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Hajj 2012: Purified by the Black Market

"The first rule of being alive is you own yourself." ~Michael W. Dean
"The first rule of being alive is you own yourself." ~Michael W. Dean
Davi Barker

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 ibn Hanbal)

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.


This article is part of a series I'm writing on my trip to Mecca in 2012 which I'm compiling into a book titled "Seven Stones for Advocates." If you'd like to receive updates please subscribe, and if you'd like to write for apply here.