Barefoot and Bowed: Day 16 of Ramadan

 

Last night, I celebrated iftar at Al Hedayah in Fort Worth, and tonight my wife, Leah, and I broke fast at the Islamic Association of Collin County with Yaseen.

I have started wearing my TOMS shoes to the mosque, because they are very easy to slip on and off.

And I have begun to meditate on the discipline of being barefoot.

I asked a friend tonight why Muslims took their shoes off for prayers. He responded by referring me to a story from the Bible that I know well.

Moses was shepherding a flock at the foot of Mt. Horeb when he turned aside to look at a bush that was burning, but not being consumed. As he approached the strange conflagration, God said, “Don’t come any closer! Take the sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).

“Holy ground” is the place where God comes to meet with humanity in a close and intimate way. In Christian tradition, we sometimes refer to this as a “thin place,” a space where the division between heaven and earth, the sacred and secular, is rather thin.

Our response to being on “holy ground” is to humble ourselves, to strip off those things which would keep us from putting our whole attention on God’s presence. Shoes are a simple, symbolic representation of the kind of humility that ought to accompany us into the “thin places.”

This tradition of going barefoot in worship is not something which has carried over into the Christian church, at least not in North America. I am used to wearing shoes at all my church functions, whether worship or administrative. Most of the time, I wear black or brown dress shoes, with dark dress socks. Sometimes I am able to get away with wearing sneakers, or my red and black Vans, to the office during the week, but even this can be considered “subversive”!

I wonder what the effect would be to begin the practice of going barefoot in all of my worship gatherings. I wonder if it would cause me to begin to rediscover the sacredness of our space. Too often, I’m not sure if I actually expect God to show up in our services. I know how to go through the order of worship, how to read Scripture and deliver a sermon, how to offer Communion to people.

Yet if I really treated the sanctuary on Sunday morning as a “thin place,” wouldn’t I want to take my shoes off, and revel in the mystery?

I’ve discovered that there are other benefits to going barefoot, as well.

For one, it relaxes me. Having my shoes off makes me feel as if I am at home, as if I’m in a place that is comfortable enough to dispense with formalities. In the South, the saying goes, “Stay a while – kick your shoes off!”

I’ve really enjoyed the meals the last two nights, partly because I was relaxed and not in a big hurry to get away.

Going barefoot is also a vulnerable act. When you don’t have shoes on, it’s possible for someone else to step on your toes and hurt you! Or you might step on something that makes you wince. It’s a sign, then, that one is willing to be vulnerable before God, willing to be open to whatever God chooses to reveal or bestow.

And there’s one more thing. Being barefoot in a room full of folks has an incredibly equalizing effect. Over the last couple of days, I have prayed next to doctors, lawyers, and professors, as well as construction workers, mechanics, and high school students. I have prayed next to Jordanians, Syrians, Palestinians, Nigerians, Somalians, Sudanese, Americans, and Pakistanis.

But when we are in the prayer room, wealth and class and ethnicity don’t matter anymore. We are all children of the one true God, showing our reverence and giving our praise.

We are simply barefoot and bowed.

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36 comments

  1. Jessica

    I truly look forward to reading your posts each day. We are just past the halfway mark of Ramadan and it is nice to hear this new perspective. InshAllah the rest of your Ramadan is fruitful. Peace!

  2. myazizy

    Well written. Alhamdulillah… we are not just equal in the mosque, but also in the grave. All Muslim will be buried only with unstitched white cloth, rich or poor, kings or beggars are the same.

  3. M Abbasi

    Dear Mr. Magruder,

    I have to praise your courage to know more. I really admire you for opening your mind and heart to a foreign belief and for avoiding prejudice.

    As a brother of you, I just wanted to mention a few points in the hope that they become helpful in your spiritual journey, inshaAllah

    First, continue and don’t be discouraged. I’m sure you have been inspiring to many. As a Muslim, I’m also very inspired by your move and I look up to you and wish I earn your courage.

    Second, I’d like to say my opinion about God being gracious. God is certainly gracious, but in my opinion God can be described in many other ways as well. God is really who created us, we can really get close to him, but can we really know how he is? Can we really define him with certain worldly-known traits and characteristics? Referring to your note about Muslim bowing to Almighty God, I think that CAN be another way of looking at God. If you read through Quran, inshaAllah, you’ll see that Allah has been described by several names (Asma Al Husna). Certainly being gracious is one of them.

