On my way walking to jummah I began to feel some pain in my right leg and thought maybe if I took off my sandal and walked barefoot it might help. I did that for a bit and it helped…and then I put my sandals back on. But then I remembered someone. Bishr al-Hafi, the Barefoot, who was one of the early zuhad Sufis was known to walk barefoot. Maybe I should try it out?
Ahmad ibn Salmân al-Najjâd used to come with us to the hadîth scholars such as Bishr ibn Mûsâ and others, holding his shoes in his hands because, he said, `I love to walk barefoot in pursuit of the hadîth of the Prophet – Allah bless and greet him.’” Ibn Abî Ya`la comments: “He may have done so to conform with the Prophet’s (saws) saying: `Shall I not inform you of the one who will carry the lightest burden on the Day of Judgment in front of Allâh? It is the one who races towards good deeds, walking barefoot. Gibrîl told me: `Allâh looks kindly upon a servant of His who walks barefoot in the pursuit of good.’”
There are similar hadiths out there, some fabricated, but I knew that Bishr al-Hafi as the teacher of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal occupied a great rank with Allah so I decided to pursue this. Bishr al-Hafi had reformed himself at the hands of Musa al-Kazim and Imam Ahmad would follow him around because though Imam Ahmad knew hadith, he knew that Bishr al-Hafi had greater knowledge of Allah. Due to his great adab with Allah he would walk barefoot on the earth because in the Qur’an, Allah describes the Earth as a carpet spread out and so it is from his adab not to walk on Allah’s carpet. Nor would he do his wudhu inside the city of Mecca/Madina out of adab, that he did not want to sully the Holy Cities with the remaining wudhu water dirtied with his sins.
Keeping his example in mind I took off my sandals and started to walk. But it was for only a few steps. The first person I saw coming near, I became shy and put my sandals back on before they could notice. I felt quite silly but then I kept walking, paused. And then took off my sandals again and started walking again barefoot. Everything begins with a first step right? In this case, quite literally!
Most of these people are listening to music, lost in their own thoughts or in such a hurry that they won’t notice I am walking barefoot. Even if they did see me, I thought, then they have seen weirder things on the street. Thankfully it was a warm day and the concrete was soft and cozy beneath my feet. It didn’t burn but had a nice soft feeling to it due to the emanating heat. Was I the first person to try something like this in Canada? Probably not, I thought, maybe some wily radical convert had done this before. But then, why not do this? Isn’t this more natural than walking with tight shoes and suffocating socks? The early Muslims, especially the bedouins amongst the early Muslims, and some say even the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam, in their destitute state, would walk barefoot.
An intersection. I crossed the street feeling the bumps in the road as the cars waited at their red lights, their engines humming loudly. Maybe one or two people in their cars had noticed I was barefoot but most probably did not. At the end of the day, they could care less. Nonetheless, I felt self-conscious and for most of the remainder of the walk I kept my head down watching where I stepped. Alhamdulillah the sidewalks were clean with at times bits of sand and rocks. No glass. I couldn’t help but remember the hadith that the least of eman is to remove something harmful from the roads and walkways. I hope brothers and sisters think of this hadith and think of their Muslims brothers that walk barefoot out there when they encounter litter on the sidewalks! 🙂
On my left I saw an old shirtless Hindu man, dressed in a saffron lungi (or what Arabs know as izaar) walking towards his outdoor idol display. Hindus do a number of acts that Muslims ridicule. A family friend told me just a few weeks ago about South Indians that walk to work everyday barefoot even though they are dressed in suit and tie. When asked why, they replied that it increased their “shakti.” If they can walk barefoot for shakti, then how does that compare with my walking barefoot with the intention of it being for Allah, the Lord and Master of the Universe?
I knew that if my friends and family saw me like this they would be furious. They would see this as being quite extreme. What would I say if they drove by? Yes, of course I know Islam is about moderation but walking barefoot really isn’t that hard! Most of the people who talk about moderation…they really seem to be making an excuse for themselves or trying to justify the life of comfort they lead. Why don’t Muslims ever get out of their comfort zone? Is walking barefoot really that extreme? People jump off of buildings for pleasure and Muslims go sky-diving, paint-balling and skiing. They get hurt and injured all for the sake of pleasure. Walking barefoot is well…literally, walk in the park compared to that! It felt like walking around at home more or less. I guess definitions of moderation and extreme are subjective at best. What I see as easy, now, that is, walking barefoot, others may see as hard. If someone then forces “moderation” upon me, aren’t they being extreme?
I admit I did feel like Diogenes the Cynic. The Greek philosopher had shunned artificial attachments and lived naturally in simplicity seeing it as the best way to happiness. But more than that I felt homeless. I got a feeling as to what it might be like to live on the street, ignored like you didn’t exist simply because you were not dressed nice. Most of the people that passed me by didn’t say anything. I had a Tommy Hilfiger shirt on so that may be all they noticed. In a way, in our Canadian society we do treat each other the same way we treat homeless people: with neglect. Society. Walking barefoot, I felt like I was walking on Allah’s Earth. Not walking on Canada. Not walking on man’s artificial society, but on the Earth Allah created for us. I felt shukr. I felt a bit of relief and release. Suddenly, I was a little freer from the “white man’s” dress and from the conformity of the Western monoculture. My feet were free to go wherever I willed. They did not carry the burden of the corporate logo. No more Nike and no more K-Swiss. I was walking on Allah’s Earth with the feet Allah gave me. I was upon what Allah willed with what Allah willed.
Wearing a thobe or a cap carries Islamic connotations but it also carries with it a bit of a burden. You have people looking at you as a symbol of Islam and thus there is an odd cocktail of shame and pride lingering in your mind. But going barefoot…I felt more Muslim than I ever had. Maybe its the mere fact that I can see my feet as I walk to the masjid that it truly feels like a journey. I can see myself struggle. I can feel the blisters developing, the dirt and grime getting attached to my soles. Or maybe its because I finally felt some physical pain for the sake of Allah. I was walking in a way that my shoeless brothers and sisters in Islam had done for many years throughout Islamic history and maybe it was the ancient brotherhood I felt. Perhaps these were the gifts and fruits of a little struggle.
I thought it would be a 30 minute walk to the masjid but perhaps that’s how it felt mentally. In reality, the walk was 40 some minutes barefoot. By the end of it my feet were in pain, dirty and blistered. I was worried twice: when entering the masjid that someone might say something but no one did seeing as they were all in a hurry to get to prayer and the other time was when a police car drove by, thinking they might tell me to put my sandals on. In all honesty, the prayer was hard and my feet hurt for 2 days. But alhamdulillah for the feet Allah has given me.
I will definitely do this again. I suggest you try it as well, at least once, if you haven’t before just for the experience.
Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.