Mithraic religion.[6] Mehrdad Izady defines the Yazdânism as an ancient Hurrian religion and states that Mitanni could have introduced some of the Vedic tradition that appears to be manifest in Yazdânism.[7]


Mehrdad Izady derived the term from an Iranic/Aryan concept of Holy beings (Middle Persian: Yazd?n‎), often translated as "angels" or "archangels", and a cognate of the current name of the Yezidi branch of it. While he refers to "Yazdânism" as possibly being the real name of this old religion and the sources of modern designation, Yezidi, he has published evidence of this assertion only in his 1992 book, Kurds: A Concise Handbook.

One of the few ancient sources that mention the "Sipâsîâns", considered synonymous with the Yazdânis is the Dabestân-e Madâheb, written between 1645 and 1658.[8]

Common features of Yezidism, Yarsanism and Dimili/Kurdish Alevism

Many similarities have been discovered between the Dimili/Kurdish Alevi, Yezidi and Yarsani rituals, mythologies and practices, which has led a considerable amount of scholars into believing that the three religions share a pre-Islamic origin. The common features include:

  1. Reverence of the Sun and turning towards the Sun for prayers.
  2. Yezidis and Yarsanis share a strikingly similar cosmogony. The belief of the universe being created from a White Pearl, which was made by God with his own pure light, is present in both religions. In addition, both religions have the belief that the World was first created in the spiritual, and then the material form.
  3. All groups have the concept of a brotherly/sisterly bond which continues into afterlife. The Alevis call this bond "Müsahiplik", the Yezidis speak of Biraye/Xu?ka axirete (brother/sister of the hereafter) which the bride and groom choose before marriage, the Yarsani, among whom the custom only survives in Iraqi Kurdistan, use the term br?y/w?lley Yarî (brother/sister in Yarsanism).
  4. A belief in reincarnation or transmigration of souls is attested in each of the religions.
  5. The belief that the Divine or a holy being can manifest themselves in humans, i.e the concept of Avatars.
  6. In all three communities, the spiritual authority and the role as spiritual guiders is retained and maintained by members of two hereditary groups of spiritual leaders, (Yezidis: Pir and Sheikh; Alevis: Pir and Dalil; Yarsanis: Pir and Rehber) who are then divided in numerous lineages (Yezidis: ocax; Alevis: ocak; Yarsanis: khandan) descending from a special religious figure, i.e a Saint, an Avatar, etc. Each member of the groups must be affiliated to two people from each of those hereditary groups respectively.
  7. The belief that the world is ruled by a heptad of Holy Beings (Known as archangels in western literature)
  8. All religious groups traditionally practice endogamy.
  9. Moustaches are esteemed and men usually don't shave their moustaches
  10. The figure of Tawûsî Melek appears in the mythology of all three religions, most particularly Yezidism.
  11. The concept of Wheel of Time is clearly attested in Yezidi and Yarsan beliefs as there's a belief in a cyclical form of history, the events of the time of creation are essentially repeated during a succession of 'periods'. Traces of a similar belief is also found in Alevism.[9][10][11][12][13][14]

Principal beliefs

In Yazdâni theologies, an absolute pantheistic[15] force (Hâk or Haqq) encompasses the whole universe. It binds together the cosmos with its essence, and has entrusted the universe the heft sirr (the "Heptad", "Seven Mysteries", "Seven Angels"), who sustain universal life and can incarnate in persons, bâbâ ("Gates" or "Avatar").[16] These seven emanations are comparable to the seven Anunnaki aspects of Anu of ancient Mesopotamian theology, and they include Melek Taus (the "Peacock Angel" or "King"), who has been suggested by some scholars to be equivalent of the ancient god Dumuzi son of Enki.[17]

Some scholar have pointed to the Iranic origin of these deities, in particular Shaykh Shams al-Din, "the sun of the faith", who is a Yezidi figure that has many features in common with the Old Iranian God Mithra, such as being associated with the Sun, playing an important role in Oaths and being involved in the annual bull sacrifice which takes place in Autumn festivals.[18][5]

