This Safavid prayer rug with a silk pile on the ground brocaded with metal threads forms part of a prestigious set of Safavid Persian Niche rugs. Most of the preserved rugs of this group were intended as diplomatic gifts from the Safavid court to the Ottomans. The poetic inscription on the border is executed in nasta`liq script, in Persian verse and includes the name of Sultan Murad. Most probably it refers to the Ottoman Sultan Murad III. Circa 1570-1600 CE. Museum of Islamic Art, Doha[1]

A prayer rug or prayer mat is a piece of fabric, sometimes a pile carpet, used by Muslims, some Christians, especially in Orthodox Christianity and some Baha'i during prayer.

In Islam, a prayer mat is placed between the ground and the worshipper for cleanliness during the various positions of Islamic prayer. These involve prostration and sitting on the ground. A Muslim must perform wudu (ablution) before prayer, and must pray in a clean place.

Prayer rugs are also used by some Oriental Orthodox Christians for Christian prayer involving prostrations in the name of the Trinity, as well as during the recitation of the Alleluia and Kyrie eleison.[2] Its purpose is to maintain a cleanly space to pray to God and shoes must be removed when using the prayer rug.[3] Among Russian Orthodox Christians, particularly Old Ritualists, a special prayer rug known as the Podruchnik is used to keep one's face and hands clean during prostrations, as these parts of the body are used to make the sign of the cross.[4]

Many new prayer mats are manufactured by weavers in a factory. The design of a prayer mat is based on the village it came from and its weaver. These rugs are usually decorated with many beautiful geometric patterns and shapes. They are sometimes even decorated with images. These images are usually important Islamic landmarks, such as the Kaaba, but they are never animate objects.[5] This is because the drawing of animate objects on Islamic prayer mats is forbidden.

For Muslims, when praying, a niche, representing the mihrab of a mosque, at the top of the mat must be pointed to the Islamic center for prayer, Mecca. All Muslims are required to know the qibla or direction towards Mecca from their home or where they are while traveling. Oriental Orthodox Christians position their prayer rugs so that they face east, the direction of prayer towards which they offer prayer.

History and use

In the Baha'i Faith

In the Baha'i Faith, prayer rugs or prayer mats are not required, though may sometimes be used as a way to fulfill the instruction written in the Baha'i mother-book The Most Holy Book mentioning to "prostrate yourselves on any surface that is clean".

In Christianity

A Western Orthodox hieromonk blesses prayer rugs to be used for Christian prayer at fixed prayer times.

Prayer rugs are used in some traditions of Oriental Orthodox Christianity and Western Orthodox Christianity, to provide a clean space for believers to offer Christian prayers to God.[2][3]

During the seven fixed prayer times of Oriental Orthodox Christians, believers incorporate prostrations in the praying of the canonical hours that are performed facing east, with Copts "prostrating three times in the name of the Trinity; at the end of each Psalm [...] while saying the 'Alleluia'; and multiple times during the more than forty Kyrie eleisons" (cf. Agpeya).[2][3] Indian Orthodox Christians prostrate thrice during the Qauma prayer, at the words "Crucified for us, Have mercy on us!", thrice during the recitation of the Nicene Creed at the words "And was incarnate of the Holy Spirit...", "And was crucified for us...", and "And on the third day rose again...", as well as thrice during the Prayer of the Cherubim while praying the words "Blessed is the glory of the Lord, from His place forever!" (cf. Shehimo).[6][7] These prayer rugs are often blessed by Christian clergy in the church before ever being used;[2] in this way, when a Christian prays at home, it is as if they are praying in their local church.[3] Additionally, carpets cover the floors of parishes in denominations such as the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church on which Christians prostrate in prayer.[8] Among Russian Orthodox Old Ritualists, a special prayer rug known as the Podruchnik is used to keep one's face and hands clean during prostrations, as these parts of the body are used to make the sign of the cross.[4] In the Middle East and South Asia, where Christian missionaries are engaged in evangelism, some converts to Christianity use prayer rugs for prayer and worship in order to preserve their Eastern cultural context.[9] In modern times, among most adherents of Western Christianity, kneelers placed in pews (for corporate worship) or in prie-dieus (for private worship) are customary; historically however, prayer rugs were used by some Christian monks to pray the canonical hours in places such as Syria, Northumbria, and Ireland well before the arrival of Islam.[10][11]

The Armenian Apostolic Church, an Oriental Orthodox Christian denomination, has a long tradition of prayer rugs with Christian symbols woven in them; these have been found in places as far as Shirvan.[12][13][14] One of the oldest is the Saint Hrip'sime Rug, which was woven in 1202 A.D. and originates in the village of Banants, located in what is now Gandja.[14][15]

In Islam

Fragment of a saf carpet. Mughal India, first half of the 17th century. Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

In Islamic world there are two basic types of prayer rug, one designed with a single mihrab and meant for individual worship, the other with multiple niches and intended for a place of public prayer such as a mosque. This second type is known as saf.[16]

A prayer rug is characterized by a niche at one end, representing the mihrab in every mosque, a directional point to direct the worshipper towards Mecca.[17] Many rugs also show one or more mosque lamps,[17] a reference to the Verse of Light in the Qur'an. Specific mosques are sometimes shown; some of the most popular examples include the mosques in Mecca, Medina, and especially Jerusalem. After the advent of Islam, Muslims often depicted the Kaaba in order to distinguish themselves from Christian carpets.[5] Decorations not only play a role in imagery but serve the worshipper 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 mat where the hands should be placed when performing prayer.

In Islam, the prayer rug has a very strong symbolic meaning and traditionally taken care of in a holy manner. It is disrespectful for one to place a prayer mat in a dirty location (as Muslims have to be clean to show their respect to God) or throw it around in a disrespectful manner.[18]

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 will vary greatly by original weavers and the different materials used. Some may have patterns, dyes and materials that are traditional/native to the region in which they were made. Prayer rugs' patterns generally have a niche at the top, which is turned to face Mecca. During prayer the supplicant kneels at the base of the rug and places their hands at either side of the niche at the top of the rug, their forehead touching the niche. Typical prayer rug sizes are approximately 2.5 ft × 4 ft (0.76 m × 1.22 m) to 4 ft × 6 ft (1.2 m × 1.8 m), enough to kneel above the fringe on one end and bend down and place the head on the other.

Some countries produce textiles with prayer rug patterns for export. Many modern prayer rugs are strictly commercial pieces made in large numbers to sell on an international market or tourist trade.

Islamic rugs in Lutheran Churches

Main article: Transylvanian rugs

Ottoman niche prayer rug. 18th century. National Museum, Warsaw

The Saxon Lutheran Churches, parish storerooms and museums of Transylvania safeguard about four hundred Anatolian rugs, dating from the late-15th to early 18th century. They form the richest and best-preserved corpus of prayer-format rugs of Ottoman period outside Turkey.

Transylvania, like the other Romanian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, never came under direct Turkish occupation. Until 1699 it had the status of an autonomous Principality, maintaining the Christian religion and own administration but paying tribute to the Ottoman Porte. By contrast, following the Battle of Mohacs in 1526, part of Hungary was designated a Pashalik and was under Turkish occupation for over a century and a half.

Rugs came into the ownership of the Reformed Churches, mainly as pious donations from parishioners, benefactors or guilds. In the 16th century, with the coming of the Reformation, the number of figurative images inside the churches was drastically reduced. Frescoes were white-washed or destroyed, and the many sumptuous winged altar-pieces were removed maintaining exclusively the main altar piece. The recently converted parishioners thus perceived the church as a large, cold and empty space, which required at least some decoration. Traces of the mural decoration were found during modern restorations in some Protestant Churches as for instance at Malâncrav.[citation needed]

In this situation the Oriental rugs, created in a world that was spiritually different from Christianity, found their place in the Reformed churches which were to become their main custodians. The removal from the commercial circuit and the fact that they were used to decorate the walls, the pews and the balconies but not on the floor was crucial for their conservation over the years.

After the Siege of Vienna of 1682 the Ottomans suffered several defeats by hand of the Habsburg army. In 1687 the rulers of Transylvania recognized the suzerainty of the Habsburg emperor Leopold I. Generally the end of the Turkish rule in Transylvania is associated with the Peace Treaty of 1699, but in fact this happened more than a decade earlier. The last decades of the 17th century marked a decline of the rug trade between Transylvania and Turkey which affected the carpet production in Anatolia. Shortly after the turn of the century the commercial rugs based on Lotto, Bird or Transylvanian patterns ceased to be woven.[19][pages needed]

Interactive prayer mats

Interactive prayer mats, also known as smart prayer mats or digital prayer rugs, are a recent development in the field of prayer rugs. These mats are designed to enhance the spiritual experience of Muslims during prayer by incorporating technology into the traditional practice of prayer, and for educational purposes.[20]

Name variations

Region/country Language Main
Arab World Arabic سجادة الصلاة سجاجيد الصلاة (Sajjādat aṣ-ṣalāt), pl. سجاجيد الصلاة (Sajājīd aṣ-ṣalāt)
Greater Iran Persian جانماز (Jānamāz)
North India, Pakistan, Deccan Hindi, Urdu जानमाज़ / جا نماز (Jaa-namaaz)

सजदागाह / سجدہ گاہ (Sajda-gaah)

