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Yezidis / Yazidis: first gleanings

Friday, August 8th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- piecing together some background on a remarkable and requently misunderstood faith ]
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Philip Kreyenbroek opens his book, Yezidism: its background, observances & textual tradition, with the words:

There is probably no factor that has influenced the perception of Yezidism, both in the Middle East and in the West, as much as the erroneous epithet “devil-worshipper”. In the past, when there was open hostility between the Muslim community and the Yezidis, the epithet probably did more than any theological debate to make it clear to all that the Yezidis were non-Muslims who were not entitled to any protection under Islamic Law. Moreover, it seemed to justify the severe ill-treatment to which they were regularly subjected.

Today, they are under threat of extinction by IS caliphate troops:

See also the final words of the Conflict Antiquities post, The Islamic State has not been able to destroy the Yezidi Shrine of Sherfedin.

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Kreyenbroek continues:

For Western scholars, a genuine academic curiosity about the phenomenon of devil-worship may have been blended with a romantic interest in this secretive but cleanly and friendly group of Oriental ‘pagans’, whose strange cult might contain traces of one or more of the great ancient religions of the Middle East.

This is most unfortunate, since the first emanation from God and leader of the archangels, known to the Yezidis as the Peacock Angel, Melek Taus, (see illustration at the head of this post) resembles Iblis, the fallen archangel who refused to bow before Adam and was banished for his pride in Islamic teachings, but is entirely different from Iblis in that in Yezidi tradition his refusal to bow before Adam follows a divine command and carries no negative connotation. Evil, in Yezidi culture, comes not from the Peacock Angel but from choices made in the hearts of humankind.

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My own special interest is in the varieties of end times theology.

Yezidi eschatology features both a Mehdi, or end times savior identified with the angel Sherfedin, and a Tercal, his “evil opponent” — compare the Dajjal in Islam — described in the Yezidi Qewle Tercal or Hymn of the False Saviour on p. 364 of Philip Kreyenbroek & Khalil J. Rashow, God and Sheikh Adi are perfect: sacred poems and religious narratives from the Yezidi tradition.

Other striking features of Yezidi end times belief include a forty year Sultanate of Jesus in Egypt followed by his death with the Mehdi Sherfedin at Mount Qaf (the earth’s farthest point, beyond which is the realm of the imaginal in Henry Corbin‘s exposition of Iranian sufism), subsequent reigns of Hajuj and Majuj (better known to Bible readers as Gog and Magog), and the purification of the earth by al-Hallaj (the renowned Sufi martyr and subject of Louis Massignon‘s great 3-volume opus) — after which the world will be “smooth as an egg” (Kreyenbroek and Rashow, p 365).

FWIW< the YezidiTruth site contains this much simpler preduction:

Yezidi prophecy maintains that Tawsi Melek will come back to Earth as a peacock or rainbow during a time of intense conflict, poverty, famine and distress on the Earth. He will then transmit some prayers to a holy man, probably a Faqir, who will then take them around the Earth and give them to representatives of all religions

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I’d have run across the Yezidis in Idries Shah‘s book, The Sufis, which I first read in the early 60s, but it was a 2003 article, Ancient religion is on the side of the angels, that made me curious about them, and only the tragic events of the last few days that have finally sent me searching for in-depth materials on this, one of the ealiest known religious traditions, influenced by Sufism yet predating Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam alike…

Kreyenbroek’s two books and Christine Allison‘s The Yezidi Oral Tradition in Iraqi Kurdistan — all hideously expensive — are now on my reading list, and for updates on the situation, I’m following Kreyenbroek @Philipgerrit and Chicago’s Matthew Barber, @Matthew__Barber, reporting from near Mosul, on Twitter.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Yezidism is that it is an essentially oral religion, and thus lacks the central doctrinal authority of a scripture and allows for wide individual divergences in interpretation — fascinating, from the POV of scholars accustomed to scripture-based religions — but I need to dig deeper into Kreyenbroek before saying much more.

