Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Yazidi Religious Beliefs: The Peacock Angel, Melek Taus

Posted by Fredsvenn on August 16, 2014

The Ignored Plight of the Yezidis

Yazidi Religious Beliefs: History, Facts, And Traditions Of Iraq’s Persecuted Minority

Melek Taus

Peacocks

Iblis

Jinn

Devil (Islam)

Azazel

Scapegoat

Persecution of Yazidis has continued in their home communities within the borders of modern Iraq, under both Saddam Hussein and fundamentalist Sunni Muslim revolutionaries. In the months since its rise, the Sunni-identified Islamic State (IS) has gone after many religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria, including Christians, Shiite Muslims, Shiite Turkmen, Shiite Shabaks, and of course the Yazidi.

In August 2014 the Yazidi were targeted by the IS in its campaign to “purify” Iraq and neighboring countries of non-Islamic influences. Hunted by militants from the Islamic State, thousands of people from the Yazidi community have fled to the slopes of Iraq’s Mount Sinjar, where they are caught between the prospect of death by dehydration and murder at the hands of the IS.

The concept of Melek Taus is the most misunderstood part of the Yazidi religion, and is one of the reasons why their community has suffered such historical persecution. The Yazidis believe in God as creator of the world, which he has placed under the care of seven “holy beings” or angels, the “chief” (archangel) of whom is Melek Taus, the “Peacock Angel.”

They believe that once God created Adam and Eve, he ordered the angels to bow to his creations. While the other angels did so, Melek Taus was the only one to refuse, because he believed that he should submit to no one but the Supreme God. He was then thrown into Hell, until his tears of remorse quenched the fires and he became reconciled to God. He now serves as an intermediary between God and humanity.

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.

This story bears similarities to the Sufi mystical reflections on the angel Satan, called Iblis or Shaytan, born under the name Azazel, who proudly refused to violate monotheism by worshipping Adam and Eve at God’s express command. In the Islamic tradition, Satan is a fallen angel or jinn who refused to bow down to Adam out of pride. For this act, he was banished from heaven and now exists to tempt humanity into evil.

The primary characteristic of the Devil, besides hubris, is that he has no power other than the power to cast evil suggestions into humans and jinn, although the Quran mentions appointing jinn to assist those who are far from God in a general context. “We made the evil ones friends (only) to those without faith.”

In popular Islamic culture, “Shaytan”, is often simply translated as “the Devil,” but the term can refer to any of the jinn who disobeyed God and followed Iblīs. Some scholars are of the view that Iblīs is the father of all of the jinn, as Adam is the father of all of humanity as mentioned in the Quran (sura 18, Al-Kahf), “Will ye then take him and his progeny as protectors rather than Me? And they are enemies to you!”

Iblis in Arabic verbal root balasa, meaning ‘he despaired’; therefore, the meaning of Iblīs would be ‘he/it that causes despair’. Hadith states that his name before his banishment was Azazel, a term traditionally understood to mean either as scapegoat or — in some traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — as the name for a fallen angel or demon. It is used three times in the Hebrew Bible.

Scapegoat derives from the common English translation of the Hebrew term azazel which occurs in Leviticus 16:8 after the prefix la-, “for”. And Aaron shall place lots upon the two he goats: one lot “For the Lord,” and the other lot, “For Azazel” (Leviticus, Leviticus 16:8).

In ancient Greece a cripple or beggar or criminal (the pharmakos) was cast out of the community, either in response to a natural disaster (such as a plague, famine or an invasion) or in response to a calendrical crisis (such as the end of the year).

In the Bible, the goat for Azazel was a goat that was designated to be outcast in the desert as part of the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement that began during the Exodus with the original Tabernacle and continued through the times of the temples in Jerusalem.

Because of this connection to the Sufi Iblis tradition, some followers of other monotheistic religions of the region, who do not understand their beliefs, equate the Peacock Angel with their own unredeemed evil spirit Satan, which has incited centuries of persecution of the Yazidis as “devil worshippers.”

Thomas Schmidinger, a Kurdish politics expert at the University of Vienna, told National Geographic, “To this day, many Muslims consider them to be devil worshippers. So in the face of religious persecution, Yazidis have concentrated in strongholds located in remote mountain regions.”

Matthew Barber, a scholar of Islamic thought at the University of Chicago who also specializes in issues related to Yazidi society, told The Huffington Post, “In the Yazidi creation narrative, Tawsi Melek is not fallen, but because aspects of his interactions with God bear similarity to that of Satan in Islamic tradition, Muslims have associated him with the Devil, leading to the famed ‘devil-worshippers’ libel that has been impossible for the community to shake through history.”

Melek Taus is manifested in the form of a peacock. According to the Rev. Prof Patrick Comerford, a lecturer at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, “In early Christianity, the peacock symbolized the Resurrection and immortality because it was believed its flesh does not decay.” This characteristic, as well as the peacock’s brilliant colors, may factor into this understanding of the angel.

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