Monday, April 12, 2010

Stuff You Didn't Know About Persian Rugs - Until Now

My mother and her partner teach seventh grade Social Studies and Language Arts at a southern California middle school. As their number one paper-grader, I've seen my share of interesting answers over the years, and I always try to write down the best to share with my friends. Seventh-graders in California are required to learn about the Islamic empires of the Middle Ages, and as part of this, they learn a bit about Islam and the contributions Muslims have made to our society. This year, students were assigned to write a few paragraphs about Persian rugs. Here's what they learned.

Let's start with the basics, shall we?

A Persian rug is almost like a rug.
The Persian rugs can possibly mean lots of things but then also they couldn't.

Good to know. Of course, you can always tell a Persian rug by its distinctive design. For example, the design on a Persian rug should be symmetrical.

Symmetry is if you cut it into pieces all the pieces would be the same.
First of all Persian rugs should be vertical and horizontal.
All the rugs had a center in the middle.

I'd always thought the material that goes into a Persian rug came off the backs of sheep, maybe the occasional goat. It seems I was wrong. According to a couple of my mothers' students, they used llama and alpaca wool. (They studied the pre-Colombian civilizations of South America not too long ago. I guess someone forgot to tell them they were switching continents.) Then again, llama wool might have been an improvement, considering . . .

When the Persian rug started it was made out of wolves.
The leather was made from wolf.
Many Persian rugs came from Muslims used many ways.

It's possible to weave a Persian rug out of silk, but this isn't often done because silk is so expensive and doesn't stand up to much wear and tear. Then again, perhaps there's another reason these rare carpets are so valuable . . .

Silk carpets tend to get older with age.

Of course, the reason all of this is important is because of the role these rugs have played in Muslim culture. Persian rugs were originally woven by Iranian nomads a thousand years before Muhammad came along, but as Islam became widespread, the rugs began to take on new religious and cultural significance.

Nomads used them in rainy days to cover damps in water.
It was important to the Muslims because they were used as a prayer mat and break wind.
The rug is used because they lay on the floor and they do sort of like exercises.

Apparently Muslims have a sacred duty to attend aerobics class. Who knew? Then again, another of Islam's most holy obligations, according to seventh graders, is to practice fisting during the month of Ramadan.

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