These Muslim Artists Are Reenvisioning Prayer Rugs to Address Misrepresentations of Islam

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“The deeper I go into my work, the closer to myself and God I feel. I see my work as a form of prayer,” said Saks Afridi, a multidisciplinary New York–based artist who tests the physical limits of the carpet. He quoted Rumi while in conversation over the phone: “Your homeland flows in every direction. Why pray facing one minuscule section?”

Afridi collaborates with third-generation Pashtun weavers from his homeland of Pakistan to produce his carpets, a process that takes up to nine months. “Everyone knows what it feels like to be an outsider,” he said, referring to his choice of extraterrestrial imagery and the positive and curious reception to his work by the villagers. Through a genre he has named “Sci-Fi Sufism,” Afridi’s practice serves as a meditation on belonging amid the perplexity of transnationalism. And though he has not made it to the land of the extraterrestrial (yet), he has entered the NFT space with gusto, dropping a newly minted magic carpet each week.

The people Afridi commissions to fabricate his textiles are not primarily weavers today; many work as doodwallas, selling milk along the village roads. Machinery and global commodification have rendered the artisanal trade of carpet-making obsolete and the prayer rug ubiquitous, available in bulk packs on Amazon.

“It is fast fashion,” said Baseera Khan, who collaborates with Kashmiri artisans to fabricate their prayer rug designs. “There’s a whole economy to it.”

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