Two months after the death of his predecessor, 40-something Ali Alyas, became the new “Baba Sheikh” yesterday. His father also held the title in the past. The ceremony was held at the stone shrine in Lalish, the Yazidis’ holy place. For some, the choice risks causing further rifts in a community still reeling from Islamic State violence.
Erbil (AsiaNews/Agencies) – About two months after the death of their spiritual leader, Yazidis chose a successor yesterday in a ceremony (pictured) held in Lalish, northern Iraq, the community’s holiest place.
Unlike past leaders, the new "Baba Sheikh", as the leader is formally known, is a young man in his 40s, Ali Alyas. He will head an ethnoreligious groups that has become famous despite itself because of the persecution its members suffered at the hands of the Islamic State group.
The community’s rigid caste system stipulates that clerics can only hail from specific clans. Alyas' father was also a "Baba Sheikh."
On Wednesday, hundreds of worshippers wearing medical masks gathered at the stone shrine of Lalish to pay their respects to their new spiritual leader.
Women wore brightly coloured clothes ornately decorated with beads, their hair covered in dainty white veils.
One by one, the worshippers approached Baba Sheikh Ali, who was dressed in neatly-pressed white, sitting cross-legged, and kissed the red rug by his feet.
The previous Baba Sheikh, Khurto Hajji Ismail, died in October at the age of 87.
According to some Yazidi activists, the appointment of his successor came all too fast and failed to take into account the balance the various tribes and the most prominent figures in the community.
"I suspect new divisions within the community over this decision, which may eventually be rolled back," said activist Talal Murad, who also heads Ezidi24, a local outlet covering Yazidi affairs.
Yazidis are monotheistic ethnoreligious minority in Iraq. Their beliefs include various elements present in other faiths and conversions are not permitted on pain of excommunication.
Worldwide, they number around 1.5 million, 550,000 in north-western Iraq. Some Muslims, both radical and mainstream, view them as heretics.
They suffered disproportionately under the rule of the Islamic State group (IS) what some activists describe as a de facto genocide.
One of their best known members is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad Basee, who was held captive by IS for a long time during which she endured repeated abuse and violence.
After regaining her freedom, the young woman found the courage and strength to tell the world about the horror she suffered, like thousands of other women, including minors, under the jihadi yoke.