Muslim Inventions

  • 28 Oct - 03 Nov, 2017
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Panorama

Carpets were first made long before Islam by the Bedouin tribes of Arabia, Persia, and Anatolia. They used carpets as tents, sheltering them from sandstorms; floor coverings providing great comfort for the household; wall curtains providing privacy; and for items such as blankets, bags, and saddles.

For Muslims, carpets are held in special esteem and admired for being part of paradise. Inspired by this, and new tinctures for tanning and textiles, they developed both the design and weaving technique, so that their carpets came in wonderful colours.

As well as colourful, Muslim carpets were renowned for their quality and rich geometric patterns of stars, octagons, triangles, and rosettes, all arranged around a large central medallion. Arabesque and floral patterns filled the areas around these shapes, pulling them all together with a sense of unity.

In Europe, carpets caught on quickly and became status symbols. England’s King Henry VIII (ruled 1509-1547) is known to have owned more than 400 Muslim carpets, and a portrait made of him in 1537 shows him standing on a Turkish carpet with its Ushak star. Muslim designs also decorate his robe and curtains.

But the earliest English contact with Muslim carpets was when the grandson of William the Conqueror, who lived in the Abbey of Cluny, gave a carpet to an English church in the 12th century. At the same time, Muslim geographer and philosopher Muhammad al-Idrisi said that woollen carpets were produced in Chinchilla and Murcia, both now in Spain, and were exported all over the world.

Besides the Ottoman/Turkish carpet, no other carpet reached the status and popularity of the Persian carpet, which became a state enterprise in the Safavids’ reign. These rulers developed trade relations with Europe under Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), and their export and the silk trade became the main sources of income and wealth for the Safavid state.

Carpet making was a huge industry, and manufacturers received orders from across Europe. Persian craftsmen from Tabriz, Kashan, Isfahan, and Kerman produced eye-dazzling and mesmerising designs.

But by the early 19th century, the carpet industry started to decline, partly due to historical events and conflicts, which lost Persia its stability and security, but also because Europeans had begun manufacturing their own carpets in the 18th century. The first production of imitated Muslim carpets in Europe was under English patrons.