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Sacred Books and Traditions of the Yezidiz, by Isya Joseph, [1919], at



Thus far we have been dealing with the different theories regarding the origin of the Yezidis held in the East: the myth of the devil-worshippers themselves, the Christian tradition. Now we turn our attention to the West, which also has expressed itself on this subject. The degree of interest shown in this particular case, however, differs with different nationalities. The English-speaking scholars come

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first; next come the French; then the Russians; and finally the Italians. The German scholars seem to be interested mainly in certain words and festive events. And, in the discussion of these, they go so far in their unbounded speculation that one cannot tell whether the people they deal with are the Yezidis in question, Assyrians, Babylonians, Canaanites, Greeks, Romans or Jews. The German writers do not seem to be interested so much in the problem of the origin of this people as a sect, unless they regard the question as settled on the ground of the Yezidis' own statement that they are the descendants of Yezîd bn Mu‘awiya.

To tell the truth, the rise of the interest in the inquiry about the founder of this sect on a scientific basis, is due, without question, to the scholarship of the West. And any solution of the problem (and it does not matter who does the work), in the last analysis, must be accredited to the influences emanating from these scholars and these scholars only. Nevertheless modern orientalists have been far from approaching the solution of the question. This may be due in part to the extreme interest which they have taken in the matter, an interest which led them to accept the phenomena without critical examination. But the inductive study of their respective writings tends to show that this is due to their method of procedure rather than to anything else. They have employed the philosophical and not the historical method. 23 I do not mean to deny the value of such a course of investigation in questions pertaining to

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religion, but what I do mean to say is that the method of the scholars in question is almost purely speculative, and they do not seem to appeal to historical facts in support of their assumptions. The inevitable consequence has been, therefore, that in their theories there exists an uncertainty and indefiniteness that puzzles the student of history.

Another fact which the inductive study of the views of the western scholars reveals is that their theories are nothing more nor less than the expression of the Yezidis' tradition in terms of modern scholarship, without, however, the showing of reasons for so doing. This fact will be proved presently when we shall examine their respective writings.

Western orientalists are divided into three schools of opinion on the question of the religious origin of the Yezidis. There are those who hold that the sect takes its rise from Yezîd bn Mu‘awiya. This view is advocated by a modern writer, who says, "The Arabs who accepted Mohammed called those who did not Al-jahaleen, i.e., the. ignorant ones. Among the latter was Yezîd bn Mu‘awiya who refused to accompany Mu‘awiya, his father, as an attendant upon his person. Many of the ignorant ones rallied around Yezid, and he became the nucleus of the sect that appropriated his name. The Yezidis possess a genealogical tree by means of which they trace their religious origin back to him." 24

Now, the ground for this assertion, the writer does not give; he is entirely silent as to the source of his

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information: It is evident, therefore, that he is regarding the superstitious theory of the Yezidis as a fact without making any reflection upon it. He also seems to be confusing this Yezid with his uncle of the same name, who, with Mu‘awiya his brother came in company with their father Abu Sofian, to Mohammed to receive presents from the Prophet. But the Arab historians tell us that not only Abu Sofian and each of his two sons received a hundred camels but that they were each presented with forty ounces of silver. 25

Then, too, many scholars deny that the name Yezidis is the original appellation. Some assert it was put upon them by the Mohammedans as a term of reproach. 26 Others maintain that the sect adopted the name Yezid, son of Mu‘awiya to secure toleration at the hands of the Mohammedans. 27 But the scholar quoted may entertain the view of those who say that the Yezidis are really the followers of Ibn Mu‘awiya; but that they deny it for fear of persecution on the part of Shiites. These latter hate Yezid, because he murdered ‘Ali's son, Husein, who is regarded by them as their true Imam. This inference is founded on the theory that the Mohammedans of Persia consider the people in question as descendants of the Calif whose name is odious to them. 28 But it is not certain that the followers of ‘Ali entertain such a view regarding the origin of the Yezidis. And, if they do, they have no historical facts to justify them in their opinion. Their hatred of the sect can be better explained on

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the basis of the relation of the devil-worshippers to Yezîd bn Unaisa. For he was one of those who most bitterly hated ‘Ali; see pp. 121, 122, 128 of this book.

Furthermore, the theory of this school is neutralized by the fact that none of the Arab historians mentions the son of the first Calif in the Omayyid dynasty as a founder of any heretical sect. On the contrary, they all agree that he was not only a Mohammedan but a successor of the prophet, being the second calif in the Omayyid dynasty. Ibn Ḫallikan mentions his name two or three times, and says that his works were collected. He says nothing, however, as to his founding any religious schism.

