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Muslims are often seen kneeling and prostrating on small embroidered rugs, called
"prayer rugs." For those unfamiliar with the use of these rugs, they may look like
small "oriental carpets," or simply nice pieces of embroidery.
During Islamic prayers, worshippers bow, kneel, and prostrate on the ground in
humility before God. The only requirement in Islam is that prayers be performed in
an area that is clean. Prayer rugs are not universally used by Muslims, nor
specifically required in Islam. But they have become a traditional way for many
Muslims to ensure the cleanliness of their place of prayer, and to create an isolated
space to concentrate in prayer.
Prayer rugs are usually about one meter long, just enough for an adult to fit
comfortably when kneeling or prostrating.
Modern, commercially-produced rugs are often made of silk or cotton.While some
rugs are made in solid colors, they are usually adorned. The designs are often
geometric, floral, arabesque, or depict Islamic landmarks such as the Ka'aba in
Mecca or Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. They are usually designed so that the rug
has a definite "top" and "bottom" -- the bottom is where the worshipper stands, and
the top points towards the direction of prayer.
When the time for prayer comes, the worshipper lays the rug on the ground, so that
the top points towards the direction of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. After prayer, the rug is
immediately folded or rolled, and put away for the next use. This ensures that the
rug remains clean.
The Arabic word for a prayer rug is "sajada," which comes from the same root word
(SJD) as "masjed" (mosque) and "sujud" (prostration).