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Davi Barker

The Muslim Agorist

Seven Stones for Advocates

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When I got home from Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, it was time to begin to build a new life, primarily because when I returned I was laid off from my job. I'm not convinced this isn't a good thing. I see this as an opportunity to do what I've been wanting to do for a three years or more. To plunge into the 'voluntary life' as a full time freelancer and Agorist. Lots to say about the trip. I filled multiple journals along the way which I'm planning to polish and publish a travel log titled: Seven Stones for Advocates. Here is the work in progress.

 

I've included periodic comments sections. Please feel free to offer any kind of constructive criticism. Spelling. Grammar. Critical feedback. Anything. I can take it. And if you'd like to expediate the publishing of this project the donation button off the left couldn't hurt.

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The gate to the Prophet's Mosque in Medina.

The Prophet's Mosque was built by the Prophet Muhammad and has undergone many expansions and embelishments since then. The site was originally adjacent to Muhammad's house, and final resting place, but now incoporates both. 

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The Kaaba in Mecca.

The Kaaba was constructed by Abraham and is the direction of prayer for all Muslims around the world. Every year millions perform the pilgrimage to circumambulate this cubic building. Some of the rites are reenactments of historical events, but others (and I’d argue the more important) are outward expressions of an inward journey taken by the heart.


Intro: Activists, Advocates, and Quietists 


The Hajj is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world, and the fifth pillars of Islam. Every able bodied Muslim who can afford to should perform it at least once in this life, and many only ever go once. The pilgrimage occurs during the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar when millions of pilgrims converge upon the Kaaba, the cubic building that is the direction of prayer for all Muslims around the world. Some of the rites performed on the journey are reenactments of historical events, but others (and I’d argue the more important) are outward expressions of an inward journey taken by the heart.

The pilgrimage predates the prophet Muhammad’s life in the 7th century. The primary rituals originate with the prophet Abraham. In fact, the foundation of the structure was constructed by Abraham. Some sources even suggest that Abraham reconstructed the original temple built by Adam.

 

The history of the structure is difficult to confirm outside Islamic sources. The ancient Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus described the “Caaba” as “a temple… which is very holy and exceedingly revered by all Arabians.” But he said nothing about their practices or beliefs at that time.

 

At the beginning of Muhammad’s life the pilgrimage was performed Christians, Jews and Pagans who thought of Mecca as the navel of the world. It is the point of connection between Earth and the heavenly realms. The point of ascension where the sacred intersects with the secular. Muhammad merely reconsecrated it as a place for worship of the God of Abraham alone.

 

Not coincidentally, it has also historically been a center of trade, as it is to this day. Among the many reforms that Muhammad made was to abolish the taxes that the Meccans imposed on pilgrims. Sadly, this tradition has been lost. In fact, the Saudi regime demands quite a bit from pilgrims.

 

I performed the pilgrimage in 2012. They say the sign of a successful pilgrimage is that your life changes. Well, I got that in spades, as I’ll explain. The strangest thing about being back has been when people ask me, “How was it?” like I was returning from a Sunday matinee or a dentist appointment. I don’t think it’s possible to summarize in words pithy enough for casual conversation. The closest I’ve come is to say “It was not what I hoped, but everything I needed.”

 

It reminded me of the Spiral Dance, a name popularized by the author Starhawk, for a motif that is ubiquitous across spiritual traditions. The May Pole. What the Vikings would have called Yggdrasil, the World Tree. It is the ritualized practice of traveling to and circulating the axis mundi only to discover that the boundaries of the circle were always ephemeral, and life from then on will be a continuation of the spiral.

 

Before I left, my consciousness was centered around maintaining my own integrity along the journey. Integrity is all too cheap in this world, so cheap in fact that the public order has left almost no accommodation for it whatsoever. A person of integrity is by necessity a rebel, because one can no longer do anything, no longer travel, no longer buy or sell, so longer milk cows and drink children’s lemonade without the public order demanding that we compromise our integrity. On this journey I would contend with two bureaucracies before I would reach my destination, the TSA and the Saudi Regime.

 

Throughout the trip I thought deeply about a prophetic saying that is well known among those pursuing social or political change. It is reported that Prophet Muhammad said:

 

“Whoever among you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand 

by taking action; if he cannot, then with his tongue by speaking out; and if 

he cannot, then with his heart by hating it and knowing that it is wrong

 – and that is the weakest of faith.” (Narrated by Muslim, 49)

 

I will call these three categories, “activists,” “advocates,” and “quietists.”

 

The activist position is that change must occur immediately, as in direct action or a revolution. The advocate position is that change must be spoken about, written about, studied and taught. Presumably at such time as a ground swell of activists is possible, change occurs. And the quietist position is simply that evil must be patiently endured until such time as change occurs by some outside agent.

