September 29, 2003

Cult of Angels?

A while back, I linked to a paper on Kurdish religions that mentioned the work of Mehrad Izady, who argued that the indigenous sects -- he called them "the cult of angels" -- were more ancient then Islam, Christianity or Judaism, and had their origins in the beliefs of the Medes (who were written about by Xenophon, and from whom the Kurds may have descended). The paper I quoted says,

"The cult," Izady writes, "is a genuinely universal religion. It views all other religions as legitimate manifestations of the same original idea of human faith in the [Universal] Spirit...Thus, a believer in the Cult has little difficulty being associated with Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, or any other religion, as to him these are all just other versions of the old idea (Izady 138)." There seems to be a close relationship between Islam and the Cult, but it also seems evident that the Cult is neither a part of nor even an offshoot of Islam, as it predates Islam. Granted, the cult does contain some characteristics of Islam. However, the cult is very widespread, and absorbs aspects of the many religions that it comes in contact with and has come in contact with.

I don't have the expertise to comment on Izady's claim either way. The idea of the ancient beliefs surviving to the present appeals to me aesthetically, but perhaps I should have treated Izady a bit more skeptically. I've been reading the essays collected in Kurdish Culture and Identity, edited by Philip Kreyenbroek and Christine Allison, and came across a challenge to Izady's thesis in a footnote to a piece by Ziba Mir-Hosseini on the Ahl-e Haqq (here is a site devoted to them, which seems to offer a bare bones introduction):

The most notable case is that of Izady (1992) who, in his eagerness to distance the Ahl-e Haqq from Islam and to give it a purely Kurdish pedigree, asserts that the sect is a denomination of a religion of great antiquity which he calls 'the Cult of Angels.' This 'Cult,' he sates, is 'fundamentally a non-Semitic religion, with an Aryan superstructure overlaying a religious foundation indigenous to the Zagros. To identify the Cult or any of its denominations as Islamic is simply a mistake born of a lack of knowledge of the religion, which pre-dates Islam by millennia.' He fails, however, to produce any evidence at all in support of his theory, and some of his assertions can only be called preposterous. He states, for example, that 'Hak or Haq' is a Kurdish word meaning 'universal Spirit', which has no connection with the Arabic Haqq; even more astonishingly, he claims that the founder of the Babi religion, which later evolved into Baha'ism, was among the three avatars of the 'Cult' in this century (Izady 1992: 137).

As I said, I'm in no position to judge -- especially since I've been unable to get my hands on a copy of Izady's work. Yet the positive case Mir-Hosseini makes, that the sect borrows elements from both Sufism and Shi'ism, seems rather compelling.

Posted by Ideofact at September 29, 2003 10:42 PM

i agree-i read a book on yezidis once...quite obviously it exists in response to mainstream islam.

Posted by: razib at September 30, 2003 03:23 AM

You are definitly not knowledgable about Kurds and their ancient religions, and sure not about the history of the region. If you have visited or lived in the region you would understand more.
Yezidis wear Arab clothes, while they are pure Kurdish. Only to escape perscustion by the Barbaric ISlamic neighbours. It's very known that the Ahl-e-haqq and Yezidis never reveal their true religion to avoid perscution. I know couple of rituals of Ahl-e-haqq or Yarsanis which defnitly has nothing with Islam. ISlam has destroyed the beautiful culture of the Kurds. And all what you read is Arab and Islamic propaganda.

Posted by: Alan at October 29, 2003 01:53 PM

Well, if Izady doesnt know the topic well, then nobody does. After all, Izady wrote his doctoral dissertation on this exact topic at Columbia University (1992). Have you read his dissertation? You might as well, because it leaves not a shred of doubt that the Cult (or Yazdanism as he calls it in there) is a system of beliefs that is attested to even by the Sumerian and Akkadian records.

Posted by: Brad at November 13, 2003 05:15 PM

If you look at the Kurdish languish and understand how old this languish are, you will understand, that it has been spoken before many other languish. Therfor many languish is built on kurdish.

Posted by: Marianne at June 15, 2004 05:43 AM