I’d welcome additional pointers — historical, theological, and contemporary.

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Tisha b’Av and Gaza

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- of the Temple Mount and Noble Sanctuary, by way of Bamiyan and Timbuktu, the Cordoba Mezquita and Cathedral ]
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The Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary, then and now

The Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary, then and now

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Today as I write this, it is Tisha b’Av — the day on which the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem took place in 587 BCE and 70 CR respectively — observed with mourning in the Jewish calendar.

I have recently been saddened by the destruction of sufi shrines by jihadist forces in Timbuktu and of Shia Husseiniyas in Tal Afar and Mosul. I am saddened by the destruction of the two Jerusalem Temples in much the same way that I mourn the destruction of so many other sacred sites across the centuries — most personally in my case, the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Afghan Taliban within my lifetime. And I sympathize with those saddened by the imposition of a Christian cathedral in the middle of the Mezquita of Cordoba — and would be saddened yet again should that cathedral be torn down in the name of yet another “conquering” religion.

It is the habit of conquerors to destroy or reorient the shrines and temples of the conquered in alignment wiuth their own religious beliefs or secular ideologies, and likewise of the conquered to retain their own faith, either adapting it to continue under cover of the newer religion, or maintaining its memory with the hope of its soon revival.

Cordoba, the Mesquita / Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site

In the case of the Mezquita or Grand Mosque of Cordoba, the mosque itself was built on the site of a Visigoth church, and still contains its eastern wall in which the mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca is now situated. I tend to share the regret Carlos V expressed when he said of the cathedral built within the mosque:

You have built what you or others might have built anywhere, but you have destroyed something that was unique in the world.

Be that as it may, history is a palimpsest, and while I can sympathize with the grief Msulims feel at the loss of their great place of prayer in Cordoba, I can also sympathize woith those Christians for whom the cathedral is their place of worship.

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Likewise, while I can sympathize with how observant Jews feel at the loss of the First and second Temples, commemorated with fasting on this day, I am also vividly aware that on Temple Mount — known to Islam as the Noble Sanctuary — now stand the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, two structures sacred to observant Muslims.

As we consider the recent events in Gaza — warfare and ceacefires alike — and on the occasion of Tisha b’Av, it is worth remembering that as recently as a little over a year ago, Knesset member Uri Ariel suggested it was time to rebuild the Temple on Temple Mount:

Perhaps he envisioned the words of the prophet, “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former, saith the LORD of hosts; and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:9).

“We’ve built many little, little temples,” Ariel said, meaning synagogues, “but we need to build a real Temple on the Temple Mount.”

Rabbi Richman on Temple Mount

Indeed, today Rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple Institute led a party of Jews up the Mount in commemoration of the two previous Temples, telling reporters:

Today, on Tisha B’Av, the day upon which the Holy Temple was destroyed, we came together with hundreds of Jews to the Temple Mount to fulfill the commandment of being in the holy place, to pray there for the welfare of the IDF soldiers who are defending all of Israel, and to show that the cycle of endless mourning can only end when the Jewish people are ready to accept responsibility for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. That responsibility rests squarely upon our shoulders. The sages of Israel have taught that the Holy Temple can only be rebuilt once the nation has achieved a level of unity and unconditional love. Throughout the past few weeks, our nation has been witness to a level of unity that is almost unprecedented in memory. This is the type of unity and commitment that will enable our generation, with the help of God and with the will of the people of Israel, to rebuild the Holy Temple.

Thus Gaza this year is interwoven with Tisha b’Av and the rebuilding of the Temple — on a site already occupied by the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock — in a manner which complicates the overall situation in Jerusalem with the “end times” expectations of not two but three great world religions.

Grief upon grief.

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For greater detail on these issues, see my posts Three from Haaretz on the Temple Mount and The most contested piece of real-estate on earth. As I noted in both posts, Gershom Gorenberg‘s book The End of Days is the definitive text exploring these differing apocalyptic expectations.

