QAWL, Yezidi, a type of poetry that plays a central role in the religious life of the Yezidis. These hymns are chanted to music on solemn religious occasions, and are an important source of Yezidi religious knowledge.
Traditionally the qawls are transmitted orally, mainly in families of hereditary professional “reciters” (qawwāl), while other Yezidi religious leaders usually have some knowledge of them as well. Qawwāls were taught the texts of a number of qawls (from under ten to over a hundred, depending on personal ability), and the specific melody (Kurd. kubrî) of each one. In some cases they were also trained to understand the deeper meaning of these hymns, so as to enable them to refer to these in their sermons (mesḥābat), which form an important part of certain religious functions. On such occasions qawls are also chanted to the accompaniment of the “sacred” instruments, the tambourine (daf) and flute (šebāb).
The qawls are composed in Northern Kurdish dialect. They are usually end-rhymed, and can be relatively long (the longest-known qawl has 117 stanzas, while the usual length is 20-60 stanzas). Both their language and content point to an early origin of the hymns, though the oral character of their transmission makes it impossible to give firm dates. Whereas later Yezidism regarded itself as wholly separate from Islam, the hymns reflect a period when the community still thought of itself as “the (true) Sunna,” as opposed to “the People of the Shariʿa” (i.e., the majority of Muslims) and the “Rāfeżis,” meaning Shiʿites (Kreyenbroek, pp. 226-27). The few references to a direct opposition between the community and “the Muslims” presumably reflect a later stage in this development.
It seems likely that the term qawl was used exclusively for compositions by early religious leaders, similar hymns of a different origin being know as bayt. In some texts the author’s name or pen-name is given at the end, or his identity is indicated by the title. This evidence suggests that several prolific qawl composers were at work at an early stage of the community’s history, but we have no certainty as to the veracity of the attributions. Both the structure and the content of several hymns suggest that they may originally have been composed in written form.
Central topics found in the qawls are (1) the cosmogony; (2) the early history of the faith and community; (3) stories about miracles and holy figures; (4) eschatology; (5) death, grief and consolation; (6) mystical themes, usually inspired by the Sufi tradition; (7) stories deriving from the Islamic or Judeo-Christian traditions; (8) proper behavior.
O. and Dz. Dzhalil (O. and C. Celîl), Kurdskiĭ Fol’klor II, Moscow, 1978.
P. G. Kreyenbroek, Yezidism, its Background, Observances and Textual Tradition, Lewiston, N.Y., 1995.
J. E. Murad, “The Sacred Poems of the Yazidis: An Anthropological Approach,” Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1993.
Kh. Silēman, Gundiyatī (Village lore), Baghdad, 1985.
Kh. Silēman and Kh. Jindī, Ēzdiyatī: liber rošnaya hindek tēkstēd aīnīyē Ēzdiyan (Yezidism: in the light of some religious texts of the Yezidis), Baghdad, 1979.
(Philip G. Kreyenbroek)
Originally Published: July 20, 2002
Last Updated: July 20, 2002