Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Serious questions and thoughts of an Australian western secularised Islamic consciousness(mine!) temporarily imprisoned in the southern mountainous Asir region of Saudi Arabia will be addressed here:
Peace Be Unto Thee, this is the first post to the enthogenesis blog, newly created by Matthew John Thistle aka Mahdi ibn Daoud Thistle (to my Muslim community) as he whittles away the hours teaching English to semi-literate, goat herding Bedouin of Saudi Arabia and trying to get fluent in the infernally frustrating Semitic Arabic tongue:
Enthogenesis is a coined word stemming from unusual events I used to stage back in Adelaide, South Australia during 1999-2000 when I was known as DrZen, psychedelic prosetylizer. It comes from Enthographic & Entheogen (sacred plant) & Genesis, the beginning:
I recently returned from Hajj where I underwent one of the most terrifying experiences of my life: the stoning of the rock pillar (jamarrat): here is my impression of what it was like since several friends have asked me to describe the experience:
The Smell of Death on the Bridge
The 2004 Hajj was an extraordinary ordeal, dangerous, exhausting with a real community formed in the communally shared tent...the openeness & loving concern for each other was very real and the secret blessings known by those who tasted
Even for several days afterwards I was sick, battered, sunburnt & bruised: I pulled both my calf muscles from the 60km or so walking and could barely walk for 2 days, despite heavy workouts in the 2 weeks prior to departure
My feet were a mess, so was my courage after the tragedy of the stoning...I was in the thick of it that morning and the terror was palpable, I thought I was going to die & there wasn't much I could do to about it....
the walk from Muzdalifah was around 5km, with 2.5 million white robed pilgrims, funneling down over 3-4 hours intent on stoning, closer & closer your flesh pressed hard against the smelly sweaty bodies of 1/2 a dozen other people trying not to swear under their breadth.....
the weight of a million & a half people pushing from behind was unrelenting; nobody could stop it.....the police did for a while, at the entrance area, making us stand in the beating sun for nearly an hour, panicking as wailing ambulances one after the other tried to weave their way through the thick masses, you could see the police standing on the edge screaming & pleading for us to go back ,which was ludicrous, nobody could move without taking other people down, which is what happened, the sense of gravity of your situation starts rising as you soberly realize they don't know what they're doing and No-BODY is in control, no-body explaining anything, so the perplexed hordes move blindly on
eventually the crowd frustration grew to breaking point & we broke through police who were terrified and helpless to stop this human tidal wave exploding, with sudden clear space, everyone ran to the jamarrat, a policeman tried to clutch my arm but I wrenched it free, in the blur I remember several people going down and the screams cut the air
as you got close to the Jamarrat, and you started to pack again claustrophobically close: the sound was incredible, thousands of pebbles being thrown created a continual zipping & clacking sound that coalesced in to a stream, combined with the invocations, shouts & screams of the pilgrims, at this point you are doing anything to stay on your feet, including pushing others out the way, all the while, your feet catching on the multitude of backpacks, shoes (bodies!? can't remember) so, I almost fell down twice, and believe me you don't get up again...your ribs would soon be crushed, puncturing your lungs, death inevitable....
you are powerless except to try to resist the massive tidal forces that unwittingly work to pull you down....the year before 150 or so died jumping off the ramp to get out, I can understand the sheer terror that leads some people to do this
I went with a talkative Egyptian doctor, Dr Osama, who pushed me from behind, despite my desperate and somewhat terrified protests, to finish it & I got within about 5-10 meters, of the pillar, it's all a blur, I discharged my pebbles with about 3000 jostling people in small radius, all simultaneously going in different directions, including small Asian women, the horrified looks on their faces, has etched into my soul, I did what i could to let them pass and believe only the strongest person stays up, so many of the, fell & died
Indeed many people had died already and were dying at this point but we weren't to know until later...
then it was over, I couldn't believe what I had experienced
only later did I learn that the stoning is valid until fajr the next day!
all that danger for nothing but ignorance
so that's a snapshot, the day at arafat was the highlight for me, sitting tearfully in tents & standing intensely in dua for hours
The government has vowed to improve the situation but it happens every year, their incompetence played a large part in this tragedy
It was a singular experience but never again will I put myself in such danger