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Pattern: There is no X without Y

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a DoubleQuote in two YouTube videos ]
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Today I’ll offer two YouTube videos that beg to be considered together — or at least, I think they do. Why? because they each suggest an “essential ingedient” in life, and that ingredient is very different in the two cases.

First, the bad news:

That’s quite a “call to arms” — and one possible response to it is a similar call made by Joel Richardson on his Joel’s Trumpet blog:

Dear fellow Christians, I would like you all to click here to watch the latest ISIS recruitment video, and tell me what modern Christian movement or expression matches the zeal and commitment of this Satanic movement? Its going to take something far greater than what we are doing right now. Its going to take a prayer and missions movement unlike anything we have seen to date. Its going to take a return to the early Church theology of the cross and martyrdom. Its going to take a genuine Global Jesus Revolution.

That same Joel Richardson, however, also brings some good news:

I explained to my host that unless a supernatural man bursts forth from the sky in glory, there is absolutely nothing that the world needs to worry about with regard to Christian end-time beliefs. Christians are called to passively await their defender. They are not attempting to usher in His return.

So at least from Joel’s perspective, violence is not within the ambit of his Global Jesus Revolution. Others may not concur.

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Okay, now for the good news:

I suppose I not only enjoy the heck out of this video — I also wonder about it.

How similar, and how different, is the enthusiasm of the largely-Muslim Malinke tribespeople here from that of the ISIS recruits depicted in the video above? Both are of Muslim origin, one from the Sudi Marabout traditions of West Africa, and the other from brutal Zarqawist Salafi-jihadism…

Are they both joyful, or is one filled with fear and anger? And does the different in Islamic tradition explain the difference — between destruction and dance?

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Daveed Gartenstein-Ross twitterstreaming re Iraq & ISIS…

Friday, June 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- today's source of understanding addresses the tensions within the ISIS alliance -- with a question about the Naqshbandiyya tagged on for our readers ]
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Here, including a “ramp-up” from two days ago, is a series of related tweets from Daveed G-R:

Nota bene:

  • We reject Sharia.
  • IAI may eventually have to fight ISIS.
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    While we’re at it, here are two other DG-R tweets on significant topics:

    Daveed’s Spectator cover-article is (appropriately) spectacular, btw.

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    Of particular interest to me, in case you read this and know where to point me, is anything re the strength or nominality of connection between the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi or Naqshabandi army and the Sufi Naqshbandiyya order.

    Thanks!

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    Uways and his significance

    Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- exploring the importance to both Shias and Sufis of Uways Al Qarni, and of the Uwaysi transmission in Sufism ]
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    Uways, the destruction of whose shrine I described today in the first of two posts, was the man to whom the Prophet Muhammad entrusted his cloak on his death (a potent symbol ineed), a prototypical Muslim mystic, an early Muslim martyr who never physically met the Prophet — and the saint who gives his name to the Uwaysis, those Sufis who receive spiritual insight not from a living master but through a spiritual transmission from beyond…

    Beyond what I can easily tell you, but where beyond is not for me to say…

    Diving right in, then, here are two substantial gobbets from Patrick Laude‘s Malâmiyyah Psycho-Spiritual Therapy can also be found — in the same words, I think — in his book, Divine Play, Sacred Laughter, and Spiritual Understanding. Laude is currently Professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar:

