Mullas, Suhs and Heretics:
The Role of Religion in Kurdish Society
Martin Van Bruinessen
The Isis Press
"Compared to the unbeliever, the Kurd is a Muslim" (ft gora gawiri Kurd misilman e). I do not recall where I First heard or read this unflattering Kurdish saying, but it was uttered with a certain pride.1 I suspect that it was originally a Turkish or Arabic saying; it is the sort of thing people who feel that they are better Muslims than the Kurds would say. In fact, one often comes across beliefs and practices in Kurdistan that are hard to reconcile with Islamic orthodoxy. Kurdish nationalists of the 1920s and 1930s were fascinated with, and took pride in, such deviations from Islam, "the Arabian religion," interpreting them as rebellions of the Kurdish spirit against Arab and Turkish domination. During its first years the nationalist cultural magazine Hawar, published in Syria from 1932 to 1943 by Djeladet and Kamran Bedir-Khan, showed a great interest in Zoroastrism as one of the sources of Kurdish cultural identity. With its Zoroastrian roots, the Yezidi religion, which had long been discriminated against and condemned as "devil worship," was idealised by some nationalists as the Kurdish religion par excellence.
But these nationalists were a tiny minority, and the followers of all heterodox sects combined form only a small fraction of the Kurds. The vast majority are Muslims, and many of them take ...