Cultural tapestry: Prayer rug weaves history of Muslims and Alberta

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SHAFAQNA – A youth group that created an Alberta-inspired prayer rug to showcase Muslim heritage is hoping the passion project will lead to similar tapestries.

Taouba Khelifa said the woven art highlights Edmonton’s vibrant Islamic community. It also pays tribute to the Al-Rashid Mosque, which was the first purpose-built mosque in Canada, constructed  in 1938.

“We’re looking at how we can get this rug across Canada,” Khelifa said. “We are even exploring ideas of events in different cities, story-sharing events or breaking bread with communities.”

The Green Room, a youth program run by the Islamic Family and Social Services Association, unveiled the prayer rug in March after a year of artistic collaboration.

The rug combines traditional Islamic culture with prairie motifs. Background thread colours depict Canada’s distinct seasons, and Alberta’s official tree — the Lodgepole pine — takes centre focus, replacing the cypress tree, which is the image used on traditional prayer rugs. Blue triangles are woven into the fabric to represent the North Saskatchewan River, and wheat images suggest an abundance of food.

“The rug represented the story of the land and how the people came together to build Edmonton,” Khelifa said.

The Alberta-inspired prayer rug created by an Edmonton-based youth group.
The Alberta-inspired prayer rug created by an Edmonton-based youth group. CANADIANPRAYERRUG.CA

The Edmonton Heritage Council funded the project with a grant of $15,000. Khelifa said she is searching for funding for the next phase, bringing the rug to other cities. She added that a group in Toronto contacted her to learn about how they could start their own prayer rug project.

“This is so beautiful, it looks so Albertan … and uses a local weaver, a local designer,” she said.

Many youth involved in the project are second- or third-generation Canadian but didn’t know about Muslim history in Edmonton. “This was an awakening of how you belong to this community and contributed to building Edmonton … . We’re hoping the conversations continue.”

The Green Room is planning to sell replicas of the rug. Khelifa said she will be working with a fair trade social enterprise called Shubinak, which is based in Pakistan and uses locally sourced materials.

“I didn’t know what the response would be,” she said. “Once the project started, and the weaving, and sharing, there has been a lot of excitement.”

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