    Third, I pray that your spiritual journey in Ramadan is a very successful and rewarding one, filled with blessings. As Islam asks for submission in order for true guidance, I am sure with your heart and soul open to Islam and being very positive towards it, you’ll make it inshaAllah and you’ll certainly be a source of inspiration for Muslims in the first place and Non-Muslims as well.

    Mr. Magruder, again I’d like to express my huge respect. Wish you great and I’m going to follow your notes closely in order for myself to learn more and be more inspired.

    Sincerely,
    M Abbasi

    • wesmagruder

      Thank you, M. Abbasi. You are entirely correct that we must be careful in our language about God not to try to endow Him with human characteristics, since He is utterly Other, transcendent, and beyond our very conceptions. Thank you for reminding me of that truth.

  4. Dan Archer

    I have studied Martial arts for many years. It is common to practice without shoes. I was told once that the act of taking of your shoes was a show of respect for the Temple or house that you had entered. These places are sacred to us. Whether its the place you learn life lessons or the home in which you live. You do not want to bring the “Dirt” of the outside world into these places and contaminate them with outside filth, be it dirt from the street or the “dirt” of an unclean world. I always feel more comfortable with my shoes off. I always have. I wonder if that is Gods way of telling me something. I will have to think about that. Thank you for your efforts to go beyond being christian or muslim. I like to think of you simply as a man of god. I think that is a much more important title.

    • wesmagruder

      Dan, yes, there is another blog post in there about the “dirt” that we try not to bring into our place of worship. I think that is also why Muslims wash themselves before going into the place of prayer. Could someone enlighten me on this practice?

      • Ed

        Dear Pastor Wes,
        Regarding your question on the ritual washing/ablution, we are required to be in a state of “purity” before performing our 5 daily “official” prayers. To get into that state, one would rinse hands, mouth, nose, face, then rinse arms to the elbows, then wipe on hair, ears and neck, then rinse feet. This brings one into a state of purity which if not lost, one can pray an entire day worth of prayers without having to renew the ablution. What makes one lose purity is going to the restroom, the effect of “beans” if you know what I mean, and marital sexual relations which would actually require an entire bath to be in a state of purity.

        This may seem like a lot but it becomes a habit and it actually feels great. Our daily life is jammed with things so when time comes for prayer, ablution personally helps me take a breath and lay everything on the side in preparation for prayer. Getting in touch with water wakes up the senses, refreshes the spirit, and makes us more ready for prayer.

        When we have a meeting with our boss or even the president, we dress up in our utmost clothes, put perfume, wash and look very neat… how about the Lord of the president and the worlds? Muslims do this ritual washing because God asked us to do it simply. But then when we think of it we find many benefits. This isn’t much different than the ritual of washing that our cousins the Jews and our dear prophet Jesus peace be upon him used to all do.

        Ed

      • ♥ natnat ♥

        I attended Mass and What’s intertesting is that Catholics dipped their fingers in the Holy Water and crossed themselves before entering the Church. A signifying act of purification, perhaps?

      • Ruud

        Dear Wes,

        regarding washing yourself before prayer, in the first place moslems are just following the tradition of the prophets which is instructed by God as written in the scriptures:

        30 He set the laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar, and put water there for washing; 31 and Moses, Aaron, and his sons would wash their hands and their feet with water from it. 32 Whenever they went into the tabernacle of meeting, and when they came near the altar, they washed, as the Lord had commanded Moses (Exodus 40:30-32)

        O ye who believe! When ye rise up for prayer, wash you faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and lightly rub your heads and (wash) your feet up to the ankles. And if ye are unclean, purify yourselves. And if ye are sick or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have had contact with women, and ye find not water, then go to clean, high ground and rub your faces and your hands with some of it. Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that ye may give thanks (Al-Maida:6)

  5. Sommieh Flower

    Inspiring post. Made me think of going barefoot a bit differently. I’ve been Muslim for 30 years and do it as a matter of course, preferably w/o socks. The idea of Allah (SWT) “showing up” in our places of worship, that caused me to think. As He tells us in the Holy Quran, he is closer to us than our jugular vein, but how often do we realize the truth of this statement? Thank you

  6. Lisa Raymer

    Either during Ramadan or after, you MUST visit the mosque in South Dallas, Masjid Al-Islam, 2604 S. Harwood. Mainly African-American, it has a unique energy and vitality so beautiful, I drive from McKinney quite often just for Jummah prayer on Fridays. They are very, very connected to the inner city needs and the love for others permeates the atmosphere. Not like anything else you have experienced so far. Can’t thank you enough for your beautiful writing. You make us all think.

