Prayer is one of the five major pillars of Islam. These pillars, or acts and principles of faith, are central to one's identity as a Muslim. Prayer rugs are used widely around the world by Muslims to pray in a salat, which means to pray five times a day in the proper way. The rug provides a significant ritual context for the user, framing and enabling distinct postures, movements, and mindset for the occasion of prayer. In particular, the rug creates a special and private space for the Muslim, whose aim is to silently communicate with God. The rugs are often filled with beautiful patterns and imagery and may be viewed as similar to art pieces. The principal function of the imagery, however, is to convey important religious themes.
In Union College's Permanent Collection, there is an Islamic prayer rug that was donated by a faculty member who traveled to a Muslim country. It is currently hung in a frame in the Religious and Spiritual Life office. There is not much known about this rug: we do not know who made it or where it is from, but as we look at the rug's imagery and symbols, we can explore its deep ritualistic meaning. Most Islamic rugs have very abstract visuals; Union College's rug is, however is more pictorial, as it portrays a scene. The scene depicts a view of a mosque in the background, a smaller prayer rug in the foreground and elaborate arches in the shapes of a mihrab, encompassed by a floral border. In this presentation, I further explore the meaning of the symbols on Union's prayer rug, and how they help enhance the prayer experience. I will also cover Islamic prayer beads as another example of a material object with Islamic symbols that enhances prayers for Muslims. I argue that while these symbols and imagery on prayer items are not mandatory, they serve to heighten the experience.