Monday, April 21, 2008

Why We Take Our Shoes Off

Mosque CarpetsHaving played hostess to a number of different non-Muslim groups visiting our mosque, this issue of taking off one's shoes in the mosque has manifested itself in some interesting ways. I'm afraid some people even might have the wrong idea about why shoes are removed inside the mosque.

Before the expansion had opened, but while the old musallah had been closed, we were forced to hold our da'wah presentations in the gym. Most activities took place in the gym--including the prayers. But several of our visitors were "regulars," from school groups whose instructors regularly sent their classes to the mosque for presentations. They were well-aware that shoes needed to be removed inside the prayer hall, and informed their students ahead of time.

For these presentations in the gym, we had to explain to everyone that they could leave their shoes on. Frankly, if I were to walk across a gym floor, I'd rather leave my shoes on. But this is a much easier problem to deal with than the reverse, which is an audience previously unaware they would be removing their shoes--for sometimes this can make people uncomfortable.

Because it's so common for shoes to be removed inside a mosque, and to see shoe racks near the doors, I thought it would be worthwhile to explain (if I can, inshaaAllah) the purpose for this behavior.

Some people, if they were asked why Muslims remove their shoes in a mosque, would respond by vaguely saying "out of respect." Respect for what, or for whom? Do Muslims need to pray with their shoes off? Some people might say yes, others might say no. The answer is: not unless their shoes have impurities on them. So it isn't necessarily for the prayer, but is it to respect the space? I have heard some people say that the masjid is "sacred ground," like when Moses (s) was told to remove his shoes in front of the burning bush because he was on sacred ground.

But refer to a hadith reported in Sahih Muslim where the Messenger of Allah (s) in explaining the differences between other messengers and himself (s), says "the earth has been made sacred and pure and mosque for me, so whenever the time of prayer comes for any one of you he should pray whenever he is." If the earth has been made sacred, pure, and a mosque, then how can we say that inside the walls of a mosque are sacred and we must take our shoes off?

Man Praying BarefootIn fact, we have traditions about the Prophet Muhammad (s) praying with his shoes on. Anas bin Malik was asked the question, if Muhammad prayed with shoes on, and he answered yes (reported in Bukhari and Muslim.) But the condition about the shoes being free of impurities comes from another hadith in Sunan Abu Dawood, on the authority of Abu Sa'id Al-Khudri. In this hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (s) was leading his companions in prayer, and during the prayer he removed them and placed them to his left. His companions copied the behavior, removing their shoes, and at the end of the prayer the Messenger of Allah (s) asked them why they did so, and of course they replied that they saw him remove his shoes. At this point, the Prophet Muhammad (s) explained that the Angel Gabriel had come to him during the prayer and told him that there was some filth on them, which is why he (s) removed them. So he told his Companions at that point to check their shoes before coming to a mosque and if they were dirty, to wipe them off and then pray in them.

Given that story, one might expect for Muslims to pray in their shoes in the mosque. And in fact, Muslims were instructed (according to another hadith in Sunan Abu Dawood) by the Prophet Muhammad (s) to pray with their shoes on to differentiate themselves from the Jews.

So returning to the question--why remove our shoes? And the answer has to do with the different nature of our mosques today, and our shoes. Because walking on the carpet with shoes will soil it, we should remove them. And that is the fatwa on this particular issue. Additionally, the carpets are considered waqf, meaning they should be preserved and maintained in good condition. Dirt on the carpets is likely to upset the people who will be praying on them, which is why we should take our shoes off. Praying with shoes.

So, simply because shoes carry dirt, and dirt will soil the carpets on which people prostrate, it is not appropriate to walk on the carpets with shoes. It is perfectly fine, however, to pray with shoes when praying outside the mosque--like at home, at work, in the park, etc.--so long as you ensure they are free from impurities.

At the mosque, on the other hand, if you are taking off your shoes to walk on the carpet, please be sure to neatly stow them on the appropriate racks. :-)

Shoe rack at a mosque


Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I wish it was the practice for Christians in the west to remove our shoes in churches.

I think removing shoes is a great custom.

Amy said...

Thanks for the comment. :-)

Brad said...

Asalaam Alaikum!

Great post! Just out of curiosity, what is the reaction to most non-Muslims when you take them through the Masjid? Do they leave with a more positive view of Islam than before their visit?


Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam Brad!

Thanks for the comment! Most non-Muslims do leave with a more positive view of Islam, as far as I can tell. Really it's only my perception, but the groups who visit are usually very grateful for the hospitality and information--which is why so many of them return every year or every semester.