 

The majority of the population is quietists, but there is great tension in that position because it necessarily means that the heart is in a state of hatred nearly all the time. When surrounded by unchangeable evil, all day, everyday, hatred becomes a constant remembrance in the heart. It is a dull pain that tells you that the heart is alive when it despairs at witnessing evil.

 

I would posit that this narration also implies its own opposite, its reversal, which is that when one’s heart grows weary of hatred, as it is want to do, it accepts evil as it is and no longer longs for change by some outside agent. One becomes a quietist for evil.

 

The quietist for good will love to hear the advocate for good. Their heart will sing and they will feel reinforced in their resolve. Similarly, the advocate for good will love to witness the activist for good and be inspired. But the quietist who accepts evil, and does not desire change will hate advocates and activists for good, because they expose what is corrupt in the quietist's own heart. Because the quietist for evil is a hypocrite, but conceals it from others, ands seek to conceal it from themselves.

The great danger is that a quietist for good and a quietist for evil are outwardly identical. They are only inward postures, and they may even be deceived themselves. They do not reveal themselves until they speak.

 

If the quietist for evil remains in this state a hatred for the advocates and activists for good will grow until they speak outin defense of evil. This will be subtle, and couched in the language of good. They will say that evil is necessary, or for the “greater good.”They will use the language of the good to oppose those who resist the evil they have come to love. They will become an advocate for evil.

If they remain in this state, as an advocate for evil, their hatred for those who resist evil will grow until they take action against them. They will become an activist for evil.

 

We live in a world subjugated by evil done in the name of good, where the “greater good” is used a bludgeon by the powerful to exploit the weak, and the exploited fear their own self-interest more than slavery. We live in an age of irrationality, when slaves are kept in bondage by their own thoughts, due to propaganda imposed on them as children. We live in an eon of spiritual murder, when the very doctrines which should lead us to happiness and liberty are instead used by authoritarians to justify their systems of plunder. When hypocrites are revered as great leaders and saints are reviled as dissidents and gad flies.

 

The entire world is backwards and upside down, and showing few signs of correction. This is a book for those who seek those signs. This is a book of advice for advocates. 

 
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Chapter 1: Seeking Liberation in Mecca


I felt called to the pilgrimage long before I accepted Islam and had been trying to go since my conversion years ago.

 

My earliest experience of the topic is of living in Arabia as a young child. My parents attempted to visit Mecca as tourists, but the Saudi regime required members of other faiths to take what’s called “The Christian Bypass” which turns off the road to Mecca and circles back around the Jeddah. I’m embarrassed to even speak of it. It’s such an awkward name, and offensive on multiple levels. I have no clear memory of this, but my parents have always characterized it as a check point manned by a Saudi guard who stops you and tests your Islamic credentials by asking you to recite the testimony of faith.

 

The testimony of faith is the first pillar of Islam, which places one within the fold of Islam. It is simply to bear witness that there is nothing worthy of worship but God, and that Muhammad is a messenger of God. Testifying to these two beliefs is how a convert enters into Islam, and Muslims recite it in many of their prayers. It is common knowledge to most, if not all Muslims.

 

As unusual as it sounds, the concept of a religion check point provided one of my earliest insights about faith, which is that internal states are externally unverifiable. It’s difficult enough to be certain about our own internal states. What possibly litmus test could they administer that would be effective? Recitation of the Quran proves nothing. There are plenty of secular academics and apostates who can recite Quran, and there are plenty of sincere Muslims who can’t.

Consider this thought experiment.

 

A pagan approaches a faith checkpoint in Arabia. The Saudi guard attempts to administer a faith test, and of course the pagan fails. Suddenly the pagan says he wants to convert and asks the guard to accept his testimony of faith.

 

This immediately puts the guard in an impossible conflict between his God and his State. According to his religion he must hear the pagan’s testimony without delay and regard his conversion as valid. Muhammad even instructed Muslims to accept the testimony of an enemy in the midst of battle. From a religious perspective he must allow the man to enter Mecca. According to the man must meet some litmus test that he cannot possibly meet, or present some papers he cannot possibly posses. In other words, the guard’s God requires him to honor the rights of the man, but his State requires him to violate them.

 

This dichotomy between obedience to conscience and obedience to State is irreconcilable. It’s perhaps best expressed by the Biblical injunction that man cannot serve two masters, because the two will eventually reach an impasse when a moral agent will have to chose which he serves.

 

To complicate matters, the pagan may not even be fully aware of his own motivations. We do not always know the cause or purpose of our actions, and often we deceive ourselves about our internal states. The pagan may be only vaguely aware of what he’s getting himself into, or how it will change him. Consider the case of Malcolm X, who didn’t have a traditional understanding of Islam when he arrived in Mecca, and would have failed the litmus test at one of these check points. But inside Mecca he found a healing for the racism and superstition that distorted his understanding of Islam previously.

