The caste system Yazidi is very carefully followed and protected by a long list of rules about intermarriage, social roles and even everyday interactions. There are many, many layers between the caste system and the class system.
Basically, there are three castes – Murids, Pirs and Sheiks. Most of Yazidis belong to the Mourid class and are just ordinary people without special roles. Here is a description of the Yazidi caste system.
The sheikh caste is divided into three groups which produce the three heads of the community. None of these groups, or tribes, are allowed to intermarry with each other in order to maintain the purity of bloodlines and avoid political obscurity. Generally, this caste is responsible for the spiritual welfare of the community.
A tribe produces the Prince (mir).
He is the political/social leader of the community. The position of Prince is hereditary. Its main role is to be the representative of the Yazidi people to the surrounding communities and to help settle inter-tribal disputes. There are religious events that cannot be started or considered properly celebrated without the Prince.
The second tribe produces the Baba Sheik who is the spiritual leader of the Yezidi.
This man must come from a specific family and the title is passed down from father to son. However, a new Baba Sheik must be appointed by the Prince. This is more of a formality to show the unity of Yazidi leadership. As a spiritual leader, the Baba Sheik's life is quite austere – he never drinks alcohol and fasts at least 80 days a year. He and his family are mainly supported by donations given on feast days or during annual visits. This is supposed to keep the Baba Sheik connected with ordinary people.
The third head is the Pesh Imam.
His tribe is slightly separated from the rest of the community as they tend to be more closely tied to Islamic traditions than Yazidi traditions. The Pesh Imam sets the bride price and presides over the wedding ceremonies. He accompanies the Baba Shiek on all his travels. Unlike the Prince and Baba Shiek, the Pesh Imam is not a hereditary role. He is appointed to his post by the Prince.
Traditionally, the Pesh Imam tribe was the only tribe allowed to learn to read or write. This has changed over the past 20 or so years, with education becoming a government mandate. Yet this tribe tends to be the most educated.
The Yazidi caste system: Pirs
The Pirs are the clerical counterpart of the Sheiks. They are religious leaders, with less political weight than the sheikh caste. Most pirs perform usual religious customs such as marriage and baptism ceremonies. They also maintain the various shrines and holy places and give blessings. Pirs tend to be more withdrawn from the community and are often considered mystics. They have even been attributed the power to heal in some traditions.
The Yazidi caste system: other castes
The rules of interaction between castes are further complicated by a coexisting class system. In the Murid caste, there is no class system. Any person of this caste is free to marry the person of his choice in his own caste. However, they are expected to have a "brother from beyond" from each of the other castes. These “brothers” not only teach and guide them, but are also (in part at least) dependent on them for offerings of money and food.
Other Yazidi castes can also only marry within their own caste, however, their marriages are also dictated by class. There are strict expectations for how these classes interact with each other on a day-to-day basis. Each class even has its own fashion to distinguish it. So let's go !
The easiest class to explain is the kocheks. It is a sub-group that crosses all castes. Anyone with the gift of clairvoyance can be a kochek, even women (they are called faqras). These are the people who have visions of souls that are gone. This is not their only gift, however. They can prophesy, speak in tongues and cure mysterious illnesses. Although anyone can be a Kochek, most of them come from the Murid class.
Faqir is another class that is slightly open to everyone. However, most faqirs tend to come from four specific tribes. The Faqirs are the ascetics of the Yezidi. They are not allowed to trim their mustaches or consume alcohol. They are required to set a good example of holiness for Yazidis by fasting and staying abstinent.
Becoming a faqir is a choice, not an inherited position. No one can be born an ascetic. One of the roles of those in this group is to maintain the sacred fabrics and writings of Sheikh Adi. They are also the only people allowed to dress as the sheik did – a black woolen tunic and a red braided rope belt.
The third class comes directly from the pir caste only and is limited to two tribes within that caste. This class is again a matter of choice, but should be done when a boy is young enough. Qewels are brought up with strict religious instruction from their youth, usually taught by their father. Their name roughly translated means "knowledge in the heart". They also learn the sacred instruments – the tambourine, the tambourine (a thin, flat drum) and the flute.
Their job is to travel from village to village to share the sacred songs of the Yezidi. Part minstrel, part traveling preacher, they play a key role in keeping the Yazidis together as a people. No Yazidi festival, rite or ritual can be celebrated without them.