Posted by R. John Howe on 05-08-2005 11:41 AM:

Harold Keshishian on Safs at the TM

Dear folks –

Yesterday, May 7, 2005, Harold Keshishian gave a “rug morning” program at The Textile Museum, here in Washington, DC.

I brought my camera and have photos of most of the pieces presented.

I am going to present them here a little differently from my usual mode in the hope of generating more comment on and discussion of them.

In this post I am going to give you images of two pieces, one that Harold used in his introduction, and then the first piece that he treated, as he began his presentation proper. I will present the other pieces Harold showed in separate posts one by one. It may take a few days to get them all up.

Most of you who read these pages know that Harold Keshishian is a long-time dealer here in the DC area. His father founded their firm and, with his late brother Jimmy, and now with Jimmy’s son Mark, Harold has been in the rug business for most of his life. He is also an inveterate collector, and not only of rugs. It seems likely that his rug collection is the most extensive of any in the DC area. It contains some truly remarkable pieces. Safs have long been one focus of Harold’s collecting interest.

I asked Harold and Carly Ofsthun, the Education Program Coordinator at the TM who handles the “rug morning” programs to pose for me before the program began.

Here they are again. Carly is likely verifying her planned introduction.

Harold is one of the founders of the TM rug morning programs, some 30 years ago. He is also the owner of a historic “John Brown” building at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

But to the safs.

A “saf,” Peter Stone says in his “Oriental Rug Lexicon,” is multiple niche prayer rug. Here is the complete entry:

“saff, saph (Arabic, ‘row, rank’). family prayer rug. Literally, row or rank. A prayer rug containing multiple niches in a row, sometimes referred to as a family prayer rug. Examples were woven throughout the mideast. There are kilims employing this design. The design may be derived from arcades or series of arches used in mosques rather than from the mihrab itself.”

Saffs sometimes contain only a single row of niches, but there are some (usually very large) that contain multiple rows of niches. Harold had a color handout that included several multiple row safs (it did not scan well for our purposes here).

Harold began by indicating that there are two basic kinds of safs, those made for use, and those likely made for sale. These can often be distinguished by the size of the compartments. The compartments of some safs are clearly large enough for an adult to kneel and pray on. But some are clearly not big enough to permit their use in prayer. These latter seem likely to have been made for decorative purposes.

He held up an example and told a story about it.

He said there was some time ago a consignment shop here in DC that had mostly older furniture, occasionally a true antique piece, but that also sometimes had rugs. The dealer of this shop contacted him one day and said “Mr. Keshishian, I have a rug for you.” Harold said the piece was Central Asian, small, dirty and looked pretty unimpressive, until he saw the hands and the niches. Then it became clear to him that this was a fragment from a Beshiri saf.

Whether this piece was made for use or not depends on how one reads its “compartments. If one sees the compartments as composed of those sections topped by a niche form then the piece has to be seen as decorative. But if one can consider the likely compartment intended by the weaver as comprising the three sections in this fragment topped by niche forms, then this piece (which, of course, was much longer) could conceivably have been made for prayer.

Harold said he bought this fragment from this consignment dealer for perhaps $3. When he had it washed its color came up considerably. Closer examination has suggested that it could be as early as the 18th century. If you want to see a publishable picture of it, look in Schumann’s “Central Asian” book, where it appears.

Harold next had four very strong assistants hold up the piece below.

This is unquestionably a saf that was made for use. This piece is too wide for me to capture in a single image. It has eight compartments. I can only get seven into this shot.

Harold indicated that he bought this piece in London. He said it was made in Western Anatolia, in the Kula area. Here’s a little closer look.

This piece is signed and dated. The date reads 1876.

That's the beginning of Harold's rug morning on safs. I will continue with additional posts.

Comments are invited.


R. John Howe

Posted by Jerry Silverman on 05-08-2005 06:59 PM:

My memory isn't what it used to be, but I can't recall any pictures of people actually praying on safs.

I know we talk about them as though those with wide compartments were made that way for use in prayer and those with narrow compartments we made to be decorative.

But do we have any evidence? Or is this another "ensii/door covering" mystery?



Posted by R. John Howe on 05-08-2005 07:37 PM:

Hi Jerry -

It's a good question.

I don't recall seeing a picture of folks praying on saffs in my rug books either (but it might be good to look about again).

The best thing I can offer at the moment is the result of a Google search today.

Here is a link for a particular Miami Moslem community.

