Islamic Character Reflections

Slippers for Sale

She quietly slipped onto the train, and if our eyes hadn’t met, I wouldn’t have noticed the tears at all. They hung, in her eyes, waiting for any moment to pour forth. I glanced down at her feet and noticed they were bare, her slippers in her hands. In her arms was a baby, wrapped in a brilliant blue blanket; he didn’t make a sound. She began to come near the passengers whispering something, but her voice was drowned out by the tissue seller: ‘600 tissues for 2 pounds! 5 for ten!’ I had grown accustomed to that phrase, hearing it multiple times each day, and resting assured that if I ever needed tissues, they wouldn’t be too far away. The woman came close to my side of the train and shamefully looked at her used, worn out slippers and said, “Would anyone need this? Would anyone like to buy this from me?” Everyone nervously said no, not really understanding why they would buy used—old—slippers. A woman pulled out a few pounds and tried to give them to her out of charity. The woman refused to accept anything of the sort, even when it was placed in her sleeping baby’s arm. She gave it back, went to an empty place near the door and slouched, looking rather defeated.

The woman hung her head, as to not alert the other passengers of the tears that were beginning to pour down her face. A woman then approached her, kneeled down and whispered, “I’ll buy them from you.” The woman selling her slippers looked up hopefully. “Buy them right? You’ll buy them? Not charity, I’m not begging.” The other woman smiled and nodded, slipping a large bill into her hand, taking the slippers and walking away from the barefooted woman.

Immediately, a verse from the Qur’an began repeating over and over in my head, sparked by the scene I had just witnessed:

“[Charity is] for the poor who have been restricted for the cause of Allah, unable to move about in the land. An ignorant [person] would think them self-sufficient because of their ta`afuf (restraint), but you will know them by their [characteristic] sign. They do not ask people persistently [or at all]. And whatever you spend of good – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it.” [2:273]

I don’t know this woman’s story, what she needed the money for, or what she was going to do with it; but what I do know is that her eyes were filled with pain and her shoulders looked as if she had been carrying a heavy burden. I had read this verse many times before and listened to lectures about it but never did I feel the weight of this ayah (verse) until I saw it played out before my eyes.

Again, words began to repeat in my head, this time words from a hadeeth (record of the words of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him):

Anas radi Allahu anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that a person asked Rasul Allah (the Messenger of God) ﷺ, “Should I tie my camel and have tawakkul (trust in Allah for protection) or should I leave her untied and have tawakkul?” Rasul Allah ﷺ replied, “Tie her and have tawakkul.”

It would have been easy for this woman to just give up—to think that she had nothing to sell so there is no way she could make any money. But instead, she embodied this hadeeth. She took the very little she had, that was not worth much to the people on the train, placed her trust in God, and got more than she probably bargained for. As Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says in the Qur’an:

“[…] And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him a way out and will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah is able to do all things.” [65:2-3]

A woman on the train, struggling to fix her own personal problem, left me with a handful of lessons, in the few minutes that I saw her. She had very little in her hands, but I could tell that her heart was more than full. It is from her that we can learn that Allah (swt) is the one that provides—in the amount that He wills, not the amount we expect. We can learn that even when we feel that we have very little to contribute to any situation—we should think again because Allah (swt) could cause this little amount to flourish beyond our expectations. And lastly, we can learn about ta`afuf in the ayah and the beauty that it brings fourth, for in this woman was an unexplainable beauty of the soul.

About the author

Reehab (Ramadan) Aref

Reehab (Ramadan) Aref grew up in a small Texas city and was unexpectedly uprooted to Cairo, Egypt. The shift of countries precipitated a shift in her outlook on life; this, with her enriching experience in community activism—specifically social service, youth work, and Qur’anic Studies—provides for a rather enlightened perspective. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. Thankfully, her main outlet and therapeutic tool is to write, write, write! She keeps her own blog, contributes regularly to various publications, and – most importantly – you’ll find her entries on this site.


  • This is the first time i have come across your page, as someone posted this article on their FB feed. Masha’Allah it is beautifully written and makes one ponder over the many blessings Allah (swt) has given us, we should be grateful and this woman, whatever her situation may be (Allah knows better) has shines as an example through her character. JazakaAllah Khair!

  • Jazakallah for this beautiful article. May ALLAH (swt) makes us content to what he has given to us so that we can see the bounty of it .

  • Baarak Allaahu feeki. I love it when the signs of Allaah unfold before us so blatantly. As if He didn’t give us enough… subhanAllaah.

  • Salam,
    Thanks very much for the beautifully written piece.

    I wonder, though.
    How can it be that Allah wrote for millions of babies in Africa to be dying of starvation and the majority of people in the West to enjoy such luxuries as electricity, cars, jewelry, hot water, abundant food?

    I pose these questions because, so often, the poor and struggling working classes of people are told that this is the portion that Allah allotted to them. This idea results in a kind of resignation to the economic injustices of a capitalist system rather than an actualization of those very systems of oppression.

    Whenever Muslims talk about the poor and God’s rizq, it is usually devoid of any discussion of the injustices which human beings have created with their own hands and ideas–inequities which leave millions of African babies dead and millions of American babies fed fresh, organic foods and milk.

    I wish we would elevate our thinking and writing to more than, “Oh, what a sweet article. I feel warm and fuzzy inside about this act of goodness of buying a (dignified) woman’s slippers for a few pounds as she bears a baby and walks barefoot.” Come on now. That’s not enough. I am ashamed of myself for the computers I use which are manufactured by labor in China and the clothes on my back sewn by low-wage workers in Indonesia and tomatoes grown by Immokalee Workers exposed to dangerous chemicals.

    I am not writing this to provoke anyone’s feelings or as criticism. It is more of the overwhelming feeling of sadness I have.

    Thanks to the writer for making us consider such issues.

    • i relate to your feelings.

      “And they ask you what they should spend. Say, “The excess [beyond needs].” Thus Allah makes clear to you the verses [of revelation] that you might give thought. To this world and the Hereafter.” – al-Baqarah

      for this reason i have attempted to figure out to my satisfaction, what is my “excess”, aside from my needs and to assure my continued independence (the longer you’re financially independent, the longer and more consistently you can give). what you will be comfortable as “excess” vary according to how close it is between what actually is “enough” and what you feel is “enough” – to gauge the size of this intermediate space, regular, committed charity helps.

      also i consider ‘excess’ to include, on what basis do i choose the things i buy even for my own needs, because i personally can afford choice (excess in options). what criteria do i have for where i invest my money? between different brands, on what basis do i choose which to buy? what businesses and values do i indirectly enable with my purchases? i have found this leads to a need to become aware of all the issues that you say cause you concern – from the nature of modern capitalism, environmental destruction, social oppression, inhumane working conditions, armed conflict perpetuation, unnecessary use of animals in chemical testing, and uneven access to energy and food. and yes, i have also indirectly realised that indeed being a Muslim requires knowledge – not just what we usually assume, but knowledge of what is going on in the world *today*. and that this is true even if our local leaders do not at all see many of these as topics important or even relevant to religion and a Muslim’s practice of faith since they can’t find it exactly matching content in the books from 500 years ago, missing the common themes of injustice, oppression, sustainability etc. – the same people who keep repeating that Islam is “holistic and a complete way of life”.

  • Salam Abeda,

    You’ve pointed out a few things but within my scope of knowledge I would like to correct something. The point of this article is not about the generosity of the woman who bought the shoes. It’s about the woman who sold the slippers – putting our faith in Allah to make a way out of all things. The woman was determined not to beg. There is bigger barakah in trade/business/effort than begging. Human beings should ask from Allah, not from other human beings.

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