Yazidis on Wednesday crowned a new spiritual leader at Lalish, Iraq — their holiest site — nearly two months after the death of their top cleric.
Ali Elias Haji Nasir was formally named as the “Baba Sheikh,” the title for the religious guide of the esoteric community ravaged by the Islamic State (IS) group in 2014.
In his 40s, he is relatively young to receive the title.
The Yazidi’s strict caste system stipulates that clerics can only hail from specific clans. Elias’ father was also a Baba Sheikh.
On Wednesday, hundreds of worshipers wearing medical masks gathered at the stone shrine of Lalish to pay their respects to the new leader.
Women wore brightly colored clothes ornately decorated with beads, their hair covered in veils.
One by one, the worshipers approached Baba Sheikh Ali, who was dressed in neatly pressed white, with an eggshell-colored wrap over his shoulders.
He sat cross-legged as they kissed the red rug by his feet.
The previous Baba Sheikh, Khurto Hajji Ismail, died in October at the age of 87.
Earlier this week, the community’s secular chief, Prince Hazem Tahsin Bek, picked Elias over Ismail’s son.
Many Yazidi advocates have said that the prince did not properly consult the minority’s tribes and other notable figures to make his choice, and should have delayed Wednesday’s ceremony.
“I suspect new divisions within the community over this decision, which might eventually be rolled back,” said Talal Murad, who heads Ezidi24, a local organization covering Yazidi affairs.
Yazidis are monotheistic, but they believe that God entrusted the world to seven angels, drawing accusations of “devil worship” from followers of other faiths.
They are born into their faith and must marry within it.
Conversions are not permitted and traditionally, those who marry outside are excommunicated.
They number about 1.5 million worldwide.
Until 2014, about 550,000 of them were living in Iraq’s northwest, concentrated around the enclave of Sinjar, when IS swept through and, branding the Yazidis as infidels, killed the men, took the boys as child soldiers and forced the women into sexual slavery.
Several thousand Yazidis were killed and nearly 100,000 fled abroad, with others internally displaced in Iraq.
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