It is not uncommon to see Muslims kneeling and prostrating on prayer rugs or for the carpet to be used as décor ornaments in a Muslim household. On the first look, prayer carpets resemble oriental rugs or even Persian rugs. These are often constructed of cotton/silk and feature Islamic landmarks, geometric, floral, arabesque or free-flowing patterns. Although the sizes vary, most rugs are just sufficient for an average man to fit during the acts and antics of prayer. Wool is also a material used in the making of prayer rugs. However, they are mostly hand-knitted and are too expensive to be bought. And while Muslims are the frontrunners, what religions use prayer rugs? Christians are one group who have used them over the years. While most Christians now use some sort of clean mat or pillow to kneel, it hasn't been this way all along. Indeed many traditions credit them for the origin of what came to be known as Christian prayer rugs. Christians in some parts of the World, though, persist with the idea of using a carpet for prayer. It is worth noting that Islamic prayer rugs aren't a prerequisite for offering Salat. All Islam calls for is for Muslims to ensure cleanliness in place of prayer. Indeed some Muslims across the globe don't even use one for worship. It's just a practice that has become a traditional thing for many in order to reserve a clean and isolated space for worship. Plus, the patterns and design laid on the rugs hold significant value and importance to Muslims- So why not use one? Keep reading ahead to find out everything about prayer rugs- from its origin to its maintenance and how they’re made!
Prayer Rugs History
Early Christians did use the prayer rugs (according to traditions), but we would refrain from jumping into the sensitive issue. This section deals with the origin, popularity, and recent controversies linking Islamic prayer rugs.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) started the practice, using the 'Khumrah' for prayer. What is Khumrah? It is a mat made of palm fronds. The practice developed over the course of the next few centuries so that by 14th-century travelers were reportedly carrying carpets for Salat. The rugs intrigued early Muslim leaders who would have them customized for their use by the greatest artists in court. Prayer Carpets begin to be used as a symbol of power and as presents. This practice flourished under the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal dynasties. Rugs would be thought of as a national treasure, traded and used as items of ordination. They became associated with Islam. Such was the preciousness that a few of them even found their way in Christian Churches! The rapid spread of practice meant that prayer carpets picked up numerous names. These can be attributed to many languages spoken across the globe in general. So, what is the Muslim prayer rug called in different parts of the World? In the Arab World, they are known as Sajjādat aṣ-ṣalāt, while the Urdu/Persian equivalent is Janamaz. Other commonly used words are Sajadah, Pasahapan, and Namazlyk. One thing that stands out is that all these emphasize the prostration aspect of prayer.
In recent times, prayer carpets have transitioned from wool to cotton and silk as the raw material. This has meant that not only are they cheaper to produce but much more accessible as well. Another change has been in usage. Over the years, the use of rug as a medium for prayer has increased, and that as an item for decor has decreased. One thing that, however, hasn't changed is the regard the rugs are held in. Undoubtedly these rugs are one of the most revered Muslim household items. This is evident from the fact that Trump's decision to remove prayer rugs in Whitehouse caused outrage across the Muslim World. This story does go on to confirm the sovereignty of the prayer rug in today's Islam. Another such tale is Sabeeha Rehman's 'Threading my Prayer Rug. The plot revolves around a woman's trouble in following her religion away from her native land. The book beautifully captures the essence of the transition of a secular Muslim to a devout one. All this while the external conditions are changing. Lastly, over the years, prayer rugs have become wholly associated with the Islamic religion. The connection to other religious groups seems to have faded. Trump's tweets about Prayer rugs found on the border are a few of the examples. Not surprisingly, the tweets caused an uproar in the Islamic World.
Features & Uses of Prayer Rugs
Having scrambled history, let's look into Islamic carpets of today. Most rugs use cotton or silk as raw materials, and by that, I don't intend over-generalization. A few are hand-woven wool rugs too, but the majority comprises of the former.
On first look, it's hard to distinguish an oriental rug from a prayer rug. This can be attributed to solid colors or geometric, floral, and arabesque patterns. Most rugs have an Islamic landmark embedded upon them. This ranges from the Ka'aba in Mecca, Al-Masjid e Nabawi in Medina to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Having said so, it isn't uncommon to find a rug with abstract patterns. The area of rug production does affect the texture. A few rugs have patterns/dyes while others have materials native to their area of manufacture. All prayer rugs, however, do have a niche on top-the Mihrab. The Mihrab is the feature of the mosque representing the direction for the performance of prayer. The niche is where a Muslim places his head during prayer. Some rugs have an actual representation of Mihrab, while others are a bit abstract in their demeanor. All of these rugs have some form of decorations. They may have illuminated lamps or even combs and pitchers. These decorations not only play a part in imagery but also serve the purpose of reigniting Islamic thought. Illuminated lamps, for example, are a reference to the Verse of Light of the Quran. Such elaborateness is common, and attention to detail is common in Turkish prayer rugs. A few rugs may have imprinted hands on either side of Mihrab. These help the new converts place their hands correctly during prostration. It's easy to assume that each aspect of a prayer rug serves a purpose. That's not entirely true. Some rugs just have solid colors imprinted on them. It's all about the craftsmanship. The only thing certain is that a prayer rug would have an easily distinguishable top and bottom and a Mihrab.