 

Since childhood I have felt called to deserts. As an adolescent, in times of despair and alienation I found peace in the isolation of the desert. As a young adult, when I needed inspiration I went backpacking across Arizona on a pilgrimage to the sacred places of the indigenous people. When I was broken hearted I went to Burning Man in the Black Rock desert of Nevada. For me it was a kind of symbolic death to purify myself in the fire and playa. In each instance I hoped to make some connection to the Great Creator, who at the time seemed like a childhood friend I could barely remember.

 

The Kaaba has been known by many names, one of which is Bayt al Atiq, which is usually translated as “the Ancient House” but used to be translated as “the House of Liberation.” The pilgrimage was seen as a journey to personal freedom, both from whatever weakness or falsehood plagued the heart, and also whatever earthly master sought to impose itself between the pilgrim and their Lord. When the pilgrim leaves their earthly home to journey to the Ancient House, the heart is meant to find liberation from the false self, and reorient itself toward its ultimate destination.

 

This meaning was central to my mission. To me, for whom the State is a false god imposing itself against my will, the Ancient House is a single point of personal liberation nestled inside the tyrannical hellstorm of the Saudi regime. Like the tranquility of the eye within the chaos and violence of a hurricane, my intention was to reach the center and escape with just a glimpse of my True self.

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Chapter 2: Purified by the Black Market


For Americans the pilgrimage is more of a financial difficulty than a physical difficulty. The era of spending months crossing the desert by caravan is over, at least for us. Our greatest difficulties are navigating the bureaucracy, getting the time off work, and affording the travel package.

 

I began preparing for the pilgrimage immediately after my conversion in 2006. I adopted a very spartan lifestyle, paid off some old credit card debt, and started saving.

 

The first year I didn’t have nearly enough, so I took all I’d saved and bought gold. Every year, when the travel agencies announced their new pilgrimage packages I would reassess my paper savings and the gold I had squirreled away. The price of the pilgrimage packages always went up, but the value of gold always went up more. So, every year I would convert my paper savings into gold, content that it was just a matter of time.

 

I chose this strategy with deliberate intention. Just as it was important to me to reach my destination with my integrity intact, it was important to me that I pay for the journey with the purity of my wealth intact.

 

There is a concept in Islam that all forms of wealth possess an unseen utility in the form of divine blessings called Barakah. This includes money, food, health and even time. When our wealth possesses this purity it will always be sufficient for us, and when it doesn’t it will never feel like enough. This may not manifest as a quantitative increase, but often a qualitative increase. One’s wealth can be purified in a number of ways. Amongst them are that one earns their income by wholesome means, that one deals honestly and does not cheat people, and that one shows gratitude and does not squander their provisions.

 

One of the most important economic injunctions in Islam is to avoid usury. This includes all forms of economic exploitation, but especially the taking or paying of interest. It is reported that Prophet Muhammad said:

 

“There will come a time when you will not be able to find a single 

person in the world who will not be involved in usury. And if 

anyone claims that he is not involved in usury then surely 

the dust of usury will reach him.” (Abu-Dawood, Hadith 3325)

 

I believe we are living in that time, or very near to it. To avoiding taking interest I keep my savings out of interest bearing accounts, but prices go up because of the hidden usury of inflation. When the money supply increases, the value of the monetary unit decreases. So, purchasing power is taken from my money anyway. No matter what I do, if my wealth is in dollars, its purity is being eroded either by interest or inflation. I would argue that inflation is the dust of usury predicted in this prophetic saying, because even if one does not engage in usury directly, they will still be affected by manipulations in the money supply.

 

This is because the dollar is not a store of value, but an instrument of interest bearing debt. Every dollar comes into being through a loan made from the Federal Reserve to the US Treasury, and there is interest owed on that National debt.

 

I chose to invest my savings in gold after reading The Gold Dinar and Silver Dirham: Islam and the Future of Money by Sheikh Imran Hosein and the prophetic saying:

 

“A time is certainly coming over mankind in which there will be 

nothing left that will be of use (in the market) except a dinar 

(gold) and a dirham (silver).” (Musnad, Ahmad ibnHanbal)

 

As the years passed and I approached my goal of affording a travel package to Mecca, the wars against Muslim majority countries also escalated, as well as other evils committed by the State. I began to question just how wholesome my income was. When I looked at my check stubs and realized that nearly a third of my income was being withheld in taxes, and nearly half of that was going directly into the military industrial complex, I began to feel that there was blood on my hands. It was then that I began to explore commerce in the black market.

 

People generally conceive of the black market as the underground sale of "illegal" products, like marijuana, or raw milk. This is not my meaning. I was doing the same graphic design work I did in my full time position, but I began to take side projects and earn income that I did not hand over to the State.

 

It's called Agorism, which is a species of market activism akin to a boycott of the State. People trade voluntarily in an untaxed, unregulated barter economy to avoid faceless corporations and intrusive bureaucracies. Agorist philosophy holds all coercion and fraud as moral evils, and aims at the manifestation of a society based entirely on consensual interaction.

