Carpets in Islamic Art & Muslim Culture

Carpets & rugs are significant to Islamic art & Muslim culture. Used for prayer, ornamentation & decoration, they are often collected as family heirlooms & passed down from generation to generation. A thread on the artistry & heritage of carpets in Muslim culture…



Carpets are among the most fundamental of Islamic arts. Portable, typically made of silk & wools, carpets were traded and sold as far as Europe & China. Those from Iran were highly prized. Carpets decorated the mosques, shrines & homes


Muslims regard the carpet with special esteem. In Arabia, Persia and Anatolia, the carpet was at the centre of life being used as a tent sheltering people from the sandstorms, as floor coverings, wall curtains protecting privacy & items such as blankets, bags, and saddles



The Muslim carpet has long been a luxury commodity sought by museums and collectors all over the world. The fame of the flying carpet of 'Al'a Al-Din (Aladdin) added intrigue, emotional mystery and popularity to its already exceptional beauty and tangible quality



In Islam, the carpet is a furniture of Paradise mentioned numerous times in the Qur‘an. For example in Chapter 88 (Q. 88:8-16) the carpet is counted as one of the riches the believer will be rewarded in the afterlife Image Jalal Sepehr, ‘Water and Persian Rugs’



The earliest surviving Muslim carpet, are fragments found in Al-Fustat (old Cairo). The oldest of these belonged to the 9th century (821 CE), while the remaining were dated to 13th, 14th & 15th centuries. Ikat Fragment mid-11th century, Al-Fustat Egyp



Carpets are woven works of art that were produced at every level of society in the Islamic world. Women have been weaving for centuries in villages and nomadic encampments all over the Middle East, Anatolia & Central Asia, each woman passing down her techniques and designs



The nomadic and village weaving developed its own traditions and characteristics which, apart from serving the needs of the communities, were vastly more complex than anything the commercial workshops & royal courts produced Bergama rug, Turkey, first half of 18th century


Nomadic carpets often show symbols of everyday life, this may be sheep, camels or even instruments. Humans can also be inserted into the designs. Nomadic carpets are still made today, each taking at least a year to complete Nomads at a carpet production centre, Shiraz, Iran



Carpets were also made in the royal courts of the Islamic world. These carpets were not just functional floor coverings, they were ornate works of art that indicated the status and wealth of their owners Traditional Tabriz style Afshan carpet, Iran, Azerbaijan Carpet Museum



Manuscript paintings of the 15th, 16th & 17th centuries suggest smaller rugs were layered on top of larger carpets & show that many carpets were used in outdoor pleasure pavilions & palatial parks The Court of Pir Budaq, Shiraz, Iran, Circa 1455-60



Although carpets were made in many royal courts, the Mamluk (1250–1517), the Ottoman (1281–1924), the Safavid (1501–1732), and the Mughal (1526–1858) Empires provide some of the richest examples of royally produced carpets Mughal Pictorial carpet, 1556-1605



In the 14th century the Mamluk court produced carpets with asymmetric knots, wool foundations & wool piles. They were made for Mamluk rulers to decorate palaces & for export. Mamluk carpets are appreciated in the antique market Mamluk Carpet, 16th c. Cairo, Egypt.

During the 16th century the Ottoman Empire conquered & occupied Egypt & expanded the carpet industry. Egyptian weaving artisans were relocated to cities such as Damascus & Istanbul to develop carpet weaving industries Prayer Rug late 16th century Istanbul, Turkey.



The Ottoman Empire originated in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). Anatolia has a long tradition of carpet weaving, from the 16th century Ottoman court carpets utilized a set of designs created by the artists of the court Fragment of Ottoman Court Carpet, 16th c.


The most popular of these was the saz style, characterised by long sinuous leaves & stylized flowers. Court artists also developed the floral style, with depictions of flowers such as tulips, roses, carnations & hyacinths Prayer Rug 16th c. Turkey, Istanbul, or Bursa MAK.



The Safavids ruled Greater Iran from the early 16th to the 18th century and were avid patrons of the arts. Safavid court carpets are noted for their detailed precision, sumptuous materials & ornate designs Carpet (V&A T.402-1910) in late 16th c. Safavid Iran.

Carpets intended for religious settings, like the renowned Ardabil carpet, display non-figural decoration such as scrolling vines, flower motifs, calligraphy & shamsas (sunbursts) Carpet, 1570s-1590s, Safavid, Iran.

The Ardabil Carpet is exceptional; it is one of the world's oldest Islamic carpets, (1539/400) as well as one of the largest, most beautiful & historically important. It is not only beautiful, but it is bound up with the history of one of the great political dynasties of Iran.


The Ardabil carpet was one of a matching pair that was made for the shrine of Safi al-Din Ardabili when it was expanded in the 1530s. Today, the Ardabil carpet is in the Islamic Art Gallery in the Victoria & Albert Museum while its twin is in LACMA Museum The carpets were side by side in the shrine.


The Mughals who trace their lineage to the Mongol dynasties in Iran & Central Asia established weaving workshops at their courts. Early Mughals employed Persian artisans & many Mughal carpets utilise Persian designs. Detail from Mughal carpet 17th c Ashmolean Museum.


Lahore, Pakistan, one of the new capitals of the Mughal Empire after the Emperor Akbar had abandoned the imperial complex of Fatehpur Sikri, was a major centre of carpet production. This Mughal hanging wall carpet features a garden scene with peacocks, cranes, fowls & plants.


Due to their constant use in palaces and mosques for centuries, only about five hundred Mughal carpets survive today. This skillfully woven textile in The Frick Collection features a seemingly spontaneous pattern of plants. — Carpet, North Indian, ca. 1650. Silk and pashmina.



One of the most important introductions of designs in carpet weaving under Muslim rule was the creation of Islamic prayer rugs. Prayer rugs are necessary for performing the 5 daily prayers that are required in the practice of Islam Prayer Rug, 18th c. Kashmir, Harvard Art Museums.


Prayer can take place anywhere that has a clean surface & water for cleansing. The prayer rug provides a clean surface to perform these prayers. The introduction of Islam meant a new style of rug that is specifically designed for performing prayers - small size portable rugs.