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.