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Muslims require a pure surface upon which to pray, so portable, stowable prayer mats offer a convenient means of insuring the cleanliness of their devotions.
Usually, these are rectangular and large enough for one person, but there are also wider prayer mats that allow several people to pray simultaneously. The latter are not typically meant for personal use, and are found primarily in mosques.
Prayer mats may be woven from any material that is considered pure. These include animal skins like sheepskin and leather, wool, reeds, cotton and polyester. Pigskin or bristles, by contrast, cannot be used. The choice is mainly determined by which raw materials are locally available, culture, technology and, sometimes, budget. The oldest prayer mats in the Islamic world are held at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum in Istanbul. These date to the fifth century; that is, prior to Islam itself. T
he designs of prayer mats are typically simple and austere in order to avoid disturbing the concentration of whoever is praying, but there is no fixed set of rules or instructions regarding their colour or decoration. Nevertheless, we do find many similarities across the designs of mats from different parts of the Islamic world: they often depict the Masjid al-Haram or the Kaaba in Mecca, for example, or the mosque in Medina. During prayer, the top of the mat must point in the direction of the Kaaba, so a pointed decoration or dome often marks the top. After prayer, the mat is usually folded and put aside to avoid rendering it impure by soiling it with dirty shoes. FC