During prayer, Muslims and some Christians use a prayer rug or prayer mat for their daily prayers.
The Arabic term for prayer rug is known as “sajjāda”, in Persian “namāzlik”, one of the major types of rug produced in central and western Asia.
Prayer rugs are characterized by the prayer niche, or mihrab, an arch-shaped design at one end of the carpet.
The mihrab, which probably derives from the prayer niche in mosques, must point toward Mecca while the rug is in use.
To believers around the world and through the ages, a prayer rug or mat – known as sajjadat salat, a term borne out of the acts of prostration done during Islamic prayers (sujood) – is found in every Muslim home and is often a constant travel companion that goes with the worshipper.
From different designs, textures, and colors, and from the earliest ones made of palm fronds and reeds to the finest threads and textiles – their weaving a reflection of the mastery of different Islamic dynasties – a single prayer mat can tell many stories.
It is not only providing a clean spot for prayers to be performed but in its design, it also represents the promise of paradise and eternity.
The design and coloring always depend on the weavers, their history, and symbols that they find important enough to display in their prayer rugs.
For most people, the visual approach to the subject of prayer rugs will seem to be most logical, but the visual questions which they generate are inextricably related to the historical and liturgical implications.
History of The Muslim Prayer Rug
It all began with the Prophet Mohammed, who prayed on a “khumrah”, a mat made of palm fronds. The five daily prayers must be conducted on a clean surface, and so the prayer mat serves that purpose and must be always kept clean itself.
Although carpet weaving originated in Central Asia more than 2,000 years ago, it was the Islamic culture that turned it into an art form. Carpets were something to walk on, sit on, sleep on, and yes, pray on.
Appearing early in Islamic history, the most common and basic design almost looks like a door to heaven.
The rug is in the shape of a vertical rectangle, with a woven arched doorway, a “mihrab”, an ornamental niche in the wall of a mosque, which marks the direction of the qibla, which is the Kaaba in Mecca. Muslims pray in the direction of the qibla.
From a pointed arch supported by columns on either side to a variation of a stylized “tree of life” design, there have been many creative improvisations added over the decades by different artisans and weavers.
Muslim carpets have been traditionally produced for centuries in Muslim majority regions, sometimes known as “the rug belt,” spanning from Morocco to Central Asia and northern India.
Under the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal dynasties, the industry flourished and carpets came to be considered as national treasures.
They were traded to Europe and the Far East, often considered too precious to be prayed on and would end up being hung like a painting in a home or palace.
Weavers competed to make the most beautiful prayer rugs, and the different tribes or groups would work hard at making the most memorable creation.
The role of Turkish rugs as trade goods of high value and prestigious collectibles is documented in the merchant accreditations, vigesimal accounts, municipal and church annals as well as individual contracts and wills, archived in the Transylvanian towns.
The municipalities and other institutions of the Saxon towns, persons of nobility, and public influence, as well as citizens, were owners of Ottoman rugs.
The towns acquired Turkish rugs either as customs duty paid in like, or purchased rugs from the trade. Rugs were frequently offered to public persons as a gift of honor.
Islamic carpets have been popular for centuries in Europe and beyond, often picking up symbolism, social meaning and ways of being used.
Islamic carpets were popular among the wealthy of Europe, displayed proudly on the floor of their living rooms and on the walls.
Prayer Rug Designs
Prayer rugs sometimes show specific mosques, including those in Mecca, Medina, and especially Jerusalem.
Decorations not only play a role in imagery but serve the worshiper as aids to memory. Some of the examples include a comb and pitcher, which is a reminder for Muslims to wash their hands and for men to comb their hair before performing prayer.
Another important use for decorations is to aid newly converted Muslims by stitching decorative hands on the prayer rug where the hands should be placed when performing prayer.
Antique prayer rugs are usually made in the towns or villages of the communities who use them and are often named after the origins of those who deal and collect them.
The exact pattern varied greatly by original weavers and the different materials used. Some may have patterns, dyes and materials that are traditional to the region in which they were made.
There are many prayer rugs in existence today that have been taken care of for more than a century. In most cases, they have been immediately and carefully rolled after each prayer.
The patterns, designs, and dyes of older prayer rugs can tell their origin, which tribe or village made them, what message they tried to communicate, and whether someone regularly used them or not based on wear or tear.
One example of a classic prayer rug design is a 100-year-old Ottoman prayer rug, which has a traditional Ramadan fanous, a glass lantern or lamp, at the niche, which is hung surrounded by Quranic calligraphy along the rug’s borders.
While many prayer rugs are collector’s items, beginning collectors can find other designs available in silk, cotton or wool, which can include animal motifs, featuring creatures such as peacocks and deer, as well as religious symbols and Islamic calligraphy.
Whatever the design, age, color and size, a prayer rug such as Luxurious Haramain Prayer Mat remains one of the most cherished items in a Muslim home, where people will usually have a personal one, and others for guests who happen to visit.