The Essence of Antique Prayer Rugs – From Muslim Prayer to Islamic Art
Introduction to the Islamic Prayer Rugs
In Islamic countries, prayer rugs are usually made locally and often named after the place of their origin. The patterns, motifs and colors may also vary from place to place. However, because of the image of the mihrab, each of these antique rugs is immediately recognizable as a prayer rug.
“This is the essence of prayer rugs”
What are Prayer rugs?
A prayers rug is a rug that Muslims use when praying. Islamic prayer involves sitting and prostrating, with the hands and face repeatedly touching the ground; so they need a clean and dry place.
At each prayer time, which comes five times a day, they unroll the rug, place it on the ground and sit on it to pray.
How do Muslims use / pray with or on these rugs:
During the prayer, they bow several times offering “Salat” (homage) to Allah. After the prayer, they roll it up and place it in a clean place.
Are there specific attributes and / or design elements that are specific to Prayer rugs?
The prayer mat is traditionally woven with a rectangular design, with the size ranging from 2.5 ft × 4 ft to 4 ft × 6 ft, enough to kneel above the fringe at one end and bend down and place the head at the other. Within the rectangle area are beautiful patterns and motifs forming images of mosques, architecture and other Islamic symbols.
Decorations are not only for aesthetic purposes, but have a deep religious value. So, great care is given in the design of prayer rugs.
The most important feature of a prayer rug is the niche at one end representing the mihrab, which is a directional point that directs the worshiper towards Mecca. Every mosque has a mihrab to direct the congregation towards the general direction of the holy city; so does every prayer mat.
But in the case of the rug, the worshiper has to determine the direction and place the rug with the mihrab pointing in the right direction.
A mihrab is an arch-shaped form that occupies one end of the rug, often referred to as the top end. Some rugs may, however, have mihrab at both ends. Such rugs are called double-ended prayer rugs. Besides representing the actual mihrab of a mosque, it also represents the spiritual archway to paradise.
So, it is often flanked by the “Pillars of Wisdom”. The area below the mihrab known as the prayer field and symbolizes the floor of the mosque. This is where the worshiper kneels down when praying.
Some prayer rugs may have images of hands to tell the worshiper where to place his hands when praying, a comb to remind the worshiper to comb his hair or a pitcher to remind him to wash his hands before praying.
In addition to the mihrab, prayer rugs may also have images of mosque lamps in reference to the Verse of Light in the Quran. Some may also have images of famous mosques and Islamic architecture, especially of those in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, the three holiest cities of Islam.
How do Muslim people take care of their antique Islamic prayer rugs?
Because of the important role a prayer rug plays in a Muslim’s life, it has to be handled with the utmost care and respect. It is considered disrespectful to place it in a dirty place, throw it around or kick it.
It should be cleaned and washed regularly. It should be removed from the floor as soon as the prayer is over and neatly rolled up and placed in a clean location.