They talk about the arrangements in their mosque. Look under the section with the "Description" heading in bold type.

In it they offer the following sentences:

"...A large green carpet with many yellow lines (saf) covers the mosque’s floor. The places during prayer for Muslim men and women are separated with a fabric curtain..."

Now this is a contemporary situation and from what I can see in the bad photo they provide (you can enlarge it, maybe someone can "play" with it to make it clearer), the saffs in this mosque are not great, but there are two men in the photo actually praying on them.

Others may find more impressive examples.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-08-2005 07:59 PM:

Jerry et al -

Here is another item of evidence suggesting that Moslems did (and do) sometimes pray on saffs.

The link above includes advice to parents about raising children in the Moslem faith, admits it is hard to do and complains that some children from Moslem families don't (perhaps don't know how to) join the family on saffs to pray at family funerals.

The relevant passage is this one:

"...Indeed, my brothers, we can see now how children hardly mourn the death of their parents. They do not even recite the Quran for their deceased parents. They do not even take the time to pray for the souls of their deceased parents. Why not? Why are they so reluctant to offer a surah from the Quran for their parents? Because they do not know the Quran. Because they do not know how to recite the Quran. Because they don't recognise the letters of the Quran. They prefer to read the magazines or all other books and not the one Quran. They would prefer to memorise the lyrics of the latest pop songs than the melodious rhymes of the verses in the Quran. To the point that at the time when the jenazah prayers are performed for their deceased parents, these children are standing outside instead of praying in line with the saf for the jemaah prayers. They do not join in the jenazah prayers for their parents. Why? Because they don't know how to! They don't know how to perform the jenazah prayers. Because they had not been taught how to pray the simple jenazah prayers."

Now this is verbal evidence but it strongly suggests that Moslems still pray on safs on some religious occasions.

The family context of this use of "saf" reinforces Peter Stone's particular reference to the saf as a rug for "family prayer." This might suggest why there are few pictures of them being used, since Moslems seem particularly shy about exposing the internal workings of their families to the public gaze.

Still there may be both Moslem photos and other ones of saffs in use.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-08-2005 08:12 PM:

Here is one more piece of verbal evidence.

It comes from yet another web site:

On this site an Indonesian student at Ohio State University, talks about his Moslem beliefs and experience.

Again a relevant passage is:

"...I was suddenly acquainted with religion as a surprising new authority. Its representation was a mosque I’ve never visited, except the yard. I sat in the front saf (line), face to face with the mimbar (pulpit), with the green carpet and khatib (preacher) holding a spear heroically. He held the original spear used at the mosque since its establishment in 1937. What remains in my mind is that this was something sacred and unfamiliar to me."

"Saf" is used as "line" but there is also a reference to carpet. I can't tell whether the latter refers to something the preacher rather than the audience sat on.


R. John Howe

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-08-2005 08:35 PM:

Jerry et al -

I think this is close to what you are asking for:

Notice that these rugs provide more space than would seem required for prayer. It appears to me that while they are arranged in rows that they may well not be safs. Notice also the the those praying seem to make little distinction about where they are in relation to the compartment or niche. They merely find a place on a given rug in the lines of them provided.

We ought to try to capture this image for our archives in case this question comes up again.

Here's the image. Steve Price


R. John Howe

Posted by Jerry Silverman on 05-08-2005 08:47 PM:

Looks to me like a very large bunch of nearly identical 8'x10' (or thereabouts) rugs laid side by side. I don't know if this is what we generally think of as a "saf".

The use of the word in the sense of "line" is interesting, though. Are there any Muslims among us who would care to comment? Are we misinterpreting this? Does "saf" always refer to the ruggish motif we typically envision? Or can it sometime just refer to the lines of bowed bodies formed by groups in prayer?

Still curiously,


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-09-2005 05:36 AM:

Hi Jerry,

My English-Arabic and Italian-Arabic dictionary confirms that “Saf” (or “Saff”) is simply the Arabic word for “row”.

I vaguely recall having seen Safs on the floor of mosques somewhere in the ME but it was long time ago and I cannot specify where exactly.
I could start a survey here, but I’m rather reluctant to do it.


Posted by Steve Price on 05-09-2005 05:24 PM:

Hi John and Jerry

The mosque interior shown in the image a couple of posts above this one is, as Jerry suspects, a lot of large rugs laid out to cover the floor. This is a pretty common arrangement in Turkey, probably elsewhere as well.

