THE prayer rug is so distinctly generic that it requires a little explanation. It is to be found wherever dwell the followers of Mohammed, and the design usually includes a representation of a mosque, or place of public worship, showing the mihrab, which is the niche in the wall of the mosque, so located that when the worshipper prostrates himself before it he will be prostrating himself toward Mecca.
The Mohammedan, if he build a mosque, locates it so that its axis extends in the direction of Mecca ; in such buildings the mihrab is not necessary, as the natural position of the worshipper places him so that his face is toward the sacred city. Where Christian buildings, such as the great Basilica of St. Sophia at Constantinople have been appropriated for Moslem worship, the niche or mihrab may be located well toward one corner of the building.
The prayer rug was evidently invented for the purpose of providing the worshippers with one absolutely clean place on which to offer prayers. It is not lawful for a Moslem to pray on any place not perfectly clean, and unless each one has his own special rug he is not certain that the spot has not been polluted. With regard to the purity of the place of prayer Mohammedans are especially careful when making their pilgrimages, the rugs which they take with them having been preserved from pollution by being rolled up until the journey is begun, or until the hour of prayer arrives. It does not matter to these followers of Mohammed how unclean a rug that is on the floor may be, because over it they place the prayer rug when their devotions begin.
About two hundred years ago small embroidered rugs were largely made in Persia, chiefly at Ispahan. These were prayer rugs, and on each of them, near one end, was a small embroidered mark to show where the bit of sacred earth from Mecca was to be placed. In obedience to a law in the Koran that the head must be bowed to the ground in prayer, this was touched by the forehead when the prostrations were made, and so the letter of the law was carried out. The custom still prevails. The Persian women who make the finest prayer rugs seldom weave any other kind of rug. But the encroachments of civilization and commerce have changed the original purpose of the prayer rug. Once it was sacred, and the masterpieces of workmanship in the products of Asia Minor were devotional in character. Upon these rugs many a soul prostrated himself before Allah in reverence; but now in the further interior only is the prayer rug made for aught but commerce.
As a class the modern Anatolian prayer rugs are quite inferior, being woven irregularly, and without regard to details or finishing ; yet there are among them some fine specimens of Anatolian weaving. The famous prayer rugs of Asia Minor (Anatolian) made at Ghiordes, Kulah, Laodicea, and Meles are described in preceding pages. They are the joy of the collector and the artist. The antique Ghiordes rugs are really fine in colors, generally with much pale green, red, or blue. The design most frequently seen is the Tree of Life. One special kind is distinguished by a yellow vine on a dark blue field.
( Originally Published Late 1900's )