 

Because I regard my Agorist income as more pure than my taxable income I kept the two separate. My taxable income was used for my basic necessities, as it always was. It paid for rent, bills, groceries and other essential family expenses. My Agorist income was partly used to add to my pilgrimage savings, facilitated by some clients that paid me in silver directly. I also used it to fund activism, charity, and other counter economic activity. Occasionally I used it to buy food from other Agorists, which I savored as the purist of food.

 

In this way I also witnessed firsthand another basic economic teaching in Islam, which is that wealth is not diminished through charity. Part of the belief in the divine utility of wealth is that God will bless the wealth of a person who gives charity, and compensate giving by purifying and increasing their remaining wealth.

 

Unfortunately the State doesn’t allow us to direct the taxes they seize into the programs we support. So, warfare and welfare are a package deal, even though they have no natural confluence.  Realizing that my Agorist earnings were not taxed, and feeling a strong social responsibility, I took it upon myself to donate heavily, far more than would have been taxed, to comparable private charities.

I had done freelance work on the side for years with moderate success, but once I made this intention, that I was working to prevent my wealth from being used for evil, and giving significant portions in charity for good, my Agorist income grew and grew. In fact, once it came time to pay the travel agency for the pilgrimage package, I didn’t need to liquidate any of my precious metals. I earned the entire amount in less than a year. 

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Chapter 3:Bureauphobia


The travel agencies announced their pilgrimage packages in April of 2012, and they sell out pretty quickly every year. So, even though the deadline for registration is far off at that point, it’s important to reserve your spot as early as possible.

 

I went with an economy package from El-Medina Travel because the agency came so highly recommended by those who had gone previous years. The package included flights, a hotel in Medina, an apartment in the Shisha area of Mecca, tents in the North America Camp in Mina, and food throughout the trip. Imam Tahrir Anwar has been leading the El-Medina group for several years. He is the Director of Religious Services at the South Bay Islamic Association (SBIA), and a friend who I greatly respect.

 

For the next six months I scrambled to submit all the right forms, make all the right payments, and meet all the right deadlines to make sure everything was in order. El-Medina collected an initial deposit, and two installments after that. Breaking the price into a series of payments made it easy to pay as I went.

 

It’s possible to look for cheaper flights and build your own itinerary, as long as it matches up with arrival and departure times of the rest of the group, but I went with the agency’s recommendation just to keep it simple. I paid a little extra to depart directly from San Francisco instead of flying to New York and departing with the group. Either way, it’s important to book your flights as soon as possible, because they sell out too, and prices go up over time, plus the Saudi Regime demands to see a valid itinerary before they’ll issue you a travel visa, so delaying booking your flights will delay everything else. To El Medina’s credit they made navigating the bureaucracy as painless as possible.

 

For as long as I can remember I have suffered from some kind of a mental disorder that I callBureauphobia, which means that I experience an intense anxiety around filling out forms, especially government forms. I’d go and seek help for it, but they’d probably make me fill out forms, and there’s a halfway decent chance that they’d just diagnose me with oppositional defiant disorder.

 

I have the vaguest memory of filling out some kind of scantron while some woman loomed over me screeching that I’d be criminally liable for the slightest error. I couldn’t tell you when this was, or who she was, or even if it really happened. It could be the shadow of a long forgotten dream. What I do know is that when I’m forced to fill out forms I’m struck by the fear that I’ll misinterpret some esoteric bureaucratic jargon and trigger the ire of some terrifying State agency. As a result, I tend to procrastinate.

 

The nasty little unspoken fact of the matter is that when you’re filling out government paperwork you are put in a position where you have absolutely no opportunity to negotiate. You can barely even ask questions. You’re expected to shut up and just submit whatever information they demand from you, otherwise they’ll start suspending licenses, revoking permits and just generally threatening your wellbeing. It’s right there in the language. You “submit” to the State. The ugly reality is that most of us just fill out these forms however we’re told because we want them to leave us alone, which works fine until integrity enters into it.

 

In addition to the valid itinerary, a passport and the standard battery of immunizations, the Saudi regime requires a form called the “Declaration of Conversion to Islam.” This pearl of bureaucratic nonsense not only requires the pilgrim to declare their testimony of faith in writing, but also requires the signature of a religious leader from an Islamic center who authenticates their conversion.

This is problematic for all the reasons the faith check point makes no sense, but it adds another special layer of irrationality. Imam Tahir Anwar signed off on my form, and in doing so he declared my testimony of faith authentic, but he has absolutely no way of externally verifying my internal state. So, he is being asked to declare in writing, with his signature, facts which he cannot possibly know for certain.

 

Further, and this is no discredit to him as a religious leader or a human being, but the credentials that make Imam Tahir’s signature valuable to the Saudi Regime on this form is that the South Bay Islamic Association is licensed as a 501(c)3nonprofit tax-exempt entity by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an organization with no religious credentials, but State credentials. This shows once again that the Saudi Regime places more faith in Statism than Islam.