There is still another school among the western orientalists. I mean those who hold that the religion of the devil-worshippers is of Persian origin. They are of two wings. There are those who take their method of procedure from the name Yezid or Yazd. They argue that this term in Persian, Yazd (pla Yazdān), Avestan Yezata, 'worthy of worship', means God, or good spirit, over against Ahriman, the evil principle. Hence, the name Yezid, according to them, indicates the people that believe in this good god. To the objection that the Yezidis worship the evil spirit, answer is made that Yezid Ferfer is the name of the attendant of the evil spirit among the Parsees. 29 Others believe that the word "Yezid" signifies God. It indicates in the plural the observers of superstitious doctrines as may be seen by the idol Yezid, which the Bishop of Nagham overthrew. 30 Still others say that

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in the tradition of these people Yezid must have been an abbreviated form of Aez-da-Khuda, that is, created of God. In support of this theory, it is claimed that in reality the Yezidis worship God and not the devil. It is thought by many, too, that the Yezidis derive their name from Yazd, or Yezid, a name of a town in Central Persia, of which the Parsees form the principal part of the inhabitants. 31

The other wing of the second school attempts to trace the origin of the devil-worshippers to a Persian source on the basis of certain resemblances between the two religions. Conspicuous among the representatives of this school is Professor A. V. Jackson, of Columbia University. This distinguished scholar is considered an eminent authority on Iranian religions, and particularly an eye-witness authority on the Yezidi question. His views, therefore, not only deserve careful consideration, but they demand their full share in solving such an important problem as the one under discussion. I have preferred his discussion of this theory to that of others because he has expressed himself clearly and consistently and without rendering himself liable to misapprehension on the part of the reader. Briefly stated, Dr. Jackson's position is as follows: "The Yezidis may actually show some surviving traces of old devil-worship in Mazandaran, which Zoroaster anathematized so bitterly," and "some old reminiscences of common Iranian faith." To verify this hypothesis, he proceeds to point out many instances. One example he

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cites is that "the Yezidis are shocked if one spits upon the earth, because they interpret this as an insult to the devil." He traces this abhorrence to "Zoroastrian prescription, forbidding the earth in any way to be defiled." "The Daevayasna or devil-worshippers in Avesta," he goes on to say, "may indirectly have had a kindred notion, i.e., not mentioning the name of Satan." Moreover this American critic is informed that the Yezidis "believe in a father primeval, that lived before Adam, and did not fall into sin." And this information leads him to think that such a notion helps "the Zoroastrian student to recognize at once a far-off reminiscence of Avestan Gaya-Mashai, the Iranian Adam and Eve." 31a

One noticeable thing in favor of the two schools is that their method is strictly scientific, in the modern sense of the term. It is a posteriori and not a priori; it is inductive. Yet however scientific their method may seem to be their conclusions cannot be accepted as final. For the inductive method, according to the great French scientist, Poincaré, cannot give us exact knowledge because its experiments do not cover all the instances in a given case. There can be only a partial verification. There will always remain some phenomena that cannot be brought within the sphere of a particular observation. 32 Now, this is exactly the case in the subject under consideration. Only in some phases does the Yezidi religion resemble that of the old Persians. There are other beliefs which do not come under this category, and which seem to bear

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the traces of some other religions. What are we to do with these? 33 The advocates of the theory in question admit that such is the case, but they assert that "the resemblances of the Yezidi religion to Christianity and Islam are accidental"; that "owing to the residence of the Yezidis among the Mohammedans, the sect naturally has much in common with Islam." 34 But why are the resemblances to Iranism not to be accounted for in the same way as those to other religions? Why may not equally strong inference be made from the likeness to Christianity? And what is the basis of such a discrimination? On these questions we are left entirely in the dark. Now, it is this lack of ground for their method of procedure that leads one to seek the solution of the problem on some other verifiable hypothesis.