    The figure of Uways Qarani is most representative in this respect. Farid al-Din ‘Attar tells us about him: “during his life in this world, he (Uways) was hiding from all in order to devote himself to acts of worship and obedience” (‘Attar 1976, p. 2). ‘Attar also relates that the Prophet had declared at the time of his death that his robe should be given to Uways, a man he had never met in this life. When ‘Umar looked for Uways during his stay in Kufa, he asked a native of Qarn (the home town of Uways) and was answered “there was one such man, but he was a madman, a senseless person who because of his madness does not live among his fellow countrymen (…) He does not mingle with anybody and does not eat nor drink anything that others drink and eat. He does not know sadness nor joy; when others laugh, he weeps, and when they weep, he laughs” (ibid., p. 29). We can already perceive here, in the case of an early mystic like Uways, the dual, and seemingly contradictory, spiritual vocation of ‘obscurity’ and ‘eccentricity.’ The unassuming figure of Uways is, at the same time, blatantly discordant in the social context. This discordant status that is often referred to as ‘madness’ is the mark of the irruption of a transcendent, vertical perspective within the world of terrestrial horizontality. It is akin to a negation of the negation: the Spirit ‘negates’ the distorted notions of the soul, the biases and comforts. When Uways finally meets with ‘Umar, he tells him that it would be better for him that “nobody (but God) would know him and had knowledge of who he was.” To remain incognito can be considered as the leaven of malamiyyah spirituality.

    and in his footnotes:

    In his Kitub ‘Uqala’ al-majanin, an-Naysaburi ranks Uways among four of the best-known “wise fools” with Majnun, Sa’dun and Buhlul. Cf. Dols, p.355.

    Uways is also, and quite tellingly, the ‘patron’ of Sufis who do not have a living master: “The Sufi tradition has distinguished a special group of seekers: those whose sole link with the teaching is through Khidr himself. There are those rare Sufis who do not have a teacher in the flesh. (…) They have been given a special name: uwaysiyyun.” Sara Sviri (1997) p.98.

    It is interesting to note that Uways Qarani is both a norm and a shocking exception in the world of early Islam. He is a shocking exception in so far as his asocial perspective and ascetic disposition took him away from the communal establishment of the ummah that is, in a sense, the very identity of Islam. Still, at the same time, Uways al-Qarani is referred to in at least two ahadith that make of him the spiritual pole of the community. Two interesting facts must be commented upon in this context: first, the Prophet declared that on the Day of Judgment and later in Paradise, God will give the form of Uways to 70,000 angels so that nobody could know, even in the thereafter, who is the actual Uways. This hyperbolic and symbolic manifestation of anonymity is quite suggestive of the principle of ‘invisibility’ that presides over the malamiyyah way. Secondly, when referring to Uways in connection with ‘Umar, ‘Attar carefully avoids any expression that would seem to give precedence to Uways over ‘Umar: “You should know that Uways al- Qarani was not superior to ‘Umar, but that he was a man of detachment vis-a-vis things of this world. ‘Umar, as for him, was an accomplished perfection in all his works.” (op.cit. p.31) ‘Umar’s perfection is defined in terms of presence and action in the world of men, whereas Uways’ perfection is understood in terms of separation from the world. Given its emphasis on equilibrium between the two worlds, Islam cannot extol Uways’ virtues to the point of “otherworldliness.” Moreover, the Prophet’s robe is no doubt a different kind of investiture than the line of succession in the khilafat: it points to a spiritual authority like the khirka (cloak) of the Sufi Shaykh; but this type of investiture and eminence must remain hidden.

    This ‘madness’ is also related to the function of the American Indian ‘contrary’, Sioux heyokao or Hopi kochare, or the “grey one” of the Apaches, who embodies the apparently senseless reversal of terrestrial and social norms of behavior.

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    Thyere’s a lot packed into these two chunks of Laude’s — poetry, legend, hagiography, insight — and I’ve quoted them in extenso because they save me quoting shorter extracts from half a dozen other sources [ eg: 1, 2, 3, 4 ].

    For a more detailed understanding, I should probably finesse my way to a copy of Julian Baldick‘s Imaginary Muslims: The Uwaysi Mystics of Central Asia.

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    A wise fool, then, in that global tradition of sacred folly which extends from Shakespeare‘s Lear’s Fool via Chuang Tzu to the Koshare of the Hopi rituals — and to the Sufis, a wali, a friend of the Beloved.

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