 

But my integrity didn’t enter into the mix until it came time to sign the Saudi Regimes Visa Application.

 

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Chapter 4: Visas and Highway Robbery


The Saudi Regime makes it more difficult on pilgrims every year. They raise pilgrimage fee annually. They now obligate people to buy "pilgrimage packages" as a group in order to get a visa. You can’t go as an individual anymore. And recently they’ve enacted new "security" measures, like requiring an iris scan.

 

Sheikh Imran Hosein, and many other scholars are of the opinion that the Saudi Regime has no legitimate authority to issue travel visas or to collect the $300 pilgrimage fee. The Islamic creed holds that God is Sovereign, and those that have vested this sovereignty in kings and presidents are guilty of an insidious form of idolatry. Unfortunately, these kings and presidents have silenced many more so-called Islamic scholars with money. According to Islamic tradition every Muslim has the right of entry and residence into the heartland of Islam without a permission slip from the State. In addition, every Muslim has the right to participate in the public order of the area. Yet the Saudi Regime claims these sacred precincts as their personal property, to be developed or demolished as they please.

During his final sermon, the Prophet Muhammad said:

 

“Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs 

to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly.”

 

A similar sentiment is expressed in the Quran itself:

 

“O you who have believed, do not consume one another's

 wealth unjustly, except that there be trade amongst you

 by mutual consent.” ~Quran 4:29

 

The Saudi Regime, and their illegitimate demands are essentially a form of highway robbery, which is a valid dispensation from the obligation of pilgrimage. One could argue that if the Saudi Regime stands in the way of a pilgrim it is no fault of the pilgrim’s if refusing to comply makes their pilgrimage impossible. They have sincerely attempted to fulfill their obligations, and it was the highwaymen who were at fault for hindering their travels.

 

I was not willing to give up the pilgrimage to avoid the robbery, but I would love to see an activist who did. This is what I was willing to do.

 

When I received the Visa Application and read the first line, I knew immediately that this was going to be a problem for me. It read:

 

“I hereby undertake to give my fingerprints and my eye iris pattern 

images and comply with the laws of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

 

I could stand to have $300 extorted from me, to jump through some bogus bureaucratic hoops, and even to have my fingerprints and iris scans taken, as much as I hate it, because these things are all inflicted on me against my will. I am not accountable for aggression against me, and they test my patience, not my integrity. But I could not stand to say in writing, with my signature, that I consent to the aggression.

 

So, in June I wrote to the Saudi Embassy:

 

Greetings,

 

I am currently making arrangements to make pilgrimage this 

year, God willing. I have two questions about the Visa Application.

 

On the application I am asked to agree to "comply with the laws of 

the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." I have no problem agreeing to the 

laws concerning alcohol, narcotics, and pornography described in 

the application, but I don't see how I can sign an agreement to 

comply with the terms of another document that I have not read. 

Can you please send me all the laws of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 

so I can review them before I sign?

 

On the application I am asked to agree to have my fingerprint and 

iris data captured. I have no problem with providing my fingerprints, 

however I do not feel comfortable providing my iris data. Is there 

provision which would allow me to forgo this request? If not, can 

you please provide me with the reason for this requirement, and 

islamic basis for requiring a pilgrim to provide it?

 

Peace

 

Of course I received no answer, so I emailed some Islamic scholars.

 

Greetings,

 

I'm having a dilemma with my pilgrimage Visa application maybe you 

can shed some light on. On the Visa application they ask me to 

essentially pledge an oath the abide by all the laws the Saudi Kingdom. 

I don't feel that I can faithfully sign such a pledge. I cannot possibly 

read all the laws the Saudi Kingdom, so at best it would be an illusory 

contract. Also I don't concede the legitimacy of their laws. On US 

Government forms I have crossed out clauses like this for years without 

any blowback, but I worry in this case it would result in the denial of the visa.

 

Given that they would enforce their laws on me whether I consent to 

or not, and that it is impossible for me to read what I'm agreeing to 

prior to signing, do you think it's permissible to sign such an oath 

while regarding it as an empty pledge, and therefore insincerely?

 

Peace

 

All of the scholars I wrote to, except one, said essentially, “Just sign it, or they will turn you down.” Imam Tahir gave me something that at least honored my in inquiry. He wrote, “I am not in a position to answer such a question. Though, if you don't sign it, they won't give you a visa. Try with Shaykh Faraz Rabbani at Seeker's Guidance.”

 

I can respect that. It’s not an answer, but it was a lead, so I wrote to Faraz Rabbani, who replied:

 

“I pray this finds you in the best of health and spirits. It is simpler 

than how you're looking at it: your pledge is conditioned by being 

(1) to the best of your knowledge; (2) to the best of your ability; 

and (3) conditioned by conscience.

 

You (or anyone else) isn't expected to read all Saudi (or other national) laws

just like you're not expected to read all the fine print when purchasing.”