Pre-Islamic theology from indigenous and local Western Iranian faiths have survived in these three religions, although the expression and the vocabulary have been heavily influenced by an Arabic and Persianate Sufi lexicon.[1][5][9][10][19]

Seven divine beings

The principal feature of Yazdânism is the belief in seven benevolent divine beings that defend the world from an equal number of malign entities. While this concept exists in its purest form in Yârsânism and Yazidism, it evolves into "seven saints/spiritual persons".[20] Another important feature of these religions is a doctrine of reincarnation. The belief in reincarnation has been documented among the Nusayri (Shamsi Alawites) as well.[20]

The Yazidis believe in a single God as creator of the world, which he has placed under the care of these seven "holy beings" or angels, whose "chief" (archangel) is Melek Taus, the "Peacock Angel". The Peacock Angel, as world-ruler, causes both good and bad to befall individuals, and this ambivalent character is reflected in myths of his own temporary fall from God's favor, before his remorseful tears extinguished the fires of his hellish prison and he was reconciled with God.

Melek Taus is sometimes identified by Muslims and Christians with Shaitan (Satan). Yazidis, however, strongly dispute this, considering him to be the leader of the archangels, not a fallen angel.[21][22] According to Christine Allison:

The Yazidis of Kurdistan have been called many things, most notoriously "devil-worshippers", a term used both by unsympathetic neighbours and fascinated Westerners. This sensational epithet is not only deeply offensive to the Yazidis themselves, but quite simply wrong.[23]

Because of this connection to the Sufi Iblis tradition, some followers of Christianity and Islam equate the Peacock Angel with their own unredeemed evil spirit Satan,[24][25][26][27] which has incited centuries of persecution of the Yazidis as 'devil worshippers'. Persecution of Yazidis has continued in their home communities within the borders of modern Iraq, under both Saddam Hussein and fundamentalist Sunni Muslim revolutionaries.[28] In August 2014, the Yazidis were targeted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, in its campaign to 'purify' Iraq and neighboring countries of non-Islamic influences.[29]

Difference in practices from Islam

Yazdânis do not maintain any of the requisite five pillars of Islam; nor do they have mosques or frequent them. They also don't follow the Quran and each denomination of this religion has its own scriptures and texts that the adherents hold in a higher esteem than all other texts.[30][31][32][33]



From the Yarsani (sometimes also called Ahl-e Haqq or Yâresân) point of view, the universe is composed of two distinct yet interrelated worlds: the internal (batini) and the external (zahiri), each having its own order and rules. Although humans are only aware of the outer world, their lives are governed according to the rules of the inner world. Among other important pillars of their belief system are that the Divine Essence has successive manifestations in human form (mazhariyyat, derived from zahir) and the belief in transmigration of the soul (or dunaduni in Kurdish). The Yarsani do not observe Muslim rites and rituals.[34]

The term "Haqq" (as in Ahl-e Haqq) is often misrepresented and misinterpreted as the Arabic term for "Truth". Instead, its true meaning is clearly explained by Nur Ali Elahi (died 1974) – as being "distinct from the Arabic term and in fact, should be written as "Hâq" ("Hâq-i wâqi'") instead of "Haqq" and should be understood to be different in meaning, connotation, and essence."[35]


Yazidi men in traditional Shingali clothes

Yazidis, who have much in common with the followers of Yarsanism, state that the universe created by God was at first a pearl. It remained in this very small and enclosed state for some time (often a magic number such as forty or forty thousand years) before being remade in its current state. During this period the Heptad were called into existence, God made a covenant with them and entrusted the world to them. Besides Tawûsê Melek, members of the Heptad (the Seven), who were called into existence by God at the beginning of all things, include ?êx Hasan, ?êxobekir and the four brothers, known as the Four Mysteries: Shamsadin, Fakhradin, Sajadin and Naserdin.[5]


