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Devil worship

by Isya Joseph




The Arabic manuscript here translated was presented to me before I left Mosul by my friend Daud as-Saig as a memento of our friendship. Hawaja as-Saig was a man of culture, in sympathy with western thought, and an intimate acquaintance of M. N. Siouffi, the vice-consul of the French Republic in Mosul. From the first page of the manuscript it appears that through some Yezidis he had access to their literature. I know he was in close touch with many of them, especially with the family of Mulla Haidar, which is the only Yezidi family that can read and guard the sacred tradition of the sect.

The manuscript comprises a brief Introduction, the Sacred Books, and an Appendix. In the first, the compiler indicates the sources of his information and gives a sketch of the life of Seih 'Adi, the chief saint of the Yezidis.

The Sacred Books comprise Kitab al- Jilwah (Book of Revelation), and Mashaf Re$ (Black Book)—so named because in it mention is made of the descent of the Lord upon the Black Mountain (p. 32). Al Jilwah1 is ascribed to Seih 'Adi himself, and would accordingly date from the twelfth century A. D. It is divided into a brief introduction and five short chapters. In each, 'Adi is represented as the speaker. In the Preface the Seih says that he existed with Melek Ta'tis before the creation of the world, and that he was sent by his god Ta'us to instruct the Yezidi sect in truth. In the first chapter he asserts his omnipresence and omnipotence; in the second he claims to have power to reward those who obey him and to punish those who disobey him; in the third he declares that he possesses the treasures of the earth; in the fourth he warns his followers of the doctrines of those that are without; and in the fifth he bids them keep his commandments and obey his servants, who will communicate to them his teachings. The Black Book,2 which perhaps dates from the thirteenth century, is larger than the Book of Revelation, but is not divided into chapters. It begins with the narrative of creation: God finishes his work in seven days—Sunday to Saturday. In each day he creates an angel or king (melek). Melek Ta'us, who is created on Sunday, is made chief of all. After that Fahr-ad Din creates the planets, man, and animals. Then follows a story about Adam and Eve, their temptation and quarrel; the coming of the chief angels to the world to establish the Yezidi kingdom; the flood; the miraculous birth of Yezid bn Mu'awiya; and certain ordinances in regard to food, the New Year, and marriages.

The Appendix contains the following:

1. A collection of materials concerning the Yezidi belief and practice.

2. A poem in praise of Seih 'Adi.

3. The principal prayer of the Yezidis, in the Kurdish language.

4. A description of the Yezidi sacerdotal system.

5. A petition to the Ottoman government to exempt the sect from military service, presented in the year 1872 A. D.

An analysis of the texts shows that the material is taken from different sources: part of it is clearly derived from the religious books of the sect; another part from a description of the beliefs and customs of the sect given by a member of it to an outsider; a third, partly from observations by an outsider, partly from stories about Yezidis current among their Christian neighbors. Unfortunately the compiler does not specify whence each particular part of his information is obtained. On closer examination it is evident that part, at least, of the Arabic in hand is a translation from Syriac.

The Yezidis, frequently called "Devil-Worshippers," are a small and obscure religious sect, numbering about 200,000.* They are scattered over a belt of territory three hundred miles wide, extending in length from the neighborhood of Aleppo in northern Syria to the Caucasus in southern Russia. The mass of them, however, are to be found in the mountains of northern and central Kurdistan and among the Sinjar Hills of Northern Mesopotamia.

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