These are not safs (at least, not as most ruggies understand the word's meaning), just carpets that cover the floor and provide a clean expanse on which the faithful can pray. Each one is around 6 x 9 or 8 x 10 feet, and (as the photo shows), a worshipper can use any spot on the floor for his devotions.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-09-2005 07:19 PM:

Hey, guys -

Is there an echo in here? I think I acknowledged this liklihood in my post in which I presented the mosque photo above. The the first sentence says "close."

Peter's definition says clearly that "saf" denotes "row" or "rank." He suggests that it is also used to refer to "family prayer rugs" and to other rugs with multiple niches.

It seems clear that Moslems often equip their mosques with rugs on which to kneel. Sometimes they seem to buy very similar rugs and arrange them in rows. None of this demonstrates unequivically that they sometimes used rugs in mosques or in the family that are of a single piece with multiple niches. But given what we've seen and heard in this thread, it seems very likely that they did.

I think what we have seen already is much more suggestive of the proposition that multiple niche prayer rugs (of a single piece) were sometimes actually used for praying than is the evidence we have that engsis were actually used much to cover door openings on yurts.

Of course, we do not know which saffs were actually prayed upon. The size critieria would seem to carve out those on which it might be physically comfortable to pray, but it is likely that many of these too were made for decorative purposes.

But I'm less wary now than when Jerry wrote his question initially about the frequent claim that safs were sometimes used for prayer. I think it likely that some of those big enough to pray on were used for that purpose.

I agree that it would still be good to find an actual photo of this.


R. John Howe

Posted by Steve Price on 05-09-2005 09:35 PM:

Hi John

I think you're getting tangled in words here.

1. "Saf" translates to "row" or "rank". It's been extended, something that happens all the time in languages, to refer to rugs with rows of arches side by side. Harold presented a bunch of safs that are examples of the second meaning. The first meaning is interesting to the extent that it points to the origin of the use of the term with reference to rugs, but is otherwise irrelevant here.

2. A Moslem's faith requires that he pray five times a day, and that he does so on a clean surface. Rugs often serve this purpose, but a towel or a newspaper will work, too. If the question is whether rugs of the saf type were used for this purpose, the answer I would give is that it would be astonishing if none were used this way. It would be equally astonishing if none were used any other way.

3. The photo of the interior of the Qibla mosque is a big red herring. There are no safs illustrated in it, at least not the kind that are rugs. There are several rows of devotees in prayer. In some languages, each would be said to be a saf of devotees. So far, that word hasn't entered English usage.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-10-2005 12:00 AM:

Hi Steve -

This is likely not a very important or elevated debate, but just to continue one more round, you wrote in part:

"...The photo of the interior of the Qibla mosque is a big red herring. There are no safs illustrated in it, at least not the kind that are rugs. There are several rows of devotees in prayer."


It is certainly the case that the rugs on which these folks are praying are not safs in the sense that they are a single piece, but to my mind one would have to insist on a degree of obtuseness not to acknowledge that there is some information in this picture that suggests strongly that safs likely sometimes were used for this purpose (Jerry's root question).

For me, it moves things a bit to see that these folks are in fact praying in rows, on rugs, that have niches, and a common design. They are meeting a number of the characteristics of "praying on a saf," excepting the fact that the rugs are not of the multiple niche type.

There may be some advantages of using individual rugs in rows (if one gets worn or damaged it can be replaced without disturbing its fellows) but I'll bet that sometimes someone with a Tabriz roller beam loom, will have pointed out to a given mosque committee that he can get more "places" out of a single set of warps (warping cost time and money too) than they are currently getting as a result of their purchasing of individual rugs.

Separate point: Nothing at all has been claimed about the fact that Moslems can pray in a variety of alternative circumstances and on a variety of surfaces.

But again, I agree that a photo of folks actually praying on a saf would be useful.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-10-2005 05:31 AM:

All right, all right.
Need more evidence?
Here there is only a surviving thumbnail in Google’s cache, the full size image is not there anymore:

More images here:

This site shows another Mosque interior:

All these pictures show that in some mosques the arrangement of safs corresponds to the rows of benches in our churches.
Hope there are no doubts anymore on the use of Saf prayer rugs.

John, the date on the Anatolian Saf looks more as 1263 (AD 1846) than 1293 (AD1876)!



Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-10-2005 06:26 AM:

Admittedly, those safs are modern, machine-made stuff.
Let’s look for ancient evidence. Perhaps this is one (HALI 68, page 121):

I love this miniature anyway, it’s a great occasion to share it with you.
The caption says: The Emperor Jehangir (1605-1627) at prayer in the mosque with his son during the festival of Id. Mughal period, ca. 1610. Museum für Islamiche Kunst, Berlin
Look at this detail:

Could be a saf, IMHO. Not used as such, in this case, due to the respect for the Emperor.


Posted by Steve Price on 05-10-2005 08:08 AM:

Hi Filiberto

The picture you posted also shows clearly that "prayer rugs" were used for purposes other than prayer at least as early as 1610. I mention this only because there are still people in Rugdom who believe that rugs with arches were never used for anything else.

Hi John

I guess I've been in enough mosques that it hadn't occurred to me that not everyone knew that prayers in them often took place with the devotees aligned. Probably has something to do with local fire codes.


Steve Price

Posted by R. John Howe on 05-10-2005 09:16 AM:

Filiberto -

You are likely right. In the rug mornings I attempt to document a bit, I take the photos and I ask someone else there (usually impromptu) to take a set of notes indicating what the speaker says the pieces are and anything else they can get down that may be of interest. Then I write from these notes.

My co-conspirator on last Saturday has a nice printed hand, but some of his numbers are small and hard to make out in the notes.

I think I was trying to make sure that I didn't claim an older date, inappropriately. But, yes, it appears that this rug is dated 1846, earlier than I indicate above.


R. John Howe

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-10-2005 10:10 AM:

Hi John,

I plead guilty of inattention too.
Looking better at the miniature, I saw another Saf: it’s between the platform accommodating the emperor and the stairway (minbar?)


Posted by Steve Price on 05-10-2005 10:31 AM:

Hi Filiberto

I notice that structural posts rest directly on the things that look like safs. That seems unlikely to be correct. Either the artist misplaced the posts or the "safs" are actually part of the floor rather than being rugs.


Steve Price

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 05-10-2005 10:48 AM:


Those are tethered canopy supports - temporary - so, it may be correect, even if a little confusing.


Chuck Wagner

Posted by Steve Price on 05-10-2005 11:01 AM:

Hi Chuck

I know that they're canopy supports and temporary, but I would expect the rugs to be placed on the floor after the canopy is set up. Not so?


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-10-2005 11:48 AM:

Hi Steve,

Why not? One of the poles seems on top of the border of the black-ground carpet in the upper part of the miniature.
Perhaps, to show respect to the Emperor, they had to be sure that every inch of the floor was covered with rugs…then they added the canopy and related supports.

Besides, even admitting that the white “saf” was part of a floor with Saf design (which could be right and interesting in itself), the one shown in the detail, under the three kneeled men, looks more like a Saf rug (or mat) with brown arches.

Interesting miniature, isn’t it? At least, the Emperor’s son is using a prayer rug… I’m not sure about the Emperor; it looks more like a sort of mat.
Here is a proof that prayer rugs were used at the beginning of 1600.



Posted by Chuck Wagner on 05-10-2005 12:01 PM:

Hi Steve, Filiberto, et all...

So, first a bedu tent; poles in the dirt:

Then, a king lunch tent; poles on the textiles:

Vive la difference... As Mel Brooks once pointed out: It's good to be the king.

(images from Mauger, "Bedouins of Saudi Arabia")


Chuck Wagner

Posted by Steve Price on 05-10-2005 12:24 PM:

Hi Filiberto

The two rugs at the center right of the miniature are clearly prayer design rugs, clearly in use, and clearly not being used for ritual prayer. I can't tell whether any or all of the saf-like elements are rugs or part of a solid floor.

Hi Chuck

The bedu tent shows that the textiles were placed on the ground after the poles were put into position, at least in that one. This is pretty much what I would think is a normal way of doing things.

The photo of the king's lunch tent (not lunching at Hooter's, I guess) doesn't show where the poles meet the ground. I'll take you at your word that they hit the textiles, not the sand. I really like that photo a lot. It illustrates a number of the local cultural elements: separation of men and women, costume, communal eating, use of the right hand only. The king's truck looks less regal than I would have anticipated.

Thanks, and regards,

Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-10-2005 01:45 PM:

Hi Steve,

The two rugs at the center right of the miniature are clearly prayer design rugs, clearly in use, and clearly not being used for ritual prayer.

I gather you mean that the Emperor and his son are not praying. Correct. It seems they are listening – like everybody else inside the Mosque – to the preacher on the minbar.