Yazidi new year at Lalish temple, Iraqi Kurdistan

The distribution of these three beliefs follows geographic boundaries:


Izady proposes the term as denoting a belief system which "predates Islam by millennia" which is in its character "Aryan" rather than "Semitic".[36]

Instead of suggesting that the Muslim Kurds are Yazdânis, Izady suggests that Yazdâni Kurds are not Muslim, and identify themselves as such only to avoid harm and discrimination.[37]

The view on non-Islamic identity of the Yazdânis is shared by Mohammad Mokri, the well-known Kurdish folklorist and historian, who states this religion to be "less Islamic than Bahá'ísm", which had emerged from Bábism as "a new non-Islamic religion".[19]


The concept of Yazdânism as a distinct religion has been disputed by a number of scholars. Richard Foltz considers Yazdânism, or the "Cult of Angels", as Izady's "invented religion", which according to Foltz "owes more to contemporary Kurdish national sentiment than to actual religious history."[1]

Iranian anthropologist Ziba Mir-Hosseini states:[38]

The most notable case is that of Izady (1992) who, in his eagerness to distance the Ahl-e Haqq from Islam and to give it a purely Kurdish pedigree, asserts that the sect is a denomination of a religion of great antiquity which he calls "the Cult of Angels". This 'Cult', he states, is "fundamentally a non-Semitic religion, with an Aryan superstructure overlaying a religious foundation indigenous to the Zagros. To identify the Cult or any of its denominations as Islamic is simply a mistake born of a lack of knowledge of the religion, which pre-dates Islam by millennia."

