Lalish. According to Yezidi tradition, it is the center of the world. God created Lalish. Lalish bubbled like yeast and from that yeast, the rest of the world was created. Lalish means “be silent all flesh.”
Lalish, It’s an emotion. It’s a temple. It’s home to the Yezidi community. It’s an entire universe. It’s stepping into a very different world that until Baba Cewish’s recent renovations has been comfortingly somewhat ragged, like a happily worn piece of cloth, torn here and there, quite a bit worn out but always the garment that brings ease of wearing and comfort.
Like Narnia, one enters via a different route every time. No visit to Lalish is ever the same or can be repeated. There are times when Lalish provides the needed embrace to one who is orphaned. There are times when Lalish is food and drink. Lalish is baptism and acceptance to the one who returns after captivity in ISIS. To me, Lalish can be dark, and ritualistic. The huge black snake placed to the right of the main entrance door is ominous, though it is venerated as the snake that saved humanity when a hole appeared in Noah’s ark.
(By the way, I have engaged in many a “snake discussion”, my bottom line being, “well either we kill the snakes or they will kill the horses, your choice.” The snakes were killed.)
Lalish is the storehouse for a community who died of hunger when fleeing invading ISIS. It’s the storehouse for grain, which is given away as new supplies come in, to keep it fresh, but to ensure a supply for a community in time of need.
All the Yezidi tribes and villages go up to Lalish twice a year, bringing the richest of their produce, oil for the lighting of the oil lamps, homemade yogurt and sheep for slaughter. Lalish is where the olives are pressed by foot until the pungent new oil oozes out, is collected and then patiently purified and refined into the finest of oil for temple service. Lalish is Lalish.
Immediately following the great celebration of the Yezidi New Year, we took our tribe to Lalish. This was their day. It was different from many times that we have taken them, where our “agenda” if truth be told was mixed. Lalish is the place where we can see where our students' heart is. Keep in mind that our students have lived under the regime of ISIS for a great chunk of their lives. There have been those rescued or released who had been so brainwashed that it was impossible to reconnect with Yezidi belief or tradition. If a person does not remove their shoes (and most usually socks) that is a deliberate in your face dishonoring of their holy place and all that is held precious to the community. Lalish aided us through observation. One that is no longer needed.
“I am Milad, a former soldier in ISIS. I was so happy to spend a day in Lalish with my closest friends. Lalish is our home, the atmosphere is one of peace, the trees and the ancient stones are beautiful. Some of my friends wore the traditional Yezidi clothes. I felt connected, part of our ancient community. I felt that although I had been in captivity, nothing had changed. We had a wonderful lunch with more meat than I could eat!! It was an important and great day."
Milad, a former soldier in ISIS
"Since I came back from captivity, I visit Lalish twice a year. It feels like going to heaven, it is full of trees and the sounds of laughter. We take our own food but always share food with other families. Everything there is about community. It fills me with positive thoughts and when I am there, I don't think about my day to day hardships. It's impossible to be bored in Lalish, you just turn up and the story writes itself, a different one each time.
It was a wonderful gift to be there with all my friends, we have been together since we were in captivity and never leave each other. We took many photos, made wonderful memories together, ate the most amazing lunch together which was completed with delicious watermelon and sweet tea. I went to heaven for a day.”
Fawaz. Former Child Soldier.
“Lalish is the most beautiful place on earth. I love going on picnics with SOHF and am always excited to go out with my friends. Wherever SOHF takes us is wonderful but Lalish is different. Lalish is super special. It was right after our Eid, our new year so that the timing was perfect.
It is also our safe place. Yes, many people come from all over the world to visit our temple and see our culture but for us, it is the one place where we are safe from harm, the one place where there is no fear, no hate speech, the one place that belongs to us, where we can relax and enjoy everything.
It is the one place where I pray for the safe return of my family who are still in captivity. I believe that God hears my prayers and will help us to be a family again.”
Kenan. Former Child Soldier.
“I can't believe what happened today in this beautiful place. It was a miracle day. My dream was fulfilled to pray to God for myself and for everyone I know. I thought that it would be so hard for me to go to Lalish due to my wheelchair but everyone at SOHF told me not to worry, they would be with me every minute and would lift my chair when needed.
