Religion & Culture

Religion

Modern day Syria is mostly of the Sunni division of Islam, as is most of the Middle East. The division of Islam occurred when the Prophet Muhammad died in AD 632.There was a struggle over who would succeed him: Shia believe that Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law should be heir, whilst Sunnis believe it should have been Omar ibn Abu- Bakr, Prophet Muhammad’s close friend.

Although Sunnis makeup the majority in Syria, the area around Hassake (Al Hassakah) on the Euphrates River has a concentration of Christians belonging to various denominations, a small percentage of Jews, and other mixed religions including Yazidis and Zoroastrians. Freddie Mercury came from a Zoroastrian family in Zanzibar.

Zoroastrianism

1200-1500 BC

Zoroastrianism is claimed as the oldest monotheistic religion founded by the Prophet Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) between 1200-1500 BC. It is told that Zoroaster had a divine vision that showed him Ahura Mazda and Ameshas Spentas—God and the Holy Immortals respectively. The sole adversary of Ahura Mazda is Angra Mainyu who creates death and evil. To Zoroastrians, there is a universal struggle between good and evil and one must choose to do the former for God.

Zoroastrians’ daily lives are lived by the maxim: ‘Good thoughts, Good words, Good deeds.’ They pray several times a day facing any light source, such as the sun, or fire. Prayers are usually for the purpose of purification and ridding themselves of any evil. Agiaries are Fire Temples because fire is the supreme symbol of purity and also represents the light of Ahura Mazda.

Today, there are fewer than 100,000 Zoroastrians in the world. In The Village Zoroastrian traditions still take place, though they may not realise the ties with the ancient religion. The villagers celebrate Newroz, a holiday marking the New Year on 21 March. Celebrations include massive fires to bring the people together. Some small fires are also built so the people can jump over them. As fire is a symbol of purity, people often light candles and burn incense. It is a time for forgiveness and cheerful gatherings.

Yazidism

Yazidism is an ancient religion that combines aspects of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam.

Yazidism is believed to have been founded in the 11th century. As a monotheistic religion, it worships a creator god known as Yasdan. However, he cannot be worshipped directly, thus they worship the Peacock Angel who emanates from him. The Peacock Angel, or Malak Taus, is an early Christian symbol of immortality.

The importance of Malak Taus arises from his fall from grace, but ascension back into heaven. Followers of this faith pray five times a day to the Peacock Angel. Another important aspect of Yazidism is the annual pilgrimage to their holiest temple in Lalesh, Iraq, each September, which is considered to be the centre of earth and beginning of creation.

Due to various reasons, Yazidis have wrongly been accused of being ‘devil-worshippers.’ In Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, they have been persecuted for their distinct religion. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Ottoman Empire subjected Yazidis to 72 genocidal massacres. Though times have changed, they still remain persecuted. In fact, before 2014, Yazidis were victims of the second- deadliest terrorist attack in history after 9/11 that took place in Iraq in 2007.

Iraqi Yazidi MP Breaks Down in Parliament

In 2014, an Iraqi Yazidi MP broke down in tears as she pleaded the Iraqi government to save her people as they are being hunted down and forced to flee to Mt. Sinjar in western Iraq. She calls out, ‘There have been 72 genocidal massacres on the Yazidis and now it is being repeated in the 21st century.’ She begs the government to save her people.

We have come to a full circle and will remind you of why you are here—A Village in Syria, currently one of the few peaceful areas in northeastern Syria that remains relatively unscathed. However poor the living conditions are, the villagers are still willing to help refugees such as the Yazidi as they consider themselves distant relatives.