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The Role of Rugs in Different Religions

While looking at the rug which lies in front of us, we don’t usually realize that there can be a doze of symbolism behind this element of the house. Of course our carpets may not necessarily be symbolic but it certainly concerns rugs which serve a significant function in various religions, going even further than being a mere decoration or practical object.

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When following a particular ritual, the things we use in it appear to be absolutely essential, thus if we look at this matter more deeply, they become highly important items as they connect spiritual and material spheres. Indeed, carpets are a crucial part of religious customs and play various roles in different religions.

In Judaism, rugs have been used to kneel upon and this especially refers to the holiest day in a year – Yon Kippur. Initially, Judaists used towels, but handmade carpets turned out to be far more attractive and convenient. Carpets are also indispensable for those Jews who participate in the ritual of prostration. Moreover, in some synagogues, we won’t find any benches to sit on – for this purpose carpets are used. This certainly creates the atmosphere of union and spiritual closeness between the parishioners.

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Rugs in Christianity are rather not of grave concern, although in the past, they were the meaningful elements during burial ceremonies among Copts – a Christian sect which originated in the 1st century AD.

For Buddhists carpets serve practical function, since they use them for meditation. Of course, that’s just one of the numerous utilizations of rugs in Buddhist culture. In fact, decorative aspect is also highly significant. The designs are very symbolic, comprising of motifs typical to this religion and philosophy: Lotus blossoms, mandala patterns etc. On some Buddhist rugs we can notice somewhat outrageous images like flayed animals which is connected with Buddhist’s set of beliefs. In the quest for a higher level of consciousness, they attempt to transgress the body, leave the material world behind.

If we take all religions into account, the use of rugs is probably most often associated with Islam. Muslims need carpets not only on account of practical reasons (sitting on the ground, the ritual of prostration), rugs are also immensely symbolic for them. An Islamic prayer rug is treated with care and respect by all believers who always remember to put it in a clean place, and take it up in a humble manner. Small and large/oversized prayer rugs can be distinguished, from which the latter ones decorate most of mosques’ floors. Currently, the largest carpets that have ever been manufactured are the ones that adorn the floors in mosques. The record-breaking rug is 133 meters long, 41 meters broad, and its total area is 60,468 square feet, which makes it bigger than a football pitch. It brightens the floor of the central hall of the Sheikh Zayed mosque in the United Arab Emirates. The designs of prayer carpets vary depending on a region where it was made and type of materials used. What is common however, is the niche at the top called Mihrab, which indicate qibla – direction towards Mecca. Some motifs refer directly to Quran, others (for instance comb and pitcher) remind worshipers about things which have to be done before they start praying, like washing hands and combing hair. The shapes of hands are frequently placed on prayer rugs to indicate the exact parts of a carpet where hands should be put.

Rugs play an important role in various religions, especially in Islam. Not only are they indispensable practical elements used in religious rituals, but they have symbolic meaning for worshipers all over the world. Being physical objects, they somewhat acquire the divine element, combining profane and sacred spheres of life.