There is still another school among the western orientalists. I refer to those who maintain that the Yezidi sect was founded by Šeiḫ ‘Adî. A modern writer who holds this theory, after critically reviewing the views held by the different scholars, proceeds to advance his own idea. To emphasize it, and leave no room for further criticism, he claims that the theory has been "generally" accepted. To quote:

"It is generally agreed upon that the sect of the Yezidis was founded by Šeiḫ ‘Adî. He is a historical personage, but it is exceedingly difficult, and almost impossible, to establish any historical facts out of the mist of very fantastic stories current about him." 35

He supports his notion by an appeal to an Arab

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author, Kasi Ahmad ibn-Ḫallikan, from whom, according to this writer, an extract relating to Šeiḫ ‘Adî was published by one who for years was a resident of the city of Mosul. 36 This statement that Ibn Ḫallikan gives the biography of ‘Adî is a fact that cannot be questioned; but that ‘Adî founded the Yezidi sect is a theory that is by no means "generally agreed upon." Nor can it be substantiated. To justify this position, let me quote in full what the Arab biographer and two other Mohammedan scholars have to say on the problem.

1 What Ibn Ḫallikan has to say on Šeiḫ ‘Adî:

"The Šeiḫ ‘Adî Ibn Masafir Al-Hakkari was an ascetic, celebrated for the holiness of his life, and the founder. of a religious order called after him Al-‘Adawiah. His reputation spread to distant countries, and the number of his followers increased to a great multitude. Their belief in his sanctity was so excessive that, in saying their prayers, they took him for their ḳibla; and imagined that in the next life they would have in him their most precious treasure and their best support. Before this, he had as a disciple a great number of eminent šeiḫs and men remarkable for their holiness. He then retired from the world and fixed his residence among the mountains of the Hakkari, near Mosul, where he built a cell (or a monastery) and gained the favor of the people in that country to a degree unexampled in the history of the anchorites. It is said that the place of his birth was a village called Bait Far, situated in the province of

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[paragraph continues] Baal-bek, and that the house in which he was born is still visited (as a place of sanctity). He died A. H. 557 (A. D. 1162), or as some say A. H. 555, in the town where he resided (in the Hakkari region). He was interred in the monastery that he had erected. His tomb is much frequented, being considered by his followers one of the most sacred spots to which a pilgrimage can be made. His descendants continue to wear the same distinctive attire as he did and to walk in his footsteps. The confidence placed in their merits is equal to that formerly shown to their ancestor, and like him they are treated with profound respect. Abu Ibarakat ibn Al-Mustawfi notices the Šeiḫ ‘Adî, in his history of Arbela, and places him in the list of those persons who visited that city. Muzaffar Ad-Din, the sovereign of Arbela, said that when a boy he saw the Šeiḫ ‘Adî at Mosul. According to him, he was a man of medium size and tawny complexion; he related also many circumstances indicative of his great sanctity. The Šeiḫ died at the age of ninety years." 37

2 What Mohammed-Amin-Al-‘Omari has to say on Šeiḫ ‘Adî:

"They say that the Šeiḫ ‘Adî was one of the inhabitants of Ba‘albek; that he transported himself to Mosul, and from thence to Jabal Laš, a dependency of this city (Mosul), where he resided until his death. They also say that he was from Ḥawran, and that his lineage goes back as far as Marwan bn al-Ḥakam, also that he is Šaraf ad Din Abou’l Fadail ‘Adî bn Masafir

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bn Isma‘il bn Mousa bn Marwan bn al Ḥasan bn Marwan bn Mohammed bn Marwan bn al Ḥakam, who died in the year 558. His grave, which is well known, is the object of pious pilgrimages."

"God tried him by a calamity, to wit, the appearance of a sect of apostates, called the Yezidis. because they claim to be descended from Yezid. They adore the sun and render worship to the devil. The following are some of the precepts of their faith that I found in a small tract made by one of the inhabitants of Aleppo who knows their religion:

I. Adultery becomes lawful when committed by (mutual) consent.

II. They pretend that when the day of judgment comes, the šeiḫ ‘Adî will put them into a wooden basin which he will place on his head in order to cause them to enter into Paradise while uttering these contemptuous words: 'I do this (or, I make them do this) by compelling God or in spite of him.'

III The visit which they pay to the tomb of Šeiḫ ‘Adî is for them a pilgrimage which the devotees accomplished no matter how far distant, the country is that they inhabit, and without being concerned about the expenses that the journey carries with it." 38

3. What Yasin Al-Hatib-al-Omari Al-Mausili has to say on Šeiḫ ‘Adî:

"In this year 557 died the saint and the pious devotee ‘Adî bn Musafir, who performed miracles. His death took place in the city Hakkariya, one of the dependencies of Mosul. His origin is from Ba‘albek,

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which he left in order to come to Mosul, that he might consecrate himself to God. He passed a solitary life on the mountains and in caverns where lions and other wild beasts visited him often."

