Updated: Jan 20, 2022
Melek Taus (also spelled Malik Tous, translated in English as Peacock Angel, is one of the central figures of Yazidi religion. In Yazidi creation stories, God created the world and entrusted it to the care of seven Holy Beings, often known as Angels or heft sirr (‘the Seven Mysteries’), preeminent of which is Tawûsê Melek, the Peacock Angel. French anthropologist Zaïm Khenchelaoui, along with other scholars, believe that Melek Taus may correspond to the ancient Mesopotamian divinity of Tammuz.
Like many aspects of the secretive Yazidi religion, Tawûsê Melek is subject to varied and ambiguous interpretations. The “Yazidi Book of Revelation” (Ketêbâ Jelwa), a text generally believed to have been written by non-Yazidis (along with the “Yazidi Black Book”) in the early twentieth-century but based on Yazidi oral tradition, even though a nineteenth-century translation of the text exists, is purported to contain the words of Tawûsê Melek; it states that he allocates responsibilities, blessings and misfortunes upon humanity as he sees fit and that it is not for the race of Adam to question his choices.
The Yazidi consider Tawûsê Melek an emanation of God and a good, benevolent angel and leader of the archangels, who was entrusted to take care of the world after he passed a test and created the cosmos from the Cosmic egg. Yazidis believe Tawûsê Melek is not a source of evil or wickedness. They consider him to be the leader of the archangels, not a fallen nor a disgraced angel, but an emanation of God himself. The Yazidi believe that the founder or reformer of their religion, Sheikh Adi Ibn Musafir, was an incarnation of Tawûsê Melek.
Tawûsê Melek is sometimes transliterated Malak Ta’us, Malak Tawus, Malak Tawwus, or Malik Taws. Melek was borrowed from the Arabic term meaning “king” or “angel”. Tawûs is uncontroversially translated as “peacock” (in art and sculpture, Tawûsê Melek is depicted as peacock). However, peacocks are not native to the lands where Tawûsê Melek is worshipped. Among early Christians, the peacock represented immortality because of a folk belief that its flesh does not decay after death, and this symbolism has passed into Yazidi beliefs. Consequently, peacock imagery adorns Yazidi shrines, gateways, graves, and houses of worship.
The Kitêba Cilwe (Book of Illumination), also known as the Book of Revelation, which claims to be the words of Tawûsê Melek himself, states that he allocates responsibilities, blessings, and misfortunes as he sees fit, and that it is not for the race of Adam to question him. Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir believed that the spirit of Tawûsê Melek is the same as his own; that is, that he was an avatar of the archangel. He is believed to have said:
I was present when Adam was living in Paradise, and also when Nemrud threw Abraham in fire. I was present when God said to me: “You are the ruler and Lord on the Earth”. God, the compassionate, gave me seven earths and throne of the heaven.
Yazidi accounts of creation differ from those of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Yazidi people believe that God first created Tawûsê Melek from his own illumination (Ronahî) and the other six archangels were created later. God ordered Tawûsê Melek not to bow to other beings. Then God created the other archangels and ordered them to bring him dust (Ax) from the Earth (Erd) and build the body of Adam. Then God gave life to Adam from his own breath and instructed all archangels to bow to Adam. The archangels obeyed, except for Tawûsê Melek. In answer to God, Tawûsê Melek replied,
How can I submit to another being! I am from your illumination while Adam is made of dust.
Then God praised him and made him the leader of all angels and his deputy on the Earth.
Hence, the Yazidis believe that Tawûsê Melek is the representative of God on the face of the Earth, and comes down to the Earth on the first Wednesday of Nisan (April). Yazidis hold that God created Tawûsê Melek on this day, and celebrate it as New Year’s Day. Yazidis argue that the order to bow to Adam was only a test for Tawûsê Melek, since if God commands anything then it must happen. (Bibe, dibe). In other words: God could have made him submit to Adam, but gave Tawûsê Melek the choice as a test. They believe that their respect and praise for Tawûsê Melek is a way to acknowledge his majestic and sublime nature. This idea is called Zanista Ciwaniyê (Knowledge of the Sublime). Sheikh Adî observed the story of Tawûsê Melek and believed in him.
Since the late 16th century, some Muslims have accused Yazidis of devil worship due to the similarity between the Quranic story of Iblis and the account of Tawûsê Melek’s refusal to bow to Adam. Whereas Muslims revile Iblis for refusing to submit to God and bow to Adam, believing that his defiance caused him to fall from God’s grace, Yazidis revere Tawûsê Melek for loyalty towards God and believe that God’s command to Tawûsê Melek was a test to see who is truly devoted to God alone. This narrative led to many misinterpretations, also made by Western scholars, who interpreted the Yazidi faith through their own cultural influences. Further accusations derived from narratives attributed to Melek Taus, which are actually foreign to Yazidism, probably introduced by either Muslims in the 9th century or Christian missionaries in the 20th century. Accusations of devil worship fueled centuries of violent persecution, which have led Yazidi communities to concentrate in remote mountainous regions of northwestern Iraq. The Yazidi taboo against the Arabic word Shaitan and on words containing the consonants š (sh) and t/ṭ have been used to suggest a connection between this Tawûsê Melek and Iblis, although no evidence exists to suggest Yazidis worship Tawûsê Melek as the same figure. The “Yazidi Black Book”, written by Western Orientalists, directly identifies Melek Taus with Azazil or Azrail. However, Yazidis identify Melek Taus with Jibrail (Gabriel). In one Arabic manuscript, the name “Jabrail” is used in secondary reading, instead of “Melek Taus”. The title “peacock of paradise” was also applied to Gabriel among Islamic traditions.