It was my dream to go Kaniya Sbi spring, to drink pure water and renew my faith.
I laughed, I prayed. My heart was full of light. I was so very happy. Thank you.”
Nawal. Rescued from ISIS.
“I live about two hours drive from The Hope Centre, it took another hour to reach Lalish from The Hope Centre, which gave me time to think. I thought about my life when in ISIS, how it was to live in captivity under the rule of these terrorists. How every moment was a moment of terror and extreme fear. Years of death, years trying to survive and not knowing if or when our last moments would come.
I thought of the beautiful life that is ahead of us. I have no family, every day I pray that someone is alive and will be found. I thought of the past and looked to the future. When I arrived I saw the surrounding mountains and the roses in bloom. How can a man look at such mountains or smell a gentle flower and then kill people. How can a human being become so evil? All we wanted as a people group was to live in peace in this sweet life, yet evil men deprived us of this simple joy.
When we reached Lalish I changed my clothes and put on the traditional Yezidi garments. The garments of our sanctuary, holy garments, garments which indicate that my heart is pure and is not given over to evil doings and the treachery of man.
One of the most beautiful aspects of Lalish is that it welcomes everyone. No one is questioned about his religion. We request respect, but everyone has the right to pray there. God hears prayer, when prayer comes from a pure heart, God hears.
Thank you for this wonderful day.”
Viyan. Former Child Soldier.
“I chose to wear the traditional Yezidi clothes. That morning I dressed with thought and purpose. The clothes were a symbol of my freedom, we wear these clothes in order to approach the gift of prayer with reverence.
As I dressed, I thought of the days in captivity when we were called “infidels”, days when we knew only terror. It was a bittersweet day because I was free, free to be myself, free to pray and together with my friends. It was sad because I have no family, no knowledge about them, and this is a never ending wound. There are still thousands of Yezidis somewhere in the hands of ISIS, lost but never forgotten to us. I prayed that they would be strong, they would be found and would be returned home to us.
I thought of our families who would give anything to be in this sacred place, and here I am with the freedom to keep our tradition also on their behalf.
Yes, it was an important day. A good day and somewhat hard.” Dlwar. Former Child Soldier.
“I had a great time with my friends in Lalish. The air is different there. It has a different smell from that of Shariya camp. The air is clean, fresh, the smell of nature, trees and flowers. The mountains gently hug the temple property and keep us safe. The smells and sounds of Lalish renew our tired souls.
I had not visited Lalish in a long time, so after our new year it was the perfect time to come to lift up our prayers. We all have family and friends who are still in captivity so it’s important to set aside time to pray for them, not just for us to have a great time.
I was happy that many of our students and friends wore the traditional clothes of prayer and peace. It was a wonderful, renewing, refreshing day. Thank you.
“For many years our life has been miserable and intolerable. I find that Lalish is both sacred and trustworthy so my purpose was to pray for the return of my family and that we would have a peaceful and beautiful life. Huge thanks to SOHF for once again understanding “timing” for knowing that we needed to go as a group, as close friends and to take time to pray.
It was a simply wonderful time. Everything was perfect, we could not have asked or dreamed for more. Every moment we spent together was exciting and life giving. Thank you.”
Talal. Former Child Soldier.
MUSA AND SUFYAN
“We are best friends. We lived and worked together in captivity, we came back together, our tents are close to each other. We do everything together. Neither of us felt connected to our community when we were released from ISIS, it took us a long time to feel any connection. It was a very hard, very confusing period of time. We went to Lalish with great joy, with pride, feeling that it was our home, that we belonged. Yes, we both prayed there and made some religious rituals. It was just wonderful to change “our weather” to get out of the camp, to be with friends, to pray, to eat the most delicious food and to have fun. Thank you.“
Musa and Sufyan . Former Child Soldiers.
Lalish is different for each one of us. Lalish is a step in the restoration of individual and corporate identity post ISIS. Like Narnia, Lalish can be beautiful and can be terrible. However one views, one can not ignore or by step Lalish.
CAN YOU HELP?
Will you help us care for these young people?