"It is said that he was descended from the family of Omayyids, and this is the lineage which he attributed to himself: ‘Adî bn Musafir bn Isma‘il bn Mousa bn Marwan bn al-Ḥasan bn Marwan bn al-Ḥakam bn Al-‘Ass bn Omayya."

"He was versed in the knowledge of the divine law. God tried him by a calamity by raising the Yezidis, who pretended that this šeiḫ is God, and who have made his tomb the object of their pilgrimage. They arrive there every year at the sound of drums in order to give themselves to games and debauchery."

"The Christians of the land, and especially the partisans of the Nestorians are far from having the same opinion of the Šeiḫ ‘Adî as have the Moslems or the Yezidis. The following passage which one reads in a Chaldean manuscript entitled 'Awarda' 39 and which I saw some time ago in the Church of Karmalis, 40 proves this sufficiently. This is the translation of the passage which I have extracted from a song composed by a bishop of Arbil, in honor of Rabban Hormuzd 41 and other saints, and in which the author makes mention of ‘Adî in these terms:

"'Great misfortunes have followed, failing upon us; a formidable enemy came to torment us. He was a descendant of Hagar, the slave of our mother. This enemy who made our life unfortunate was a Mohammedan,

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called ‘Adî. He deceived us by vile tricks, and has finished by taking possession of our riches and of our convent, which he consecrated to things that are illicit (to have a strange worship). An innumerable multitude of Mussulmen have attached themselves to him and have vowed to him a blind submission. The renown of his name, which is Šeiḫ ‘Adî, has spread down to our days in all the cities of all the countries.'" 42

These are the accounts which we have of Šeiḫ ‘Adî in his relation to the Yezidis, and they deserve our special attention. For not only are the writers scholars of the highest authority, but they are to a certain extent eye-witness authorities. The last two are from the city of Mosul, which is the only city in the Mohammedan world whose widely spreading scholarship has acquired for it the name "Dar-al-‘Ulum," i.e., the home of sciences. Moreover, they come from a family whose members are known as ‘Olama, highly intellectual, broad-minded Mohammedan gentlemen. While at Mosul, I had the honor of calling often on Ḥasan. Efendi al ‘Omari, and especially on Suleiman Efendi al Omari. Ibn Ḫallikan as a trustworthy biographer needs no further introduction than the mere mentioning of his name. What adds to his reputation as a scholar is the fact that, being a resident of Arbila in the province of Mosul, he had at his command firsthand information.

Another noteworthy fact is that all three of these scholars agree in their account of Šeiḫ ‘Adî, in their

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tracing of his genealogy, in describing him as the most perfect model of hermits, in praising him for his manner of life, which they regard as a life of holiness. They agree also in their definition of the common people's attitude toward the Šeiḫ: that he was deified and that his tomb has been made the object of pilgrimage. And finally they are silent about his supposed founding of the sect in question. There is no intimation that he was a heretic, or that he established such a schism. To be sure, Ibn Ḫallikan makes mention of a religious order which was called after the Šeiḫ's name, but he designates them as ‘Adawia and not as Yezidis. This might have been such an order as the Brotherhood of Assanusi, called after Mohammed ibn ‘Ali as-Sanusi, or as many other orders of dervishes and šeiḫs of mystical type, that have taken rise from time to time in the religious history of Islam. The other two speak of the appearance of the Yezidis, but they look at the incident as a calamity to the šeiḫ because they deified him and worshipped at his tomb. Their remarks tend to show that the Yezidi sect were known as such before the time of ‘Adî; that their appellation was based on the pretension that they were descendants of Yesid; that they were apostates from Islam; that they were some of those who were attached to ‘Adî by reason of his wide reputation as a saint, and were led by their ignorance to take him for a god; and that they were worshippers of the sun and the devil. It is inconceivable to us, if we apply the principles of modern

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criticism to what we know of the, character of the Mohammedan historians, that they should write the life of one who is responsible for the rise of a sect, the foundation of whose religion is the devil, and not curse him and the devil with him a hundred million times.

Such are the theories that have been advanced in the discussion relating to the religious origin of the Yezidi sect, and we have found not only that they are far from reaching the solution of the problem, but also that the method that they employ does not seem to be the proper one for solving such a question. The tradition of the Yezidis that they are descended from Yezîd bn Mu‘Awiya which has been accepted as the fact by some western scholars is only a myth, without historical justification. As to the Christian tradition, all that can tell us is that some Yezidis might have been at one time Christians; but as to who was the founder of the sect it gives us no light. Likewise, all that we can learn from the theory advocated by the second school is that some phases of the Persian religion might have survived with that of the devil-worshippers. We may admit, I think, that some Yezidis are Persian in their origin. But as to who was the originator of their religion this theory helps us not a whit. So also we have found that the relation of Šeiḫ ‘Adî to this sect is not that of a founder. He is only one of many whom their ignorance led to class as deities.