    • ReneeW

      You are so correct Lisa – the Harwood mosque is a WONDERFUL GIVING place that is awesome. Their community outreach efforts – feeding the needy every single weekend and their Day of Dignity every year – are out-of-this-world. They are a very warm and welcoming group. Please DO go visit them Pastor Wes. You will be blessed!

  7. Meg Swaid

    I was delighted by this post, it has got to be my favorite thus far. I was just at a funeral yesterday in the Catholic church where I was baptized and through which I was guided towards Islam. I credit my Catholic upbringing as the single most important factor in accepting Islam. What I am delighted about is the fact that as you were in a mosque yesterday, I was in a church and wondering the same thing albeit differently. I was wondering about the fact that everyone in the church was wearing shoes. Now, I was raised, christened, took my first Holy Communion there and was confirmed there by the Bishop of the diocese…so it isn’t as if I didn’t know that this is the practice. I had merely forgotten. It is a miracle that on the same day you found the same question in your mind. An absolute miracle if you ask me. 🙂 I also want to thank you for sharing the story about Musa, SA and the reason for not wearing ones shoes that has a traditional basis. Certainly it has other rationales as well including not wanting to sully the inside of Allah’s holy places which are, btw, inclusive of Churches and Synogogues.

    Peace and more, more!

      • Meg Swaid

        I sincerely loved Isa, SA (Jesus) and actually dreamed of becoming a nun. Back in those days, Catholicism was more of a ‘full time’ activity you know…there was Catholic school and catechism, I sang in the choir and often times earned a little extra money by scraping wax from below the dime candles. We had some wonderul priests (I remember Father Padilla in particular) and some wonderful nuns (Sister Helen) and some not so wonderful ones (redacted, haha). It was a complete experience. But even more important, I believe that it was about as close to “God” as a person could get back then and I “hungered” for that more than I can possibly describe here….and I do believe that Allah answered my prayers and led me through the door of “Christ” i.e. Isa, son of Miriam, (pbut) towards the City of Knowledge (Mohamed, SA) via another door (Ali ibn Abi Taleb, pbuh). I mean, back then it would have been extraordinary for a small town girl like me to actually know a muslim or have been exposed to Islam….so the next best thing in my estimation (no offense to Methodists!) was the Catholic faith of yore. It was and is the will of Allah for me and prepared me in some way to accept the next steps in my progress towards knowledge of the Creator and Sustainer of the worlds. I hope this explains to some extent what I hold to be the miracle of my Islam. .

        Peace and mercy and blessings to you and you family

  8. Ed

    Thank you for your posts Pastor Wes as we experience Ramadan through your fresh eyes. Being barefoot, and praying shoulder to shoulder next to a stranger whom you don’t care whether he is black or white, rich or poor, and for the only purpose of a union in worshiping our creator is indeed a very humbling experience that leaves a special sweetness in the heart. If you ever get to go to Hajj (pilgrimage), THAT indeed is the mother of all humbling experiences.

  9. Umm Abdullah

    Wes, you might be interested in this BBC report. You probably know that while fasting the month of Ramadan is required, Muslims also fast at other times as a voluntary act of worship. It is recommended to fast on Mondays and Thursdays, on the 13th, 14th and 15th days of the lunar month (when there is a full moon), six days in the month after Ramadan, and some other specific days. When someone told the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that he could do more than that, the Prophet told him about the fast of Prophet Daoud (David, pbuh), which is fasting dawn to sunset every other day – but he told him not to do more than that. Here’s what the BBC report says:
    ————————————-
    (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19112549)

    …One area of current research into diet is Alternate Day fasting (ADF), involving eating what you want one day, then a very restricted diet (fewer than 600 calories) the next, and most surprisingly, it does not seem to matter that much what you eat on non-fast days.

