Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Kurdish People, the Yezidi Religion, and Christianity

“To tell the truth is useful to those to whom it is spoken,
but disadvantageous to those who tell it,
because it makes them disliked.”
~ Blaise Pascal, Pensées.


PRAVOSLAVIE — May 11, 2015

This English translation of an interview by the Russian correspondent for the Rûdaw” newspaper with Monk Madai, an Orthodox Kurd, was sent to OrthoChristian.com for publication.

Monk Madai (Maamdi) was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, to a Kurdish-Yezidi family. In 2002, he and his family moved to Moscow, where in 2007 he was baptized in the Orthodox Church with the name Seraphim.

In 2009 Seraphim finished the “School of Orthodox Mission”, which was established by priest Daniel Sysoev. That same year, Fr. Daniel was killed in his own church by a Muslim extremist.

In 2012, Seraphim went to Greece, to live in one of the Greek monasteries. In 2014 he became a monk with the name Madai (in honor of the grandson of Noah, the son of Japheth, Medes’ grandparent, one of the descendant nations of whom are the Kurds). In the same year he entered the Theological Department of the University of Athens. He is a monk of the Georgian Orthodox Church, in the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of Holy Queen Sunniva, Norway.

Hoshavi Muhammad: We would like to welcome our honored guest, monk Madai. Monk Madai, in your first interview you said that the majority of Kurds confess the Islamic faith, while the minority belong to a closed religion, known as Yezidism. Why do you think that Yezidism is a false religion?

Monk Madai: I say that as a Christian, speaking from the point of view of Divine Revelation. A religion that is closed to other people and that is held by a small number of people cannot be the truth for all people. Neither can a faith come from God that only acknowledges one language, here I am speaking about Islam.

In and of itself Yezidism arose as a result of the compilation of various religious teachings. It is a natural phenomenon when in the context of Christianity, Judaism or Islam religious leaders appear who, on the basis of traditional religious teachings, add something new and create their own “true path”.

H.M.: In your opinion the founder of Yezidism is the Arab Sufi Sheikh Adi. He radically changed the worldview of Kurdish society. He united ideas from heretical Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Paganism to form Yezidism. For the Yezidis, is Sheikh Adi God or a messenger of God?

M.M.: That is not merely my opinion; it is a well-known and credible fact that the Arab Sheikh Adi descended from the Arabic Umayyad Caliphs. The testimonies of his contemporaries tell us that he was a Muslim of the Sufi doctrine and studied under well-known Sufis of the time. He later settled in a Christian monastery (now called Lalish) and wrote his Tariqa (path). His followers began to be called “Adavis” (followers of Adi) among the locals. Today they are known as Yezidis.

Unfortunately, modern Sheikhs and Pirs, and the clerics of Lalish as a whole, react very negatively to the historical facts which show that Yezidism is an offshoot of Islam. This is related to the fact that Yezidis have always been persecuted by Muslims. Any contact with Muslims is, therefore, categorically rejected by Yezidis. 

Thus, the preaching of Yezidi Sheikhs, Pirs and Qawwals about a connection between Yezidism and the ancient beliefs of Mesopotamia have turned their followers into a marginalized group. 

It is notably amongst Yezidis that we observe total ignorance in the area of religious studies and historiography. Their lives are nourished by the imagination, by fantasies that lead them away from thoughts of God and instead give rise to incredible self-importance. Highly unlikely versions as to the origins of Yezidism have arisen in the works of various representatives of the religion. What is most important is that they do not display a unified opinion on virtually any of the doctrinal and historical questions about Yezidism. One must note that these versions began to circulate in the beginning of the 20th century; and adding fuel to the flames was Kurdish nationalism, representatives of which decided to choose Yezidism as the “pre-Islamic Kurdish religion”.

