Islamic prayer mats, or rugs, are individual-sized mats used by many Muslims in daily prayer rituals. They come in many different varieties and colors, from simple, monochromatic, factory-produced versions to the intricate pieces of woven art found throughout the Muslim world. Sunnis refer to the mats as "sajada," which literally translates from Arabic as "prostration" and denotes the kneeling posture of Muslim prayer.

Cleanliness and Function

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Cleanliness is a requirement of Islamic prayer, called "salat." Muslims pray five times daily. Before they do so, they must perform certain ablutions, cleaning at least the hands, feet and face in preparation. Muslims must then pray atop a clean surface. The prayer mat is not an absolute requirement, but it nevertheless ensures that the surface on which the believer kneels remains sufficiently clean.

Popular Use

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The Islamic prayer mat endures as the most popular portable method of ensuring a clean prayer surface during daily prayers. Adherents can roll the mat and carry it on their shoulders as needed throughout the day. The mats also enjoy a popular following among Western collectors, who travel to Middle Eastern countries to purchase them for their artistic value.

Construction

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Contemporary mats may be mass-produced by factory machines. Newer factory-made mats sometimes have innovations, like a built-in compass indicating the direction of Mecca. Traditionally, prayer mats were made by local artisans. Locally-produced mats with intricate designs also abound in street markets, or "souks." Artisans can sometimes be found weaving prayer rugs while passing time at their souk stands. The trade endures much worldwide scrutiny for recruiting child weavers, said to possess small fingers conducive to detailed weaving.

Artistic Tradition

Close-up of a tasbih on a prayer mat

Since its introduction during the Ottoman Empire, the artistic weaving tradition remains a source of pride throughout the Middle East. Western and Middle Eastern markets abound for intricate, beautiful rugs, sometimes called "Oriental carpets." Foreign buyers routinely travel throughout Middle Eastern markets to haggle over prices and may spend several thousand dollars on a single rug.