 

This was no real answer and so I replied:

 

“The third criterion is exactly the problem I'm having (conditioned 

by conscience). I don't feel I can sign a pledge I cannot read in 

good conscience, nor sign a pledge legitimizing the authority of 

the Saudi Regime or its laws in good conscience.

 

If no one is expected to read what they are signing, why require 

it? I'm not asking if I can sign without reading it. I'm asking if I 

can sign without meaning it.”

 

But I received no answer.

 

I was desperate for some kind of intelligible conversation on the topic. Someone to step me through the logic and get it straight in my own head, but most people would say something like “if you want to go, you have to sign” when to me it was not about what I wanted, but what was.

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Chapter 5: Trepidation

Everyone is so excited. Muslim and atheist. Stranger and friend. They grin and bustle at the news that I’m planning to go on pilgrimage. I don’t even tell people. If they find out it’s because someone else told them. I don’t even say “I’m going on pilgrimage.” I say “I’ve made intention to go.” I feel like a pregnant woman who keeps the conception a secret for the first trimester and even after says she’s “expecting,” not “having a baby.”


I don’t have certainty that I’m actually going. I’m not excited… not dreadful. I’m empty. I’m not sure how else to express it. I want to go, but it’s not about what I want. In truth I have a deep quiet anxiety, precisely because I’m suspicious of what kind of trouble may disrupt my path.


If I had to describe my state it would be “trust,” which is neither eagerness nor terror, but related to both. Someone once explained consciousness of God to me as the tendency of a person to pull his robe in tight when he passes through thorns. I feel as though I am walking through a grove of thorns, at the end of which is a great Light. My intention is to see the Ancient House, but between San Francisco and Mecca are many thorns. Some of which I know, but most of which I don’t. Most of them cannot be known, predicted or prepared for. So, I am mentally and emotionally preparing to enter that great Light, and simultaneously to confront an insurmountable obstacle that will keep from it. I am simultaneously preparing for both elation and disappointment, but I trust that if my intention is pure, and my principles are firm, that my efforts will be accepted.


My mind constantly returns to the metaphor of a hurricane. I see the Saudi regime as a wild and unrestrained storm of hypocrisy, violence and authoritarian sociopathy, and the Ancient House as the eye of that storm, where God does not allow their tyrannies to intervene… at least I hope. 

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Chapter 6: Bibliomancy

Although the Saudi Embassy was of no use in informing me of the laws of the region I was traveling to, there is a document published on their website titled “The Basic Law of Governance.” It’s not a complete record of Saudi law, but more like a constitution with the basic role and functions of government defined in Articles, 83 in all. Article 1 states:


“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic state with Islam as its religion.”


I cannot agree to that. The Saudi Regime is not an “Islamic State,” to whatever extent such a thing can, or should exist. To explain why, here’s a little background. The Saudi Regime is hardly even a government. It is a British created, America backed oil cartel, and little else. Armed and funded by the British in exchange for oil rights, the Saud family slaughtered the Muslims of Arabia who wouldn’t accept their doctrine, pushing adherents of traditional Islam into North Africa and surrounding Arab nations. They modeled their state on a British principality, not anything indigenous to Islamic culture, and they became honorary “Knights of the Bath,” a British military order of chivalry. Since then they have bulldozed dozens, maybe hundreds of historical sites and monuments that had been part of Islamic heritage for over a thousand years. They desecrated the graves of many prominent historical figures, including members of Muhammad’s family. They also destroyed the history of their own rise to power by banning books which criticized their doctrine. So, forgive me if I see their Islamic paraphernalia as pure propaganda and them as satanic usurpers of Islam’s holiest sites.


I also cannot agree to regard an “Arab State,” with any kind of legitimacy. In his final sermon the Prophet Muhammad said:


“All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over 

a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; 

also a white has no superiority over black, nor does a black have any 

superiority over a white except by piety and good action.”


To define a country according to its ethnicity is to declare that ethnicity a superior class within its borders, and to relegate other ethnicities to second class status. For the Saudi Regime to define itself this way amounts to little more than Arab Zionism.


As the deadline approached and I had no answer for how I would handle the Visa application I had a bit of a providence moment. I opened the Quran at random, or rather I pushed play on my Quran audiobook at random, and found a pretty good answer to my question:


"God will not call you to account for what is futile in your oaths, but 

He will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, 

feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of 

your families; or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is 

beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the 

oaths you have sworn. But keep to your oaths. Thus does Allah make 

clear to you His signs, that you may be grateful." ~Quran 5:89


What could be more futile of an oath than swearing to obey dictates under threat from highway robbers? I took this as a sign that it was permissible to sign the form falsely, provided I made the intention to feed ten people in Mecca. I’m not sure the practice of opening the Quran at random to find answers stands up to Islamic rigor, but I figure any excuse to feed poor people can’t be too bad.


I signed the application “under duress” like I sign all US tax forms, and hoped that the Saudi bureaucracy was too bloated and inefficient to catch such a small detail.

