Friday, July 15, 2011

Lesson Plan: Islamic Prayer Rug

As I stated in an earlier blog post, one of the most interesting and central aspects of understanding Islam is their dedication to and many ritual practices around prayer.  One aspect of their prayer routine is that each person prays on his or her own prayer rug, which they use for both practical (hygiene) and spiritual purposes.  Therefore, one of the projects we have done during our Islamic studies is for the students to make their own versions of mock prayer rugs.

We began, however, with a discussion of Muslim art and decorative techniques.  Islamic buildings are not decorated with images of people or animals, which Muslims believe would encourage people to focus their worship on "false idols," rather than on Allah or God.  Instead, they fill their spaces with abstract shapes or items taken from nature, particular flowers or plants and stars.  In particularly, they rely heavily on decoration through tessellations, or repeated patterns of shapes that interlock and fill the space without any overlaps or gaps.  (M.C. Escher is a modern Western artist who uses or plays with tessellations a lot in his work.)  Muslim tessellations are particularly renowned for using stars and circles as the basis for their tessellations.

Therefore, we began this lesson talking about tessellations and learning to fold and cut out symmetrical stars, such as a six-point star and an eight-point star.  We played with some of those patterns first, and talked about how we could fill a prayer rug with those (although we probably wouldn't be able to do that in class, given our limited time).

To make our rugs, I gave each student a long (around 5 foot) piece of brown butcher paper from a big, 2-foot wide roll that we have.  Then they decorated their "rugs" with cut out stars and/or illustrations using markers.  Each one was an unique as the person creating it!  Our major issue was finding enough room for everyone to work on such big projects in our small room, giving us a great opportunity to work on our cooperation skills!

Here are some samples of the students' work:

The students enjoyed this activity, and it gave them a powerful reminder of Islam to take home.

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