    Dr Krista Varady of the University of Illinois at Chicago carried out an eight-week trial comparing two groups of overweight patients on ADF.

    “If you were sticking to your fast days, then in terms of cardiovascular disease risk, it didn’t seem to matter if you were eating a high-fat or low-fat diet on your feed (non-fast) days,” she said…
    ——————————————————-

      • Ed

        It depends on the level of commitment. What I found was folks who frequent mosques have a tendency to do those voluntary fasts. I know many folks who are fasting steady every monday and thursday, and others who fast at least 2-3 days a month.

      • Umm Abdullah

        It’s very hard to say. I think that a lot of Muslims fast 6 days in the month of Shawwal (the month after Ramadan). It is said that if you fast those days in addition to Ramadan, it’s like you’ve fasted all year. Also certain days like the day of Arafat, the climax of the hajj; if you’re on hajj, you don’t fast, but if you aren’t, it’s recommended, and many people do. I know people who fast many of the voluntary days, others who fast them sometimes, and others only on the special days (like Arafat), A lot of people don’t go around telling others they’re fasting; they simply say ‘No, thanks’, if offered food during the day.

      • Irwan

        There is also conducting fasting every other day. This fasting is called the fasting of David (Dawud) but it is currently not much to do because it requires a very high commitment.

        Greetings from Indonesia
        Irwan

  10. Daryn DeZengotita

    To Wes’ many readers . . . as a member of his congregation, and his friend, it was my honor to receive Holy Communion from him this morning with bare feet. Several members of the congregation joined me in this gesture of solidarity. You may be assured that we support his observance fully and we are very, very proud to call him our own. We welcome your blessings from around the world and we share your desire for peace and understanding. May the God of Many Names bless us all.

    • Ed

      Daryn you all certainly belong to a noble Church and have a good leadership. I wish all Churches are as open and humble as you guys are.

    • JanAsker

      Lovely … To understand each other is a huge step in creating comfort between the cultures of the two religions. I was raised Southern Baptist and am now a Muslim. My road to Islam was a long and winding road, but I have always felt that I have loved God all my life, I have worshiped and respected him, all my life, the means of worship and the names have changed but what is real is that there has always been one God the one Creator and I appreciate your mention of “May the God of many names bless us all.” It’s just lovely.

  11. Eva

    I am an American woman who grew up in a strict Catholic family. While searching for some answers about God and faith in my late teens, my search took me to Islam. I converted to Islam in my early 20’s and that was about 20 years ago.
    I am thoroughly enjoying reading the posts about your Ramadan and how eloquently you put your discoveries into words, you truly are getting exactly as it is meant to be. As a new Muslim the thought of Ramadan was quite frightening, now it is a time that we look forward too and are sad to see go. When you truly have the intention to do something for the sake of God and for the pleasure of pleasing God, He will make it easy on you. After each blog entry I read, my older children read them as well. It is so heart warming to see someone wanting to learn the truth about us Muslims and seeing the beauty in our religion. All too often like in the phone call you received, people think of us all as terrorists and think nothing of terrorizing us in the grocery store line telling us to “go back home where we belong and blow each other up”. Well, for my children and I, this is home. If people just took the time to learn the truth about us they would see that we are simple people putting Allah/God 1st above all else in our life. They would see that we are also the Doctors, nurses, Lawyers, Teachers, Mothers, IT professionals etc. right along with them in the community. They would learn that the neighbor to a Muslim is held in high regard, but unfortunately most will never know what a great friend we make.
    I am planning to pass along the link to this blog to the Imam of my Mosque to invite you to one of the nightly Iftars. We are ISAT-Islamic Society of Arlington Texas, or otherwise known as the Center mosque in Arlington.
    Thank you,
    Eva