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Chapter 7: Pilgrimage Workshop


“Take a provision with you for the journey, but the best 

provision is consciousness of God” ~Quran 2:197


In mid-September I attended a workshop with Imam Tahir at the South Bay Islamic Association to familiarize myself with the religious obligations of the pilgrimage, to receive advice about what to bring and what to expect, and to develop a regiment to prepare myself both mentally and physically for the journey.


The workshop was attended by about 100 people, some of which I already knew. It was the first opportunity most of had to meet the other pilgrims we’d be traveling with. Many were returning pilgrims, especially fathers bringing their children for the first time, who also had a lot of advice to impart. Imam Tahir taught the class using a power point presentation and all the items in his travel kit.


In preparation for pilgrimage you can find many exhaustive lists of items to bring, and guide books contain much advice on how to prepare. So I won’t be expounding upon this in full detail here. My approach to each list was to seek the most compact version of each tool. I didn’t bring a conventional flash light. I brought a small LED keychain. When I shopped for towels (like any good galactic hitchhiker) I picked up highly absorbent, quick drying micro fleece towels from a camping supply store. I didn’t pack a bulky goose down sleeping bag. I packed an emergency survival sleeping bag made out of some kind of NASA tin foil that fit in my back pocket. I didn’t pack scissors. I packed a keychain Leatherman tool. I was in a survivalist mode. I always chose the item with the most pockets, the most functions, the lightest weight and the smallest size, the goal being to always have all my most essential items in one backpack.


I was told it’s incredibly important to prepare your body for traveling in the desert. In the month before departing I reduced my food intake. I didn’t starve myself. I ate as often as I wished, but I avoiding eating to full satiation. I also did a lot of walking. My father-in-law gave me the sandals from his pilgrimage, and I went for walks between 1 and 10 miles a few times a week in them. This was both to build up the stamina in my legs, and to build the calluses on my feet.


The travel guides I packed were a series of pocket books titled “Hajj, Umrah, Ziyarah Made Easy” by Shaykh Muhammad Saleem Dhorat. The series includes four pocket sized booklets describing in detail how to perform all of the relevant rituals and prayers in Mecca and Medina. Another pilgrim copied the pilgrimage chapter out of “Reliance of the Traveler” by Ahmad ibn Naqub al-Misri, which was a great idea.


The most important preparation one can do before they depart is to purify their intention, and align their heart toward the spiritual. To these ends I was also advised to re-read a book on the life of Muhammad. Instead I loaded up an MP3 player with a list of audiobooks to listen to both before and while traveling. I acquired audio books of “No God but God” by Reza Aslan, “Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources” by Martin Lings, and the audio series “The Life Of The Prophet Muhammad” by Hamza Yusuf. This made it easy to listen anytime I was shopping or walking, or traveling by bus or plane, and they greatly expanded my consciousness of the significance of the places I was visiting. Reza Alsan’s book is especially challenging to orthodox thought, but I think exquisitely exemplifies the social mission of Muhammad and the early Muslims.


I also picked up “The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World” by Jay Bahadur from some light recreational reading.


In the workshop we also reviewed the travel itinerary of the trip.


Our group will be arriving in Medina, where Muhammad is buried, on October 17th. This isn’t technically part of the pilgrimage rites. Visiting Muhammad’s grave is a separate rite called, Ziyarah which means “to visit.” Most packages bundle visiting Muhammad’s grave, the major pilgrimage and a minor pilgrimage called Umrah all together in one trip since many people only travel there once in their life.  


The pilgrimage really begins when we leave Medina toward Mecca and enter what’s called Ihram. Ihram is both the name of the white garments that pilgrims wear, and the state of mind they strive to maintain. It’s a kind of walking meditation. It’s actually a difficult word to translate. Its root is the same as the word haraam meaning “forbidden” and haram meaning “sanctuary.” 


These concepts don’t have a common root in English, but it will begin to make sense when you consider that what makes a thing sacred different from other mundane things is that certain actions or treatments are restricted. A sanctuary is unique because certain behaviors are forbidden which are otherwise permissible. So, a pilgrim in the state of Ihram maintains a ritual purity by forsaking certain activities normally practiced.


A pilgrim in the state of Irham refrains from cutting his hair, beard or nails. He refrains from wearing any perfume or scented products that might mask the smell of the body. He wears only two lengths of seamless white cloth, similar to a burial shroud, one wrapped around the waist and the other around the shoulders. And he wears footwear that exposes the surface bone on the top of the foot. But these are only outward expressions meant to separate the pilgrim from symbols of status. The greater sanctity is internal.


A pilgrim in the state of Ihram refrains from sexual activity or killing animals, even insects. He refrains from quarrelling or fighting, and abandons arrogant or rude thoughts. A pilgrim also abandons thoughts of day to day life to whatever extent possible, forgetting studies, business and relationships in favor of constant consciousness of God.