We do not assume that a prayer rug inside a mosque is used exclusively for praying and then rolled-up. There are times during the so called “prayer time” devoted to listening. And the faithful stand, sit or kneel on the rugs. (I never saw the interior of a mosque during a prayer, but I saw a lot of people praying outside the omnipresent tiny storefront mosques in the streets of Cairo. )

The fact is that we see two rugs that look like prayer rugs in a miniature with the caption “The Emperor Jehangir (1605-1627) at prayer in the mosque with his son during the festival of Id” is a proof decent enough for me that:

- those are effectively prayer rugs
- they are depicted during use: I mean during prayer time; in a pause between prayers in a mosque – or in the courtyard of a mosque.

Unless the caption is wrong.



Posted by Steve Price on 05-10-2005 02:59 PM:

Hi Filiberto

Looking at the miniature, people face all directions. If the emperor and his son are facing Mecca, the guys on the things that may be safs have their backs to Mecca, as do those standing behind the imam; people in the upper part of the picture face diagonally; those in the lower left corner face the opposite diagonal.

Any time I've been in a mosque, the people praying were facing the same direction. When the imam delivered his sermon, everyone faced the same direction as they did when they were praying, except the imam, who faced them while he spoke. I assume that this is the way people are always arranged during services in a mosque. Am I mistaken about this?


Steve Price

Posted by Jerry Silverman on 05-10-2005 03:10 PM:

I read the previous posts too, too quickly and mistook "minbar" for "minibar" and was, for any number of reasons, surprised.



Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-10-2005 04:15 PM:

Hi Steve,

The obligation to face the Mecca is during the actual prayer.
I don’t know if they have to do so also while listening to the imam. I doubt it. And don’t forget that the scene is also the ”festival of Id” (guess it’s the Aid): it should be quite different from a normal ceremony.

No minibar allowed, though, Jerry!



Posted by Steve Price on 05-10-2005 05:23 PM:

Hi Filiberto

I understand your point here, but I still notice the following. For convenience, here is the picture again. I'm assuming that if there were prayers in this setting, the devotees would face the direction that the emperor and his son are facing in the picture.

1. There are 5 people standing behind the imam, facing the emperor and his son. They could not possibly have been praying from that spot; it's not big enough to permit kneeling. Also, the man on the near end of that group has a bundle of folded textiles on his arm. This, too, suggests that this wasn't a prayer service in which he participated. Granted, devotees may get up and walk about during the sermon. But would their migrations include climbing the stairs to the minbar and taking up a position behind the imam? I think not; could be mistaken, of course.

2. Now look at the three guys kneeling at the side of the stairs. They could not possibly have been kneeling in prayer (during which the devotee becomes prostrate) at that spot. At least, the one in the middle couldn't - there's a post in the way.

3. The two other groups of people are neatly lined up facing each other across a diagonal.

4. One thing that all the figures within the wall have in common is that none has his back to the emperor and his son.

Of course, this is not a photograph, so it's hard to know how accurately the scene is depicted.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-11-2005 06:26 AM:

Hi Steve,

All of your objections can be explained by the fact that people are not praying anymore in the scene depicted. Something else is going on, connected with the “festival”.
The fact that nobody has his back to the emperor and his son is a sign of respect toward the emperor and his son.

But, before going further, may I know what do you think about these photos?


interior of a mosque with safs on the floor.

The rugs are, using your words, “clearly prayer design rugs, clearly in use, and clearly not being used for ritual prayer”.

This other photo shows people walking around, praying facing the mihrab or seated with their back to the wall where the mihrab is.




Posted by Steve Price on 05-11-2005 08:35 AM:

Hi Filiberto

Those photos look a lot like the interiors of many mosques in Turkey (the photos are of Egyptian mosques). The rugs on the floor are obviously safs, and the time of day in each photo is not among the scheduled times for the services. Some people in the first photo appear to be praying, something that can be seen in mosques and no more surprising than finding some people praying in a European cathedral when no services are in session.

The rugs on the floors of mosques are among the few for which the prayer rug function (serving as a clean place on which a Moslem can pray) is documentable. Some, like those in these photos, have a well defined mihrab. Others, like the ones in the photo of the Mosque in Qibla, don't.

I recognize that prayers are not going on in the scene depicted in the miniature you posted; that was the point of mentioning the various reasons why it was impossible that they were and that the arrangement of the people appeared to be such that a prayer service could not have just ended or be about to begin.