But occasionally there is someone who doesn't leave with such a good impression. Usually it's a woman who was treated badly by someone (not necessarily by a man, possibly by a woman). But sometimes the Muslims just don't behave--kids running around during the prayer, and real chaos in a crowded space--that gives people a bad impression. And of course some people just don't know what to say to a non-Muslim woman in the mosque, or any woman period. Like recently, a woman was approached by a Muslim woman who objected to her presence without a headcover. This, by the way, was upstairs in a secluded section for sisters only.

So usually they have a good impression. It's only a bad impression when you get some Muslims who really don't know how to behave.

Jamilah said...

I usually go to Salah at lunch time, and all of the kids from the school downstairs come up. When its time to leave I can barely get out let alone get my shoes

Amy said...

Salaam Jamilah... I've had that experience too. It might be worthwhile in that case to actually bring a plastic bag or something, to keep your shoes with you, put them in your purse or what you carry, and place them in front of you. We have to do that on Eids when the prayer is outside or in a big place (it's never in the masjid because the masjid isn't nearly large enough) that never has shoe racks. And even if it did it'd be so chaotic... so yeah, shoe bags. :-)

brnaeem said...

AA- Amy,

Nice post on the shoes issue. On a slight tangent, we also don't wear issues in our house. So a few years back when we were in the states, an insurance lady once came to our house to sell us something or another. She was all dressed up wearing her business attire, looking very professional.

So when she stepped into our house, we asked her politely if she could take off her shoes. She said no problem and when she did, her stockings had a big hole with her big toe sticking out. I felt so bad for her as I'm sure she wasn't prepared for such a request.

Sorry for the digression, but your post reminded me of that incident.

Amy said...

Salaam Naeem,

Thanks for the comment. When I was a kid my mom always made us take our shoes off, and most especially in rooms with carpet. Unfortunately I'm not so good about doing it now, as we have carpet in the apartment but the shoe rack by the door is filled entirely with my roommate's shoes and I feel like taking my shoes off there leads to a bigger mess, and I'm too lazy to carry them back to my room. It's a habit I should set in stone. Although, I expect when visiting someone else's house to be prepared to take them off. Or visiting the masjid, of course. :-)

Anonymous said...

This is a really informative post, how do you know all of this information? All of your posts hold so much great knowledge of Islam on topics that it would take me so long to research to find the answers. I enjoy reading your blog and I have recently added your "Etiquette in the Masjid" post in a link on my own blog. This one in particular was helpful for me the first time I went to the masjid (recently). Keep up such great work.

Salaam to you.

Shamsuddin Waheed said...

As salaamu 'alaikum,

Good topic. Also of particular interest was the various Ahadeeth you cited on shoes. There was a 'small' conflict a few years back at one of our local Masjids when some people tried to insist on walking and praying with shoes on in the Musalla, citing the very texts you mentioned.

I look at the shoe removal as a physical act showing mental preparation. Before Salaah, we do the same thing. We make Wudoo', not because we are physically dirty, but to prepare mentally. Finally, before the salaah, we make the Niyyah [intention] in our minds, which many actually vocalize, before reciting the first Takbeer!

The story of Moses [PBUH]is, as you noted, cited as grounds for removing shoes. No one in the desert needs to be barefoot, yet he was instructed to do just that. This small act does show that the custom acts as preparation for important spiritual acts.

The Jews make the men wear a cap in the temple. The Hindus remove their shoes in their temples, even before reciting a text from their scriptures. The point being, every group has developed some tradition or another to show the importance of the place or action to the soul, and as such should be respected, and as Muslims, especially so when we have support from the Qur'an and the Sunnah.

May Allah reward you always sister.


Amy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Salam, to all brothers and sisters, i think what you have done on this site is amazing. explaning to aothers non-muslims to why we have to take are shoes off and the cleansiness makes other non-muslims want to follow our way .
allah WILL REWARD YOU TO janaat!
reply back plz

kimberly said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
car rental costa rica said...

Woow,Great post! Just out of curiosity, what is the reaction to most non-Muslims when you take them through the Masjid? Do they leave with a more.. thanks for show this publish.

jules said... clears up the whole notion of "cleanliness" both, in our "physicality" and in our
"spirituality" next visit to our Mosque will take on a whole new meaning!

Brother Jules

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jules said...

besides the shoe issue, I love the better it is to prepare body and soul in preparation for connecting to the Divine....

Observer Jul

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Anonymous said...

can you assist in saying under what circumstances it would be accepted for someone to enter a mosque with shoes on please? Is there an acceptance that if there is a lawful reason to enter with haste say a paramedic saving life would not attract criticism.