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Foltz, Richard (7 November 2013). "Two Kurdish Sects: The Yezidis and the Yaresan". Religions of Iran: From Prehistory to the Present. p. 219. ISBN 978-1-78074-307-3.
  2. ^ Alex Domenech (20 August 2015). The Domenech Bible Interpretations: The Bible & Climate Change. WestBow Press. pp. 166-. ISBN 978-1-5127-0849-3. According to Izady, Yazdanism is now continued in the denominations of Yazidism, Yarsanism, and Chinarism
  3. ^ "Cult of Angels - KURDISTANICA". Retrieved .
  4. ^ Kreyenbroek 1995, pp. 54, 59.
  5. ^ a b c d Kreyenbroek, Philip G. "YEZIDISM ITS BACKGROUND OBSERVANCES AND TEXTUAL TRADITION". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Foltz, Richard (7 November 2013). "Mithra and Mithraism". Religions of Iran: From Prehistory to the Present. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-78074-307-3.
  7. ^ "Exploring Kurdish Origins".
  8. ^ Azar Kayvan (1645-1658). "Dabestan-e Madaheb, section 1-2". www.avesta.org. Retrieved 2019.
  9. ^ a b Turgut, Lokman. Ancient rites and old religions in Kurdistan. OCLC 879288867.
  10. ^ a b Bozarslan, Hamit; Gunes, Cengiz; Yadirgi, Veli, eds. (2021-04-22). The Cambridge History of the Kurds (1 ed.). Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108623711. ISBN 978-1-108-62371-1.
  11. ^ Rodziewicz, Artur. "Yezidi Eros. Love as The Cosmogonic Factor and Distinctive Feature ofThe Yezidi Theology in The Light of Some Ancient Cosmogonies". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ "K?rd,K?rmanc, D?m?li veya Zaza Kürtleri". www.bitlisname.com (in Turkish). Retrieved .
  13. ^ "Philip KREYENBROEK World Congress of KURDISH STUDIES". Institutkurde.org. Retrieved .
  14. ^ )., Omarkhali, Khanna (1981- (2011). The status and role of the Yezidi legends and myths : to the question of comparative analysis of Yezidism, Y?ris?n (Ahl-e Haqq) and Zoroastrianism: a common substratum?. OCLC 999248462.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ "Yezidi Spirits?". ResearchGate. Retrieved .
  16. ^ Kurdistanica - Encyclopaedia of Kurdistan: Cult of Angels
  17. ^ Aç?ky?ld?z 2010, p. 74.
  18. ^ Bidlisi, Izady. 2000. p. 80
  19. ^ a b "A belief system of great antiquity that is fundamentally a non-Semitic religion, with an Aryan superstructure overlaying a religious foundation indigenous to the Zagros. To identify the Cult or any of its denominations as Islamic is simply a mistake born of a lack of knowledge of the religion, which pre-dates Islam by millennia." Mukri, Muhammad (1966), L'Esotrérism kurde (2nd (2002) ed.), Paris, p. 92
  20. ^ a b Izady 1992, pp. 170 passim.
  21. ^ Kurdish Society by Martin Van Bruinessen, in The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview, ed. Philip G. Kreyenbroek, Stefan Sperl, Routledge, 17 Aug 2005, p. 29 "The Peacock Angel (Malak Tawus) whom they worship may be identified with Satan, but is to them not the Lord of Evil as he is to Muslims and Christians."
  22. ^ The Yezidis: The History of a Community, Culture and Religion, by Birgül Aç?ky?ld?z, I. B. Tauris, 30 Sep 2010, p. 2 "Muslim and Christian neighbors of the Yezidis in the Middle East consider the Peacock Angel as the embodiment of Satan and an evil, rebellious spirit."
  23. ^ Allison, C. (1998). The Evolution of Yazidi Religion from Spoken Word to Written Scripture. ISIM Newsletter. via openaccess.leidenuniv.nl, accessed 30 September 2019
  24. ^ "The Peacock Angel (Malak Tawus) whom they worship may be identified with Satan, but is to them not the Lord of Evil as he is to Muslims and Christians." In: Martin van Bruinessen (2005). "Kurdish Society". In Kreyenbroek, Philip G.; Sperl, Stefan (eds.). The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview. p. 29.
  25. ^ "Muslim and Christian neighbors of the Yezidis in the Middle East consider the Peacock Angel as the embodiment of Satan and an evil, rebellious spirit". In: Aç?ky?ld?z 2010, p. 2
  26. ^ Berman, Russell (2014-08-08). "A Very Brief History of the Yazidi and What They're Up Against in Iraq". The Wire. Retrieved .
  27. ^ "Iraq crisis: who are the Yazidis and why is Isis hunting them?". The Guardian. 8 August 2014.
  28. ^ The Devil Worshippers, of Iraq. "The Devil Worshippers of Iraq". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2014.
  29. ^ "Who are the Yazidi, and Why is ISIS Targeting Them?".
  30. ^ Elahi, Nurali (1975), Buhan-i Haq (in Persian), Teheran, pp. anecdote 1143
  31. ^ admi. "The differences between Yarsan and Islam - Yarsanmedia" (in Persian). Retrieved .
  32. ^ Maisel, Sebastian (2018-06-21). The Kurds: An Encyclopedia of Life, Culture, and Society. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-4408-4257-3.
  33. ^ www.rudaw.net https://www.rudaw.net/english/people-places/27122017. Retrieved . Missing or empty |title= (help)
  34. ^ Z. Mir-Hosseini, Inner Truth and Outer History: The Two Worlds of the Ahl-e Haqq of Kurdistan, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol.26, 1994, p.267-268
  35. ^ Elahi, Nurali (1975), Buhan-i Haq (in Persian), Teheran, pp. anecdote 1098
  36. ^ "a belief system of great antiquity that is fundamentally a non-Semitic religion, with an Aryan superstructure overlaying a religious foundation indigenous to the Zagros. To identify the Cult or any of its denominations as Islamic is simply a mistake born of a lack of knowledge of the religion, which pre-dates Islam by millennia." in: Izady 1992, pp. 172 passim
  37. ^ Izady 1992, pp. 172 passim
  38. ^ Mir-Hosseini 1992, p. 132.


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