An example of disunity is seen when we raise the question: “Who is Sheikh Adi to the Yezidis?” Even among Yezidis we cannot find an unequivocal answer. For some he is God, for others he is the messenger of God. However, most Yezidi “theologians” consider him to be a reincarnation of God or Tawsi Melek1. Although in Sufism adepts deify their teachers, in their writings, Sheikh Adi’s contemporaries mention nothing that would lead one to believe that he considered himself to be an incarnation of Allah or Tawsi Melek.

H.M.: What is unclear in Yezidism? Are you asserting that Yezidi theologians are not proving something?

M.M.: Among the representatives of Yezidism there aren’t any genuine theologians, i.e., people who could write a totally independent, scholarly theological thesis based on reliable facts. Yezidi “theologians” are slaves to their caste. This concerns the Sheikhs, Pirs and various Elims who are fully entitled to write and speak about Yezidism. Their slavery resides in the fact that they know the truth about Yezidism but do not write anything that contradicts popular mythological tradition.

Currently, it is the cast of Pirs for the most part who write about Yezidism and head religious communities. It is precisely they who offer the Murid2 a religious “surrogate”. They know the truth about Yezidism, possessing a large amount of scientific material, as well as having acquired quite a good understanding of the history of religious studies, however, regardless of this they consciously hide the truth and propagandize lies.

Woe to such Yezidi “theologians”! They know very well that the doctrines of the Resurrection of the dead and of reincarnation are as different as night and day. But in Yezidism both doctrines are acknowledged as being true. Are we to believe that they don’t know that the Resurrection of the dead is a Biblical doctrine foreign to the entire pagan world, while reincarnation is present in paganism, notably in Indian philosophy? If the founders of Yezidism did not know this or if they merely confused things, the modern Yezidi teachers do know, yet they continue to ignore it.

Or consider the question of how one can call himself a monotheist when he worships the sun and an animal (the peacock)? In monotheism we believe exclusively in one God; it is a faith that does not permit the worship of God’s creation: the sun, the moon, animals, etc. The worship of creation is found only in Paganism, notably the worship of the sun and animals. 

Nevertheless, the Yezidis are naive in that they combine the mutually exclusive concepts of monotheism and paganism, ignoring the contradictions between these two doctrines. We could continue the list of contradictions, but here one must ask himself: don’t the Yezidi “theologians” see the blatant theological errors in their religion? They see them but, as I said above, they have become slaves to their caste. After all, it is not only important to be well read and intelligent, one must also be honest. And this is what Yezidi “theologians” precisely lack, honesty and scientific professionalism (at any rate those who I am familiar with). 

This, however, cannot be said about our simple people, who in their simplicity accept everything that the Sheikhs and Pirs tell them. The people, being uneducated, generally know very little about the history of Yezidism. But they have the right to know!

H.M.: You said that after becoming Christian you acquired peace of mind and a certain relationship with God. Did you not feel this in Yezidism?

M.M.: That is not only my experience, but the experience of a great number of people who have turned to Christ. For many years I have been collecting material on Kurds who have converted from Islam and Yezidism to Christianity. Every one of them expresses essentially the same thing: a living, real encounter with God, which they did not have before.

How can one experience God when God is not desired? All of the sermons and writings by Yezidi “theologians” amount to an attempt at proving how ancient their religion is or to a discourse on rituals, etc. A great number of Yezidi Internet sites and blogs have been created, where they discuss everything under the sun, except for God. You won’t find a single Yezidi site which makes an appeal to moral purity, to struggling against sin, or which at least gave some practical spiritual advice. The articles are focused solely on news, the history of religion and the spread of Christianity. In addition, there are also some anti-Christian publications.

People searching for true spiritual life, a life with God, are not satisfied with these “surrogates”. Many people are searching, and as the last 20 years have shown, a significant many find a closeness to God in the Orthodox Church. If there really were a “spiritual connection” in Yezidism, why would people be converting to Christianity? As experience shows, if Yezidis or Muslims encounter authentic Christianity by their own free will, a large part of them accept to be baptized.