Size of a Prayer Rug
A typical Islamic Prayer Rug ranges from 2.5 ft × 4 ft (0.76 m × 1.22 m) - 4 ft × 6 ft (1.2 m × 1.8 m). In other words, it is just enough for a person to kneel for prostration. While the size shouldn't matter, extraordinarily obese and tall individuals should prefer the largest size available. Take my word for it for I can relate. You don't want your head touching the ground during prostration! In case you intend to buy one as a décor piece, you still need to be careful. A Woolen rug (if yours is one) isn't the easiest to have hanging on your wall.
Material Used for Prayer Rugs
Area rugs are made up of many materials but when we talk about prayer rusg; most prayer rugs are crafted on cotton or silk. This not only renders them cheap but also makes them more accessible in the process. A few of them are hand-woven off wool too. These are ultimately more expensive and hence rarely used. Palm mats are one example of prayer carpets, and these are extremely popular, mainly because the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used one. The reason behind using palm mats is rather more symbolic and it is hard to reason against as almost all mosques having these! As of now, the rugs are being modified to cater to the health needs of worshipers. These are multi-layered carpets aimed at absorbing weight and hence reducing the pressure on the worshipers' body. One such example of a physiological mat is the Times. It has five layers- 3 of which absorb pressure. The bottom layer prevents slipping, while the top layer halts heat and microbes. Apparently, this is my type of mat for prayer!
Different Uses Of Prayer Rugs
And we are into the obvious!
- What is a prayer rug used for?
- Is it to offer daily prayers?
Muslims use the mat to ensure cleanliness and to offer prayer in an isolated space. While this isn't a requirement in the Islamic religion, Islam does call on its followers to worship in a clean area. A prayer rug offers both of these and hence has become one of the most cherished items of any Muslim household.
A Muslim lays the rug on the ground so that the top points in the direction of the Ka'aba. Once he/she is done with prayer, the rug is immediately folded and put away until the next use. This helps ensure cleanliness. Cleanliness isn't often an issue for one pre-requisite for the performance of Salat is cleanliness itself. Plus, most carpets can easily be hand-washed for they are made of cotton. In case yours is a woolen prayer mat, here are the dos and don'ts. However, prayer rugs can be used for other purposes than just being used for the performance of salat.
Another use for prayer rugs is as items of décor. They resemble Oriental/ Persian rugs and look ridiculously ravishing adorning walls. Woolen prayer mats are almost explicitly used for this purpose. This practice dates back to the Ottoman and Mughal empires when emperors had rugs customized for use in prayer. These were even presented to kings as presents in a bid to strengthen bilateral ties. While there is a difference of opinion over the permissibility of using prayer mats as ornaments, we aren't getting into that debate.
Prayer Carpets make for prolific items of the trade too. Especially hand-knotted wool rugs with intricate designs- these rugs possess great value. That's one way to reason for rug production in Europe. This practice also dates back to the 15-17th century. Trade can partially explain the presence of Muslim prayer carpets in Churches!
How to Clean Prayer Carpets?
While this is beyond the scope of this article, I do feel that a bit of insight imperative. Your rug can get quite dirty; whether you’re using it for worshiping or just as a decor article. So how can you maintain your rug in pristine condition?
- Roll and fold your rug after prayer.
- Place and lay your rug in the clean locality.
- Clean your rug from time to time. If you own a cotton rug, it would be a walk in the park. Just deep clean it! Silk and wool rugs can be a bit hideous! While Silk rugs require dry cleaning, you can clean your wool rug by vacuuming it once in a while.
- Clean any stain as soon as it occurs. Once a stain sets in, it is difficult to remove. Each kind of spill has its remedies. Here are the ones for woolen prayer rugs.
- Avoid smoking around the rug. Smoke odors embed themselves in the rug and cause discoloration. Avoid smoking in general, but be extra cautious in the vicinity of prayer carpets.
How Are Prayer Rugs Made?
Muslim prayer rugs have quite an interesting history as to how they’re made. Prayer rugs, or otherwise known as prayer mats, are manufactured by weavers in a factory. The weaver binds the material to the base or underlay of the rug, using various knots. Each rug is made as per the design, either the village its being made in or important Islamic landmark. These may include; The Holy Ka’aba, Masjid-e-Nabwi, etc. The knots are individually tied using variant colored wool to establish the desired pattern, after the rows of knots are finished. Furthermore, a weft string is intimately wrapped between the newly finished rows and the one which is about to begin. This helps to keep the design and pattern to be strictly in place. The most common materials used for Islamic prayer rugs are silk and cotton. This is because the fibers of silk and cotton are soft- which is an essential quality for prayer rugs to possess due to Muslims prostrating. The underlay for prayer rugs is a very important factor. Most weavers use a soft foam underlay. This helps in keeping the Muslim, who’s worshiping, comfortable and also protects the rug from wear and tear caused by it. The fabric is beautifully decorated with patterns and materials that have traditional values. Prayer rugs border is something that really interests me. The borders are incredibly detailed with patterns of all sorts. Similar to the borders of Persian and oriental rugs, prayer rugs borders are just as beautiful. Depending on the rug’s materials and content, it can take months to complete! After the rugs have been made, it is sent for one final wash. The rugs are then thoroughly dried, sucking out any moisture left. These rugs are then collected by those who are responsible to collect and deal with them. These rugs are usually made in villages and towns of the communities that utilize these mats. They’re also sometimes named after those deals and collect them.
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