Nearly three fifths of the Kurds, almost all Kurmanji-speakers, are today at least nominally Sunni Muslims of Shafiite rite. There are also some followers of mainstream Shiitem Islam among the Kurds, particularly in and around the cities of Kirmashan, to Hamadan and Bijar in southern and eastern Kurdistan and the Khurasan. These Siite Kurds number around half a million.
The early history of Christianity in Kurdistan closely parallels to that of the rest of Anatolia and Mesopotamia. By the early 5th century the Kurdish royal house of Adiabene had converted from Judaism to Christianity. The extensive ecclesiastical archives kept at their capital of Arbela (modern Arbil), are valuable primary sources for the history of central Kurdistan, from the middle of the Parthian era (ca. 1st century AD). Kurdish Christians, like their Jewish predecessors, used Aramaic for their records and archives and as the ecclesiastical language.
BABISM & BARA'ISM
The Babis, particularly the Kurdish Babis, believed in the transmigration of the soul, as do followers of the Cult of Angels. They did not mourn the dead, as they believed the soul of a dead Babi, after spending a few days in a transitional stage, enters the body of another Babi, usually a newborn.
The followers of the Yezidi religion, who have variously referred to themselves also as the Yazidi, Yazdni, Izadi, and Dasna'i, have often been pejoratively referred to by outsiders as "devil worshippers." They constitute less than 5% of the Kurdish population. At present they live in fragmented pockets, primarily in northwest and northeast Syria, the Caucasus, southeast Turkey, in the Jabal Sanjr highlands on the Iraqi-Syrian border, and regions north of the Iraqi city of Mosul.
Of the Yezidis' four major annual celebrations, two are of special interest here, the Jam and the feast of Yezid.
The history of Judaism in Kurdistan is ancient. The Talmud holds that Jewish deportees were settled in Kurdistan 2800 years ago by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser Ill (r. 858-824 BC). As indicated in the Talmud, the Jews eventually were given permission by the rabbinic authorities to convert local Kurds.
The relative freedom of Kurdish women among the Kurdish Jews led in the 17th century to the ordination of the first woman rabbi, Rabbi Asenath Barzani, the daughter of the illustrious Rabbi Samuel Barzani (d. ca. 1630), who founded many Judaic schools and seminaries in Kurdistan. For her was coined the term tanna'ith, the feminine form for a Talmudic scholar. Eventually, MAMA ("Lady") Asenath became the head of the prestigious Judaic academy at Mosul (Mann 1932).
Most non-Muslim Kurds follow one of several indigenous Kurdish faiths of great antiquity and originality, each of which is a variation on and permutation of an ancient religion that can loosely be labeled the "Cult of Angels," Yazdni in Kurdish. The actual name of the religion is all but lost to its modern followers, who retain only the names of its surviving denominations. The name Yazdnism or Cult of Angels is a variation of the Kurdish name of one of its isolated branches, Yezidism, which literally means "the Anglicans." There are some indications that Yazdnism was in fact the name of the religion before its fragmentation. An even older name for this creed may have been Hk (or Haq), which is the name given by this religion to its pre-eternal, all-encompassing deity, the Universal Spirit.
SUFI MYSTIC ORDERS
An overwhelming majority of Muslim and non-Muslim Kurds are followers of one of many mystic Sufi orders (or tariqa). The bonds of the Muslim Kurds, for example, to different Sufi orders have traditionally been stronger than to orthodox Muslim practices. Sufi rituals in Kurdistan, led by Sufi masters, or shaykhs, contain so many clearly non-Islamic rites and practices that an objective observer would not consider them Islamic in the orthodox sense.
The center of Yarsanism is deep inside the Guran region at the town of Gahwara (or Gawara), 40 miles west of Kirmashan. The shrine of Baba Yadigar, in an eponymous village 50 miles northwest of Gahwara, now serves as one of Yarsanism's holiest sites. Two days before the festival of the New Year, or New Ruz (see Festivals, Ceremonies, & CaIendar), believers visit the shrine and participate in chants that assume the form of a dialectic on the principles of Yarsanism.
The followers of Yarsanism are now found in one large concentration in southern Kurdistan and many secondary concentrations outside Kurdistan proper, in the Alburz Mountains, Azerbaijan, and Iraq.
A majority of the Dimila Kurds of Anatolia and some of their Kurmnji speaking neighbors are followers of another denomination of the Cult of Angels.The Alevis believe in Ali as the most important primary avatar of the Universal Spirit in the Second Epoch of the universal life), hence their exaggerated feelings for this first Shi'ite Muslim imam.
Despite the importance of Ali in the religion and its modern communal appellation, Alevism remains a thoroughly non-lslamic religion, and a part of the Cult of Angels. Like other branches of the Cult, the fundamental theology of Alevism sharply contradicts the letter and spirit of the Koran in every important manner, as any independent, nonSemitic religion might.
The followers of this religion constitute roughly 20% of all Kurds.
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