It is a scene depicting some moment in a festival, the emperor and his son are the only two people in it seated (kneeling, actually) on personal rugs. The rugs have well defined arches, so they are of the prayer rug design. Their use here is simply as sort of platforms defining the respected personal spaces of the emperor and his son. Some time ago I showed an old photo of a mullah exhorting a crowd, using a prayer design rug for the same purpose.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-11-2005 10:52 AM:

Hi Steve,

All right.
So, we agree at least on the fact that emperor & son are kneeled on their personal rugs with “prayer rug” design.
We should also agree, I think, that during the prayer some time is devoted to listening to the imam, not exclusively to genuflections.

I don’t know, and you neither, what is going on during a “festival of Id”. My guess is that, IF the festival is hold inside a mosque, it should involve some prayers. And, indeed, the caption in HALI says: The Emperor Jehangir (1605-1627) at prayer in the mosque with his son during the festival of Id. Mughal period, ca. 1610. Museum für Islamiche Kunst, Berlin

This is the important point. Do you have reasons to believe that the caption is wrong? It’s only the "at prayer” part? Or it’s also the “in the mosque” one?

Because a rug inside a mosque makes me automatically think that it is used for prayer, (even if it doesn’t sport a “prayer rug” design).

Furthermore, if I see somebody inside a mosque kneeled on a prayer rug, it makes me think that either he just stopped praying or he will start praying in the immediate future…



Posted by Steve Price on 05-11-2005 11:40 AM:

Hi Filiberto

No question about it - any rug on the floor in a mosque is a place to pray, and that makes it a prayer rug.

The Festival of Id? The only Id about which I know anything is the one Freud talks about. That seems unlikely to be something that gets a serious festival in the Moslem religion. So, like you, I plead ignorance on this. I did a quick Google search for Festival of Id, and found the following: It describes Id as the end of the month of fasting (Ramzan or Ramadan), marked by a big feast, celebration, and "idi" - gifts of money from parents and grandparents to children.

Back to the scene illustrated in the miniature. If it depicts the emperor and his son praying, then they are probably the only ones doing so. The imam and the guys behind him can't be at prayer (facing the wrong way, can't possibly kneel). The guys at the side of the stairs can't be at prayer (facing the wrong way, and the one in the middle will hit his head on a post if he tries to prostrate himself). The guys at the lower left can't be at prayer (they face the wrong way, and the ones in back don't appear to have enough space to prostrate themselves without hitting the ones in front). The group at the upper right could be at prayer.

I've assumed that during the prayer part of a Moslem service, everyone prays (including the imam). Maybe this has led me astray. Are there occasions during which only somebody of rank (emperor and his son, in this instance) is at prayer and most others watch him? Maybe the Festival of Id includes such an occasion, and this picture represents it. Alternatives include: maybe the caption is wrong; maybe the scene isn't drawn accurately.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-11-2005 01:35 PM:

Hi Steve,

As I wrote in my last posting, “We should also agree, I think, that during the prayer some time is devoted to listening to the imam, not exclusively to genuflections.”

The “Ramzan Id” is evidently what is called the “Ramadan Aid” in Arabic. I guessed it some posts above. Yet, I don’t know exactly what is performed inside a Mosque during its celebration. I'm pretty sure they pray, though.


Posted by Steve Price on 05-11-2005 03:10 PM:

Hi Filiberto

Oh, yes, I agree. There are periods when the devotees aren't praying, they're listening to the imam. Sorry if I gave the impression that I thought otherwise.

Regarding the caption that says the emperor and his son are at prayer:
a. Do they pray without prostrating themselves before God? That seems unlikely to me.
b. If they do prostrate themselves before God during their prayers, is it OK for all those other people to be standing or kneeling upright while the emperor and his son are praying? That, too, seems unlikely to me.

Unless one of those alternatives is more likely than I think it is, the emperor and his son are not at prayer. Can any of our Moslem readers help out on this?


Steve Price

Posted by David R.E. Hunt on 05-11-2005 07:40 PM:


Salam Halikum and Greetings

Having begun to attend Friday prayers as I have for the last several months and having begun with the Eid ul Fitr (break the fast) festival at the end of Ramadan of last year, I think I can answer some of your questions concerning the Mosque and prayers.

The following is a good basic description of the Muslim religous service, orJumu'ah .

