August 15, 2007 / 9:50 AM / 11 years ago

FACTBOX-Who are the Yazidis?

(Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Wednesday al Qaeda was the “prime suspect” in suicide bombings overnight on an ancient minority sect that Iraqi officials said killed at least 175 people in northwestern Iraq.

Yazidis, who are members of a pre-Islamic Kurdish sect, live in northern Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

They say they have often faced persecution in Iraq because the chief angel they venerate as a manifestation of God is often identified as the fallen angel Satan in biblical terminology.

Here are some key details on the Yazidis:

* WHO ARE THE YAZIDIS?

— The Yazidi religion is a syncretic combination of Zoroastrian, Manichaean, Jewish, Nestorian Christian and Islam.

— The Yazidi themselves are thought to be descended from supporters of the Umayyad caliph Yazid I.

* THEIR BELIEFS:

— They believe that they were created quite separately from the rest of mankind, not even being descended from Adam, and they have kept themselves strictly segregated from the people among whom they live.

— Yazidis are antidualists; they deny the existence of evil and therefore also reject sin, the devil, and hell.

— The Yazidi relate that, when the devil repented of his sin of pride before God, he was pardoned and replaced in his previous position as chief of the angels; this has often resulted in Yazidis being described as devil worshippers.

— Sheikh Adi, the chief Yazidi saint, was a 12th century Muslim mystic whom the Yazidi believe to have achieved divinity through metempsychosis.

* A RELIGIOUS CENTRE:

— The Yazidi religious centre and object of the annual pilgrimage is the tomb of Sheikh Adi, located at a former Christian monastery in a town north of Mosul.

* RECENT INCIDENT:

— Yazidis consider marriage outside their faith a sin punishable by death to restore lost honour.

— In April, gunmen shot dead 23 Yazidi factory workers in Mosul in apparent retaliation for the stoning several weeks earlier of a teenage Yazidi girl who police said had fallen in love with a Muslim man and converted to Islam.

Sources Reuters; Encyclopaedia Britannica:

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