104:23 I mean by the philosophical method the attempt to prove certain assumption by theorizing,, and by the historical method the endeavor to verify a theory by obtaining data from historical sources. The former method is based on speculation; the latter on historical inquiry.

105:24 The Enc. of Mission, p. 797. In his letter to me of date August 6, 1907, the Rev. A. N. Andrus, of Mardin, says: "The Yezidis may be related in religious cult with the Guebres of India."

106:25 Muir: Life of Mohammed, vol. IV, p. 151.

106:26 Fraser: ibid, p. 205.

106:27 Badger, ibid, p. 129.

106:28 S. G. M., vol. 14.

107:29 Eugene Bore: Dict. des Religions, T. IV, Art. Yezidis, Southgate, ibid, p. 317.

107:30 Fraser, ibid, p. 289.

108:31 Jackson: Persia, Past and Present, p. 10: J. A. O. S., 25, p. 178, New Int. Enc. "Yezidis."

109:31a Jackson: Persia, Past and Present, p. 10: J. A. O. S., 25, p. 178, New Int. Enc. "Yezidis."

109:32 H. Poincaré: Science and Hypothesis. Trans. G. B. Halsted, p. 5 seq.

110:33 The fact that the importance of the method of comparative religion has been generally recognized in the scientific world has led to the danger of rushing into the other extreme of paying attention exclusively to points of similarity and resemblance, and of entirely disregarding, or at any rate thrusting into the background as unimportant that which is dissimilar.

110:34 Southgate, ibid, p. 317; Jackson, J. A. O. S., Vol. XXV, p. 171.

110:35 p. 140 Victor Dingelstedt, S. G. M., vol. XIV, p. 295.

111:36 Siouffi, who was for about twenty years a French vice-consul in Mosul.

112:37 Ibn Ḫallikan, vol. I, p. 316.

113:38 Manhal Al-Uliya wa Mašrab-ul-Aṣfia, "Šeiḫ ‘Adî," quoted by M. N. Siouffi, Journal Asiatique, 1885, p. 80.

114:39 Warda, "the rose," is the name of a collection of hymns composed by George Warda (1224 A. D.), Bishop of Arbila; cf. Bar Hebraeus, Chron. Eccl., Vol. II, p. 402. Warda is one of the most conspicuous writers of hymns in the thirteenth century which was the age of song with the Nestorian church. His poems have entered so largely into the use of the Nestorian church that one of their service books is to this day called the Warda; Badger, The Nestorians, vol. II, p. 25. Some of his hymns speak of the calamities of the years 1224-1227. A few specimens are given by Cardaḥi in Liber Thesauri, p. 51. Badger has translated one in his Nestorians, Vol. II, pp. 51-57. Warda's poems have been edited by Heinrich Hilgenfeld, Ausgewählte Gesänge des Giworgis Warda von Arbil, Leipzig, 1904, and by Manna, Mosul, 1901.

114:40 The village Karmalis is about twelve miles distant from Mosul, and is inhabited by Chaldeans, that is, Romanized Nestorians.

114:41 Rabban Hormusd is a Chaldean monastery at Alkoš, a village about twenty miles north of Mosul.

115:42 Al-Der-Al-Makn‘un fi-l-Miater Al-Maḍiyat min Al-Ḳerun, "Šeiḫ ‘Adî," quoted by M. 14. Siouffi, Journal Asiatique, 1885, p. 81.

Yaḳut (vol. IV, p. 374) also regards Šeiḫ ‘Adî an orthodox Mohammedan; "Šeiḫ ‘Adî bn Musafir Aš-^Safe‘e, šeiḫ of the Kurds and their Imam." ‘Adî's orthodoxy is seen also in his writing. He wrote p. 141 ‘Itiḳad Ahl Al-Sunna "Belief of the Sunnites," the Wasaya "Consuls to the Cailifs," and two odds both of them mystic in their conception. They are all preserved in the Berlin Library; cf. Clement Huart, History of Arabic Literature, p. 273.

Next: IV. The Dogmatic View of Mohammedan Scholars