ARBIL – Iraq’s Yazidis, a minority religious sect who have been branded devil worshippers by suspicious neighbours, cancelled an annual pilgrimage yesterday over fears for devotees’ safety.
“The event will just be confined to visits and baptism at the Kaniya Sipi temple, while the main ceremonies will not be held due to the poor security in Iraq,” said Rashid Hassan, custodian of the Lalish Temple near Dohuk.
Since the US-led invasion of March 2003, Iraq has descended into chaos. Insurgent and sectarian violence kills more than 100 people per day.
Yazidis revere the archangel Malak Taus, whom they see as God’s regent on earth but whom Christians and Muslims call Shaytan, earning the secretive group distrust and a reputation as being followers of the devil.
One of the holiest events in their calendar is the six-day pilgrimage to the tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Mustafa, a 12th century religious figure, in Lalish, in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
There, they bathe in the river, wash figures of Malak Taus, light lamps and sacrifice an ox.
The festival this year was expected to be especially distinctive because of the attendance of hundreds of Yazidis from abroad, with followers due to arrive from countries in Europe and the former Soviet Union.
The Yazidis are believed to be ethnically Kurdish and their religion dates back some 3,000 years. It contains elements of the pre-Christian beliefs of the region, and of the Middle East’s major Christian and Muslim traditions.
For centuries they were persecuted for their beliefs.
But now, their right to observe their beliefs is enshrined in Iraq’s current constitution and they now hold seats in the national assembly.
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