On October 21th we will dawn the Ihram garments and board the bus toward Mecca, stopping at a station on the outskirts of Mecca to make intention to perform the minor pilgrimage.


At this point pilgrims begin to recite a supplication called the Talbiyah, the translation of which is:


“Here I am, O God, here I am. Here I am, You have no partner, 

here I am. Indeed, all praise, and all blessings, and all sovereignty

 are Yours. You have no partner.”


Pilgrims will recite this in unison, but scholars will tell you that this is incorrect. It should be recited by each pilgrim individually, exemplifying that this is an individual journey, and we stand alone before God.


The line laka wal-mulk, “all sovereignty is Yours” in particular stood out to me recalling the Saudi Regimes claim to be a “sovereign Arab Islamic state.” It strikes me as a tragic irony to think that millions of pilgrims sign a document acknowledging the Saudi Regime as sovereign, and then chant in unison that only God is sovereign.


We will arrive in Mecca early on October 22nd and perform the minor pilgrimage, which consists only of the pilgrimage rites that take place at the Ancient House. Then we’ll check in to the Al Sheshah apartments where we will be staying while in Mecca.


The first day of the major pilgrimage begins on October 24th, when we be moving to the tent city in Mina after dawn prayer. October 25th will be the Day of Arafat, when we will leave Mina after dawn prayer to spend the day in Arafat, which is the furthest destination of the major pilgrimage. In Arafat is an all-day prayer vigil which is the most essential part of the major pilgrimage. After sunset we will leave Arafat to Muzdalifah where we will spend the night in open desert, and in the morning return to Mina. In Mina we have all the remaining pilgrimage days to stone the pillars in Aqabah, slaughter an animal (or pay someone to), shave our heads, and return to Mecca to complete the circuits around the Ancient House. I will be departing Mecca for the Jeddah airport and flying home on October 30th

 

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Chapter 8: Complaining


I attended a panel discussion on a YouTube video titled “Innocence of Muslims” and the resulting attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Although, since the panel event it has been revealed that the attack on the US Embassy had nothing to do with the video. It likely had more to do with a secret CIA prison. But every year or so some Western publication releases a cartoon, video or comic slandering Muhammad and sparking Muslim outrage.


One of the speakers on the panel made an appeal for a European style ban on “religious defamation.” It’s particularly befuddling to me to hear educated people say “violence is not the answer, law is the answer,” with no acknowledgement whatsoever that statutory laws are enforced with violence.


Another speakers said something very interesting, at least to me. He said that Muslims are not offended by criticisms of Muhammad. Bloggers, authors and academics write thousands of pages every year about why they don’t believe Muhammad is a prophet of God, or whatever slander they feel like writing. No one is outraged by this when the discourse is respectful, which is the purpose of free speech. In West Africa and many other places, when a public demonstration is planned, scholars and imams will issue guidelines for protesters that include things like, “Don’t get angry,” “Don’t raise your voice,” and “Don’t throw things.” In short, express your objection, but keep the discourse respectful.


I mention this because in the pilgrimage workshops and many of the pilgrimage lectures people keep advising me not to complain. Apparently many people face minor inconveniences, a late bus, a lost bag, a missed meal, and lose perspective, standing around complaining. This seems foolish to me on two levels. First, it’s profoundly petty. Pilgrims travel thousands of miles at great expense to visit the Ancient House. Does it really matter if they’re a couple hours late, or if they’re hungry for a couple hours? Second, it’s actually backbiting of the people who are orchestrating your trip.


However, I am intent on keeping my critical faculties intact on this journey. So, a distinction must be made between offensive speech and respectful discourse. Know that whatever criticisms and observations I document, I will not be standing around complaining with other pilgrims. My intention is documenting the details I am displeased with as a record for future pilgrims, as an observation for potential improvements, and as a record for posterity.

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Chapter 9: Mea culpa

There is great emphasis in many of the travel guilds and workshops on seeking forgiveness from anyone you have wronged before you leave. I honestly couldn’t think of many people I have wronged in my life. It’s just not my way. There were a few people I contacted personally, but I won’t recount that interaction here.


The week before I left I changed my Facebook cover to reflect my intention to travel. It was an image of a man wearing the V for Vendetta mask looking down upon the Ancient House with the text:


I've been invited to make Hajj. The pilgrimage to Mecca is an opportunity

 to seek purification. If I have wronged of offended you in any way, I beg 

your forgiveness. Please let me know if I can do anything to make it right.

 Before we can change the world we must change our own hearts. This is

 my mission, to become a better instrument of positive change. Finally, it

 is tradition to make prayers on other's behalf on this journey. If you have 

specific requests I would be honored to carry them. I will be gone from 

October 15 to 31.


My inbox was quickly filled with a deluge of well wishes and requests from Muslims and people of other faiths asking me to pray for them at the Ancient house. So that I would not forget anyone, I filled two pages of my journal listing everyone and their requests to bring with me.

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