H.M.: Yezidis are themselves very radical and cruel to those people who refute their religion. In southern Kurdistan Yezidis often kill those who abandon their religion. What is the attitude of your parents, relatives and close friends on this subject?

M.M.: Such radicalism amongst Yezidis is a remnant of its Islamic roots. Thanks to a century of living with Christians (with Georgians, Russians and Armenians) this radicalism has essentially disappeared. Yezidis, just as Muslims in post-Soviet countries, have begun to look at this question in a way which resembles the Christian view, namely to respect the freedom granted to each person by God. Nevertheless, there remains a certain category of people who are given over to radicalism.

Fortunately, Christian nation-states have created laws on a constitutional level that protect what is known as “freedom of thought”. These laws guarantee and defend the citizen’s right to freely choose what he believes. Therefore, for fear of the law radicals are forced to resign themselves to the situation. I hope that the day will come when in our historical homeland of Kurdistan we arrive at such a high level of freedom.

H.M.: Don’t you think that the Yezidis will become more religious after the events in Shingal3?

M.M.: The events in Shingal are a wound to the entire nation. The ezdixan were shaken to their very foundations—how can we speak here of a spiritual uprising? After such a catastrophe, there is despair rather than any hope for renewal.

H.M.: You said that many Kurds have become Orthodox Christians. In your opinion, what is the cause of this?

M.M.: There are two factors. The first one is that Christianity teaches us that God is Love. This is the greatest revelation of all, completely unknown to any other religion before it, that God is a loving Father who created angels and people out of the abundance of his love and calls them to Eternal Life. This was unknown to Yezidism and Islam.

For example, in Islam we find the figure of Allah as a just, yet retributive judge. However, this image of God is not elevated to the figure manifested in Christianity —the image of the Heavenly Father who so loves his creation that He is willing to sacrifice himself for its redemption.

There is a feast in Islam, during the night of which, as Muslims believe, Allah descends from the heights of a heavenly stairway to its lowest step. Muslims believe that Allah becomes closer to them at this moment and they pray fervently to him about all their needs. For God all things are possible, and Christianity teaches us that not only can God descend to the lower heavens but even as far as the earth in order to help people. We also know that, through his love for us, He descended as far as the murky depths of hell… There you have it, the deeds true love is capable of accomplishing. And this message, and one’s personal encounter with it, lead people to Christ, because it is precisely the Gospel (Mezgini) which is delivered by God from Heaven.

As concerns Yezidism, we should begin by saying that Christianity is the one religion which reveals the light to mankind, which opens the Heavens to him, while paganism exists only here, on earth. In paganism all the attention is directed to external things submerged in the earth’s elements. Paganism lacks the Heaven that Christianity teaches us about. It lacks the belief in One God to whom we must give all of our worship. It lacks the belief in the image of God in man, who is called to divinize himself and to attain infinite perfection in God. All the Pagan’s supplications to the gods, or to the One God, are tied to temporal and earthly bounty, the Pagan only needs temporal things from God, but not God Himself. And this is the peculiarity of Paganism: it aims to create more and more comfort for man, who seeks less and less to turn to God and to limit himself in the desires of the flesh. Yezidism is a religion without an ideal of human perfection. It does not require one to seek spiritual perfection; the focus is rather on the accomplishment of precepts that are only superficial, all the values of which possess an exclusively worldly character.

The second factor is of an ethnic nature. If Yezidism is the religion of a single ethnic group, and if Islam is the religion of a single language and of a titular nation, Christianity is for all nations and all languages.

