Answered by Shaykh Faraz A. Khan
Question: I was born into a sunni-muslim family and we pray on prayer mats, the same kind found in mosques around the world. I recently watched Shia-muslims pray, where they place a turbah (clay, mainly from Karbalah, Iraq) on the ground. So I confronted them on this, and they replied “It is Sunnah”. If we are told, that Sunni muslims practise Islam like the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), why are we praying on mats made of cotton?
It is said, that the Prophet only prayed on a khumrah (Al-Bukhari, Sahih (English translation), vol. 1, book 8, no. 378]). And it is not permissible to pray on materials that are made to be worn – which essentially would make all my prayers invalid, because I’m praying on a mat made from cotton??
I pray this finds you in the best of health and states.
Praying on cotton mats does not invalidate the prayer. Just because the Beloved Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) did not pray on such mats does not affect the validity of the prayer.
Regarding the prayer area, the only condition for the validity of prayer is that it be free from filth. One may pray on natural earth or on any material, whether normally worn or not, as long as it is ritually clean. [Maraqi ‘l-Falah]
Of course, one does not have to pray on a prayer mat. But there are many advantages of doing so, such as providing a smooth surface for prostration, a clean surface to protect one’s clothes from dust or dirt, etc. In this light, it could be considered a ‘good innovation’, but certainly a ‘permissible innovation’ as there is nothing offensive in it. [For a breakdown of the categories of innovation, see for example Al-Qawa’id al-Kubra of al-‘Izz ibn Abdus Salam].
I would encourage you to take a course on the essentials of fiqh, such as:
Absolute Essentials of Islam: Beliefs & Worship
And Allah knows best.
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani