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A prayer rug or prayer mat (Arabic: سجادة sajjāda pl. سجاجيد sajājīd, or musallah; Turkish: seccade or namazlık; Persian: جانماز, Urdu: جانماز jānamāz) is a piece of fabric used by Muslims, placed between the ground and the worshipper for cleanliness during the various positions of Islamic prayer, which involved prostration and sitting on the ground. A Muslim must perform wudu (ablution) before prayer and pray in a clean place. Many new prayer mats are manufactured or made by weavers in a factory. The design of a prayer mat is based on the village it came from and its weaver. When praying, a niche at the top of the mat must be pointed to the Islamic center for prayer, Mecca. All Muslims are required to know what direction Mecca is from their home or where they are.
Features and use
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. The prayer mat is traditionally woven with a rectangular design, made asymmetrical by the niche at the head end. Within the rectangle one usually finds images of Islamic symbols and architecture. Decorations not only are important but also have a deep sense of value in the design of the prayer rug.
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. Many rugs also show one or more mosque lamps, a reference to the Verse of Light in the Qu'ran. Specific mosques are sometimes shown; some of the most popular examples include the mosques in Mecca, Medina, and especially Jerusalem. 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.
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 his or her hands at either side of the niche at the top of the rug, his or her forehead touching the niche. Typical prayer rug sizes are approximately 2.5 ft × 4 ft (0.76 m × 1.22 m) - 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. These pieces generally have little value and some are made using the same pattern by many weavers on a shift in a warehouse setting. Some may even be machine made.
There are many prayer rugs in existence today that have been taken care of for more than 100 years. In most cases, they have been immediately and carefully rolled after each prayer.
The Transylvanian miracle: Islamic rugs in Protestant Churches
The Saxon Lutheran Churches, parish storerooms and museums of Transylvania safeguard about four hundred Anatolian rugs, dating from the late-15th to the mid-18th century. They form the richest and best-preserved corpus of prayer-format rugs of Ottoman period outside Turkey.
Without attempting a résumé of the region’s complex history, we should note that 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.
We remain challenged by the question of why so many rugs have survived in the Lutheran Churches of the Saxons of Transylvania, who for centuries have shared the region with the Romanian (Orthodox and Catholic) and the Hungarian (Catholic and Calvinist) population. Trade was however the means by which people in Transylvania came into contact with the rich textile production of a foreign culture. The extent of this trade can be judged from the much quoted Braşov vigesimal register of 1503, which states that over 500 Turkish rugs entered the town during the year! Rugs represented one of Turkey’s most significant exports and were especially favoured by local Saxon and Hungarian communities but many travelled further to North, to Lvov and other centres. Neighbouring areas south and north of the Danube were also involved in these trading activities and rugs were highly appreciated as well. Nevertheless nothing comparable to the Transylvanian ‘miracle’ took place in any of those areas.
The reasons for this phenomenon are associated above all with the ways in which the rugs were used and valued. Turkish rugs were very popular in both rural and urban environments of Transylvania. The significance that the rugs had within the Saxon communities was certainly more complex and went well beyond their use within the home. They served to confirm the social status of the owner, lending prestige on special occasions in the life of the community. Important events in the life of prominent citizens, such as weddings or births, were also honoured with a gift, donum. Records show that in 1538 alone the municipality of Braşov donated 27 rugs and it is estimated that between 1500 and 1700 over one thousand rugs were used as gifts by the municipality alone.
The range of functions to which Turkish rugs were used led to their accumulation and preservation in considerable numbers in Transylvania. From the mid 16th century there is evidence that rugs were used in the homes to cover tables, beds, walls and less frequently floors. Many have ink stains caused by using the rug as a table cover, probably on the desks of notaries. Unlike in certain parts of central and western Europe, where rugs were the prerogative of the nobility and the higher echelons of the clergy, in the Saxon sections of Transylvania both the upper class and citizens of a certain social standing owned Turkish rugs. This continued in the 17th and early 18th centuries as we see from inscriptions on some of the rugs donated to the churches by parishioners or by the guilds. While some are in Latin, the official language written and spoken by the elite (including the clergy), others are in the everyday German language, probably indicating the middle-class ownership of the rug. Here is a Latin inscription on a fragmentary prayer rug in the Brukenthal Museum inv. 2178 revealing the reason of the donation of the rug to the Church:
RECORD: ERGO ... IN HON: DEI ET ORNAM: ECCLÆ: IOH..
DONATED IN HONOUR OF GOD AND TO ADORN THE CHURCH: IOH(AN)
Church communities never bought rugs, nor raised customs duties, and there is no record of merchants making such donations to the Protestant churches.
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 as people followed the ten commandments earnestly: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image..., you shall not bow down to them or serve them...". Frescoes were white-washed or destroyed, and the many somptuous 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 that needed warming up and a welcoming touch. Traces of the mural decoration were found during modern restorations in some Protestant Churches as for instance at Malâncrav.
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. This is unique and quite extraordinary if we consider that the Ottoman Empire heavily dominated the region at that time. This fact confirms not only the traditional religious tolerance of Transylvanians but also the capacity of Oriental rugs to bridge different cultures.
Typical manufactured prayer mat showing the Kaaba
- Persian embroidery
- Podruchnik, a cushion for worshipper's hands among Russian Old Believer Christians
- Oriental carpets in Renaissance painting
- Islamic art
- Aniconism in Islam
- Antique Ottoman Rugs in Transylvania, 2007
- "prayer rug." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 23 Oct. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/474169/prayer-rug.
- Faid, Abbo Muhammed Samir. "Islam" All Experts. 16 Mar 2005. <http://www.liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/workshop/citmla.htm>
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