"On Fridays, Muslim men must perform the weekly congregational Prayer called the Jumu`ah Prayer. This Prayer replaces the Zhuhr (Noon) Prayer on Friday and it is obligatory for all men to attend it. Women may also perform the Jumu`ah Prayer if they wish, but it is not obligatory for them. This Prayer replaces the regular Zhuhr Prayer. However, if someone is unable to attend the Jumu`ah Prayer, he or she should pray four rak`ahs of Zhuhr.

The Prayer is preceded by a sermon called a khutbah, which is delivered in two parts with a short break (about one minute) between the two parts.

It is highly recommended to read Surat Al-Kahf (surah 18) and to invoke Allah’s blessings on Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) during the day and night of Friday. It is also highly recommended to supplicate on Friday.

It is Sunnah to perform ghusl (cleansing of the whole body) on Friday and to put on clean good clothes before attending the Jumu`ah Prayer. Men (but not women) should also apply perfume before attending the Prayer.

The first thing to do in the mosque is to pray two rak`ahs of Sunnah Prayer, known as the tahiyyat or greeting of the mosque. Even if one arrives after the beginning of the sermon, he should pray two short rak`ahs before sitting down. While waiting for the sermon to start, one may recite Qur’an or listen to it being recited.

As the time approaches, the muezzin announces the first Adhan. Then the imam goes to the minbar (pulpit), faces the worshipers and greets them with, “As-Salaamu `alaykum!” (Peace be with you!)

He then sits down facing the congregants. At this moment, the second Adhan is announced, and the imam begins the sermon.

After the sermon, the two rak`ahs of Jumu`ah Prayer are offered in congregation. The imam recites the Prayer aloud."

Throughout the service one can sit to the side, or in the case of women sit at the back, but when the actual prayer begins one should move into the rows, standing shoulder to shoulder. It is of considerable significance this forming of proper rows, uninterrupted except by permanent structural columns, both in fostering real physical closeness and hence a sense of community, and to prevent congregants from literally knocking into each other, as these ritual prayers require much physical motion. These lines are demarcated upon the floor with tape, chord, or by rows of carpets, tarps, ect..

One is free to come and go during the service, but you should not leave during the actual prayer itself, as a sign of reverence. Also, being a communal property, it is considered egregious to begin a seperate service or prayer when another is underway (i.e., another Imam) so one should join the assembled congregants.

Eid is the most festive of all Muslim holidays, and the Eid prayer is no exception. This is when the celebrants wear their best clothes, and the prayer is followed by a dinner or feast. I cannot believe my wife forgot to bring her camera, as some of the clothes to be seen are extraordinary. I won't forget the camera next time.

Our muezzin, a certain Sheik Redah (Sheik being a title confered upon someone who has committed the Quaran to memory, and hence allowed to don a gold robe) has a personal prayer rug which he brings with him and makes use, but it seems only upon special occasions, such as holiday prayers. It is exactly as we see the prayer rug, approx. 3' x 5' with an arch/mihrab, closely cropped pile, and an all over pattern similar to a herati.

Our Imam, Yahya Hendi , Muslim Chaplain of Georgetowm University, has several prayer rugs, including a striking example hanging on the wall of his living room which seems of Turkish origin. All either embroidered or machine made examples however.


Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-12-2005 05:37 AM:

Excellent, Thank you Dave,

Any idea of why there are other people on the minbar behind the Imam? Are they singing? And why one of them holds some textiles?
(Perhaps he is holding the prayer rugs of the others to be used in the following prayers… )



Posted by Steve Price on 05-12-2005 12:45 PM:

Hi Filiberto

I think the scene is the original Sotheby's showroom, in Lahore. That isn't an imam, it's the auctioneer. The auctioneer is currently taking bids on the four guys on the platform behind him. The textiles the guy is holding is the next lot. The person on the prayer rug in the center is their current owner, not happy with the low bids that are coming in after the expense he went to in having them published. The three guys kneeling next to the stairs will be the lot after the textiles.

Finally, I understand the picture.


Steve Price

Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-12-2005 01:33 PM:

Hi Steve,

I thought that Sotheby’s was an invention of British imperialism…


Posted by Steve Price on 05-12-2005 01:40 PM:

Hi Filiberto

Yeah, and whoever wrote the caption for that picture thought it was the emperor and his son at prayer. Too bad internet discussion forums arrived on the scene so late.


Steve Price

Posted by Wendel Swan on 05-12-2005 05:42 PM:

Hi Filiberto,

Granted that there is a great deal to be learned, perhaps especially about the textiles, I think that to dissect the miniature of the Emperor Jehangir as if it were an early version of a photograph is a mistake.

