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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The Shoes Company is an institution in the Jamatkhana, where the shoes of the visitors are deposited. The word company means an assemblage, collection or multitude of things. The Arabic word na'al (pl. ni'al) means sandal, khuff means boot and ahdhiya means shoe. The primitive shoe or sandal was a flat sole of leather, wood or matted grass with loops attached, through which the shoe-latchet, a leather thong, passed and strapped in the foot. The Arab na'al means the sole of the shoe, as being the principal part, thus pointing to the sandal origin.

Dhalabi (d. 429/1038) writes in Lata'if al-Ma'arif (tr. C.E. Bosworth, Edinburgh, 1968, p. 43) that the first person in pre-Islamic period, taking off his sandals before entering the Kaba, was al-Wahid bin al-Mughira. People followed his example, and under Islam, they all took off their sandals. Especially noteworthy was Abu Muslim Khorasani, who took them off, saying, "This spot is holier than Tuwa, where God ordered Moses to take off his sandals." The Koran says, "Surely, I am your Lord, therefore (in My presence) put off your sandal (na'laika). You are in the sacred valley of Tuwa" (20:12). Tuwa, the Syriac Tura refers to Mount Sinai. Moses was thus asked to remove his shoes as a token of respect in the Divine Presence. The Koranic message also sounds in the Old Testament: "And draw not nigh thither, put off your shoes from off your feet for the place whereon you stand is holy ground" (Exodus, 3:5). Mujahid and Ikrama relate that Moses might not be deprived of the sacred clay of the valley of Tuwa, he was therefore, commanded to appear bare feet. One Urdu poet also loves to sing the glory of the Prophet's footprint that, "The trace of his foot has the rank of Mount Sinai, Mustapha's footprint is the place where the bearer of the Divine Throne prostrate themselves" (Gulzar-i Na't, p. 8)

Whenever the Prophet retired from the meeting, Abdullah bin Masud would come at his service to put on his shoes. He would walk ahead with a staff as the Prophet passed along the streets, and whenever the Prophet would join a company and take his seat, he would help him take off his shoes and keep them in his charge pressed under the arm till the Prophet rose again (Tabaqat, 8:126).

Yaqut (5:272) writes that the custom of taking off one's sandals in the mosque is found as early as the time of Abu Ubayd during 2nd/8th century. Tabari (1:2408) however puts the custom back to the time of caliph Umar. In the 2nd/8th century, the shoes were taken off only in the maksura (enclosed chamber) because the floor was covered with mats. In 212/827, an Egyptian superintendent ordered that the mosque should only be entered with bare feet and the sandals be relieved outside the door of the mosque.

The prayer hall is the House of God, where the visitors make their presence before God; therefore, the shoes are relieved outside the premises, and not taken in hands or put beside while offering prayers. Yahiya Emerick writes in A Complete Guide to Understanding Islam (Lahore, 2004, p. 237) that, "Shoes are not allowed in the main prayer area of a mosque. This tradition has its roots in ancient customs of which Judaism and Christianity used to partake." In past, the shoes were taken off and placed outside the door of the Jamatkhana, and then it appears that the shoes were deposited in a particular place. Later, a keeper was engaged to look after the shoes in a wooden grille. With the growth of the jamat, more keepers were engaged for the service, and ultimately it gave rise to the formation of an institution, called the Shoes Company. Its members kept the shoes in a small room on the ground floor of the Jamatkhana. On the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Imam Sultan Muhammad in Bombay in 1936, the token system was started for the first time, which was orally. The depositors were given the numbers verbally. The small wooden boxes of equal size were prepared inside the room; each box bore a serial number. Later, the depositors were given the tokens against the deposited shoes, which were inserted in the relative boxes. These tokens bearing numbers were made of the paper chits. During the Diamond Jubilee in 1946, the tokens were made of the paper and hardboard as well. The credit for issuing copper tokens goes to the Shoes Companies in Karachi. The plastic tokens are however common almost everywhere.

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