  12. Ansar

    Great effort on your part Rev. There are not many out there willing to have an open mind to look closely at another (valid) Abrahamic religion. It is interesting to note that yesterday the 17th of Ramadan was a very signicant day for Muslim, they make special effort to thank the Almighty Creator. It is the day that the supplication of Prophet Muhammad was answered and the Creator granted him victory in the very first battle against the pagans of Makkah.
    The pagans wanted to wipe this fledgeling band of Muslims of the face of the earth. More than a 1000 well equipped army came to do the job against 313 Muslims, some very new to Islam, only 60 had any type of weapons and only a few horses.
    The story has a parallel to the story of the Israelites, when Moses asked them to march on Jerusalem and God would give them victory against a much stronger army, all they had to do was march to the front gate, they did not do it. And thus as a punishment they were made to wander in the desert for 40 years. I think all this is in the old testament. So the Muslims knew that and said they will support the Prophet with their life unlike the Israelites who had deserted their Prophet.
    So thanks for the victory that Almighty granted the Muslims that day, Islam is here today.
    Regards

  13. Mehvash

    My father sent me an article about what you are doing and it really moved me. I am a muslim and my husband is a methodist. I always feel so welcome in the church he attends in San Marcos, TX, but next time we are visiting my family in plano we will try and visit your church. Thank you for doing this.

  14. mohammad abubakar

    being barefooted was the ways of all prophets…not just mohammad moses as well as jesus…peace and blessing upon them all..when they worship the creator of this universe ….but to add more beauty of bein brefooted as i was asked too before by a pastor…why do you live your shoes outside.?….i just told him …just for common sense…when you washed you bed shits and the covers and put in your bed…clean and there is a guy who just come step on your bed with his shoes and you dont know where does it come from the dirts he may brought to your bed …are you be happy to see this?? the pastor wiht wide open eyes said….of course not!! you want your place to rest to be respected… oh yes, of course…he replied and i said what more in God’s place…where we place our heart’s when we are to worship when we are in need ,,,, we dont want anyone to step on our bed with thier shoes…we want our own place to be respected…but where is our respect in God’s place.?
    then i told him about mose’s… when he was asked to worship God…he just look down in silence…..and as i wonder i asked him back , Pastor what made you asked this all about? he said… because i did this … once in our church …because it was taught by all of us that their …”church is the gateway to heaven”….one day i came in to the church barefooted as i felt that there is no need to wear shoes..or sandals while entering the gateway to heaven….all of them were shocked! looking at me barefooted….the story was known to the head of the church and ask him one day… why does he take off his shoes… before goin inside the church people are wondering ….he said that the reason he did it is because of …our “Church is the gateway to heaven” ..i felt a need of taking off my shoes before going inside of heaven….. and the head of the church asked him….would you like Me to take off my shoes too?? …..
    this happen before i came to your mosque…. i quite amazed that all of you take off your shoes… but i just tell myself maybe because your mosque is carpetted….that’s why….but then i cant help myself to ask you brother….and then he said God just show me the truth. that what i did was right…..and then he started to learn islam…..and a few months later i saw him again in friday’s before juma’a prayer ..and i ask him if there’s anything he may want to know about islam? he said…no brother …i wanted to join with you in your prayer … because he looked down they wont allow me anymore to be barefooted in the church….. they wont allow people makin fun out of what im doing…. and i saw tears welling in his eyes…..and i embraced him and led him… i said here you can pray barefooted brother….God will be more pleased to you …you are following what God had asked all prophets to do…..

  15. Amina

    this blog is an amazing collection of ideas, reflections, and inspiration. what a wonderful collective praise of the One Creator. A truly rich text, with so many beautiful varied voices. Thank you Pastor for opening up this space and blessing it with your words and example, and then inviting us all in.
    i think it is a journal of journals! as a teacher, i would love to be able to share this with my students for many years to come. I hope it stays up on the net as a living textbook!

  16. Connie Ali

    This is very good; I converted to Islam over 20 years ago – I was Lutheran and never did quit get the bible. I started to question the concept that Jesus was “God’s son”: equal to “God” and that didn’t set well with me as I believe mans weakness and need to have a figure to look at that resembles one’s own self or he cannot connect (it’s hard for some people to pray to a God you cannot see, hear, or touch) . I didn’t like figures of Jesus either (as nobody really knows what he looked like) and the fact that even in the bible – idol worshiping is a sin. Jesus was a great prophet but he was not “literally Gods son” but a human being that was crated solely to send out Gods message to man (which makes him very special). But in mans weakness, people made him a God. God has always uses humans to spread his word.

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