We cannot tell whether the artist(s) intended to depict a specific moment in time or a series of contemporaneous events. However, I think in this case that the latter is more likely. As with many Islamic miniatures, the portrayal may not have been intended as an historical record, but is more a conglomeration of historic, symbolic, cultural and traditional people, events and ideas. One cannot even assume that the artist was present at this event.

These miniatures often combined realism with symbolism and used a series of planes rather than single point perspective, enabling the presentation of quite distinct images and concepts. Clearly, it seems unlikely that anyone could actually have viewed this scene as it is depicted. A more recent comparison might be to some of the work of Frederic Edwin Church, who frequently blended many discrete compositions into a single vast landscape in which sunlight would seem to unnaturally come from different sources.

I suggest that there is little reason to suspect that the various activities depicted actually occurred simultaneously and some reason to question whether they may have all occurred at the same venue.


Posted by Steve Price on 05-12-2005 05:47 PM:

Hi Wendel

Do I take it that you're casting doubt on my "early Sotheby's (Lahore) Sale" interpretation?


Steve Price

Posted by Wendel Swan on 05-12-2005 06:44 PM:

Hi Steve,

That Sotheby’s suggestion is perhaps not much less likely than trying to reconcile all of the activities with one comprehensive theory. However, individual scenes may be relatively accurate. For example, it may well be that the emperor and his son are shown in prayer just before they become prostrate, but how would the artist show their faces (and identities) if they were prostrate?


Posted by Tim Adam on 05-12-2005 09:41 PM:


The various groups in this miniature have a clear relationship to each other, even though we may not fully understand the significance of each group. I therefore think it is more likely that the miniature depicts simultaneous events.

I can't find any "reason to question whether they may have all occurred at the same venue" in your post other than that there are images that depict events at different times in different venues. What am I overlooking? If images depict events at different times/venues then they typically tell a story. I don't see that this is likely to be the case here.



Posted by Filiberto Boncompagni on 05-13-2005 06:01 AM:

Hi Wendel,

These miniatures often combined realism with symbolism and used a series of planes rather than single point perspective, enabling the presentation of quite distinct images and concepts. Clearly, it seems unlikely that anyone could actually have viewed this scene as it is depicted.

I agree. I didn’t want go into that for the sake of brevity – after all I was only interested in finding historical evidence of the use of prayer rugs…

These miniatures are much like some Byzantine or Gothic paintings showing different perspectives, scenes, and often also different times (that is: a story) in the same frame.
The unity of perspective, proportions and (but not always) time in a painting started with Italian Renaissance and continued since to be adopted in the West, but not, of course, in the rest of the world. Not in the 17th century at least.
As such we – Westerners - are “culturally” accustomed to look at a painting like a surrogate of a modern photographic snapshot. Same point of view, same instant.
Which is not the case here.

As for “ I suggest that there is little reason to suspect that the various activities depicted actually occurred simultaneously and some reason to question whether they may have all occurred at the same venue" my opinion is that this miniature, instead, is a collage of different scenes that would have occurred in the same place and more or less in the same time.
I wrote “would” because I think that this was the Artist’s intention: to narrate with images an event he probably witnessed and registered in his memory, probably filling the gaps with some “artistic” invention.
I could be wrong, though, and you could be right.

The important fact is that there is no reason to doubt the evidence related to the use of prayer rugs around 1610 in Mughal India. Do you agree?



Posted by Steve Price on 05-13-2005 07:57 AM:

Hi Filiberto

I think I'm the only one in this thread who questioned the use of prayer rugs. Just to clarify: I don't doubt that prayer design rugs were used for prayer in Mughal India (or anywhere else in the world, even much earlier). However, I also believe that
1. prayer design rugs were not the only rugs used as places to pray, and
2. some prayer design rugs were never used for prayer, but had secular functions.


Steve Price

Posted by Chuck Wagner on 05-24-2005 09:16 AM:

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Hi Steve,

This is a brief throwback to the tentpoles-on-or-off-the-rugs-? topic we were on earlier in this thread.

While bumbling through the online library of scanned vintage photographs made available by the Library of Congress, I came across this image, taken before a meeting of muckie-mucks in Transjordan:

Now we have a viable explanation for those occasional holes and ridiculous puckers found in the middle of an otherwise healthy rug...


Chuck Wagner