Pashtunistan Pashto د لمانځه پوزی
Bangladesh, West Bengal Bengali জায়নামাজ/জায়নামায (Jāynamāz)
Bosnia Bosnian sedžada, serdžada, postećija
Indonesia Indonesian, Basa Jawa, Basa Sunda Sajadah
Malaysia Malay Sejadah
Senegal, Gambia, Mauritania Wolof Sajadah
Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Cameroon Hausa Buzu na salla, dadduma, darduma
South Kalimantan Banjar Pasahapan
Iraqi Kurdistan Sorani بەرماڵ
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan Kazakh, Kyrgyz Жайнамаз (Jainamaz)
Uzbekistan Uzbek Joynamoz
Greater Somalia Somali sijayad, salli, Sajadat
Turkey, Azerbaijan Turkish, Azeri Seccade, canamaz
Turkmenistan Turkmen Namazlyk
Kerala Malayalam നിസ്കാരപ്പടം, Niskarappadam

See also



  1. ^ "Carpet". Discover Islamic Art.
  2. ^ a b c d Kosloski, Philip (16 October 2017). "Did you know Muslims pray in a similar way to some Christians?". Aleteia. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d Bishop Brian J Kennedy, OSB. "Importance of the Prayer Rug". St. Finian Orthodox Abbey. Archived from the original on 25 July 2020. Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  4. ^ a b Basenkov, Vladimir (10 June 2017). "Vladimir Basenkov. Getting To Know the Old Believers: How We Pray". Orthodox Christianity. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  5. ^ a b Gantzhorn, Volkmar (1998). Oriental Carpets: Their Iconology and Iconography, from Earliest Times to the 18th Century. Taschen. p. 32. ISBN 978-3-8228-0545-9. This Moslem prayer rug, too, shows the Kaaba in order to distinguish itself clearly from Christian carpets, whose Armenian border it kept.
  6. ^ Shehimo: Book of Common Prayer. Diocese of South-West America of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. 2016. pp. 5, 7, 12.
  7. ^ "Prostration/ Kneeling (Kumbideel)". Malankara World. 2009. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  8. ^ Duffner, Jordan Denari (13 February 2014). "Wait, I thought that was a Muslim thing?!". Commonweal. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  9. ^ Neff, David (19 May 1997). "Going to the Prayer Mat for Jesus". Christianity Today. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  10. ^ Diarmaid MacCulloch (2009). A History of Christianity. Penguin Group. p. 258.
  11. ^ "Shwebo and his Monastery". Columban Interreligious Dialogue. 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
  12. ^ Karanian, Matthew; Kurkjian, Robert (2001). Edge of Time: Traveling in Armenia and Karabagh. Stone Garden Productions. ISBN 978-0-9672120-1-2. Surprisingly, Arab sources acknowledge the supremacy of Christian Armenian prayer rugs, even though these rugs are often thought of as the quintessential Islamic art form.
  13. ^ Raphaelian, Harry M. (1953). The Hidden Language of Symbols in Oriental Rugs. A. Sivas. p. 58. Caucasian prayer rugs of Shirvan and Kabistan, usually Armenian products, show evidence of Christian symbolism in woven niches that have no affinity with mosque architecture.
  14. ^ a b Keshishian, James Mark; Manuelian, Lucy Der (1994). Inscribed Armenian Rugs of Yesteryear. Near Eastern Art Research Center. p. 41. Authors fail to mention Armenian prayer rugs which were probably an established tradition in Armenia before the emergence of Islam in the seventh century. The oldest known prayer rug is the famous Hrip'sime Rug, published by Alois Riegel in 1895. The inscription on this important rug states that it was woven in 1202 and indicates that it was associated with individuals in the Armenian village of Banants in the Gandzak region, the historic Armenian district of Artsakh-Gharabagh, which is present-day Kirovabad.
  15. ^ Manuelian, Lucy Der; Eiland, Murray L. (1984). Weavers, Merchants, and Kings: The Inscribed Rugs of Armenia. Kimbell Art Museum. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-912804-18-7.
  16. ^ Komaroff & Carboni, p. 262.
  17. ^ a b Ettinghausen, Richard; Dimand, Maurice S.; Mackie, Louise W.; Ellis, Charles Grant (1974). Prayer Rugs. Washington, DC: Textile Museum. pp. 11, 19.
  18. ^ "The History Of Prayer Rugs". Oriental Rug Salon. 2022-03-30. Retrieved 2024-06-01.
  19. ^ Ionescu, Stefano, ed. (2007). Antique Ottoman Rugs in Transylvania (2nd ed.). Rome: Verduci Editore. ISBN 88-7620-752-X.
  20. ^ Mukhopadhyay, Subhas; Islam, Tarikul (2 September 2019). Innovative Technologies and Services for Smart Cities. MDPI. p. 20. ISBN 978-3-03921-181-4.


Further reading