When Kurdish Muslims read the Bible and Orthodox prayers in Kurdish, they are amazed because for centuries in the eyes of many practicing Kurdish Muslims the Kurdish language has been viewed as inferior to Arabic. According to Islamic doctrine, Salat4 cannot be practiced in Kurdish; it must be practiced in Arabic, even if one doesn’t understand it. The Kurdish translation of the Quran is not considered to be the word of God, which is only believed to be the Arabic text. Even the Hadith5 must be read in Arabic, where we read that Arabic is the language of Allah as well as the language spoken in paradise. It would appear that in Islam all non-Arabs are second-class citizens. Even while citing the Quran in Kurdish, one must first make his citation in Arabic, thus showing that Kurdish is somehow inferior, unable to adequately express the words of the Quran. We disagree with this position. Kurdish is a fully-fledged language and in no way inferior to Arabic.

Such claims to linguistic superiority do not exist in Christianity. The word of God exists in one’s native tongue and one can also pray in it. Divine Revelation, proclaimed by Jesus Christ, is seen as being equal in all languages because the Lord revealed His Gospel clearly. The proof of this is the Pentecost, when He gave the gift of speaking in different tongues to His Apostles in order to overcome any linguistic barriers. And as is testified in the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostles even spoke in the Median language.6

The situation with Yezidism is much worse because the qawls7 and bayts8 are so rife with Arabic influence that at times one must agree with those who assert that these genres use broken Arabic. Thus, here too we are confronted with a linguistic problem.

Sheikh Adi created Yezidism, and the converts to this religion among the Kurdish people essentially broke off from the main Kurdish population. If the teachings of Muhammad brought strife and separation to the Kurdish people, the teachings of Sheikh Adi served as a continuation of a process already in motion. To this day people do not know who they are—Kurds or Yezidis? or Kurdish Yezidis?

Perhaps only the Lord Jesus Christ can make the ultimate dream of the Kurdish people become a reality: to bring cohesion and genuine unity to the Kurdish people. Baptized Kurds, converts from Sunnism, Shiism, Alevism and Yezidism, stand side by side in the same Church and pray together in the same place where even unbaptized Kurds may go. In contrast, you will not find any Yezidis in mosques; and you will certainly not find any Muslims praying in Lalish. One can already see how a tree will grow and what kind of fruits it will bring by looking at its roots. As our proverb states: Axiryaxêrsivêdaxêre (a good end is seen in the beginning).

H.M.: Do you only preach Orthodoxy to Yezidis? Or are you planning to preach to Muslims as well?

M.M.: It is Christ who preaches; with His love He reaches the hearts of those who search truth and true life, while people like me merely help Him.

H.M.: There are many Orthodox Kurds in Russia. Are you planning to start your own organization?

M.M.: Yes, there are very many Orthodox Kurds in Russia. And not only in Russia, there are many Orthodox Kurds in Georgia and in Western Europe. We must not simply start our own organizations—we must also build churches where services are held in Kurdish. This is what Orthodox Kurds want, and it must be said that there are many Yezidis and Kurdish Muslims who want the same thing. There is a vital need for such action, but when and where it will take place will depend entirely on God’s blessing.


1 Tawsi Melek translates as “the Peacock Angel”. Source: http://www.yeziditruth.org/.—Trans.
2 In the Yezidi caste system the Murids, or commoners, occupy the lowest rank. Source: ibid.—Trans.
3 Shingal or Sinjar in Northern Iraqi Kurdistan was the site of a Kurdish massacre in August, 2014 by the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Source: wikipedia.org. Translator’s footnote.
4 Salat is the practice of ritualistic prayer in Islam. Source: wikipedia.org.—Trans.
5 Hadith are also called the “Prophetic Traditions”, that is, the sayings and deeds of Muhammad. —Trans.
6 The Median language was an old Iranian language (500 BC - 100 AD), part of the Indo-European group and related to Kurdish. Source: ibid.—Trans.
7 A qawl is an orally transmitted form of Yezidi poetry, central to religious life in Yezidism. Source: http://www.iranicaonline.org—Trans.
8 A bayt is an orally transmitted form of Yezidi folk literature, sung in verse or spoken in prose. Source: ibid.—Trans.