A string of pearl beads – 99 to be precise – is bound together and adorned with three silk flowers in pastel tones, along with a gold charm reading "mashallah" in Arabic calligraphy. It could pass as a statement necklace, but this design doesn't fall within the category of jewellery, but rather that of prayer accessories – a burgeoning market in the UAE's luxury sector.
This tasbih (prayer beads) is sold by Imaan Lifestyle Co, an e-shop from Dubai that specialises in Islam-themed lifestyle products. The company's tasbihs are available in a variety of coloured beads and decadent pearls, and its Turkish prayer rugs feature floral embroidery.
"I have always been inspired by beautiful and contemporary Islamic items that I could use in my home, that would serve their purpose, but also have a deeper meaning at the same time," says Rabia Karim, who launched Imaan Lifestyle Co in July.
“Whether it is home decor, writing in my journal or even the items used in my personal prayer space, it has always been important for me to use things that are meaningful and serve as a reminder to me of my faith.”
The popularity of pretty prayer products
Prayer may be personal, and some believe that it is best practised with no-frills simplicity. But others prefer or are even inspired by incorporating style into the process – from dedicated, decorative prayer rooms or corners in one's home and office, to special clothing worn during prayer time.
An Instagram poll of 100 Muslim women showed that 61 per cent actively seek out prayer products and accessories that are aesthetically pleasing.
“Minimalism and simplicity are encouraged in Islam; however, this does not mean Islamic accessories can’t also be beautiful. In fact, Islam gives strong emphasis to beauty,” says Karim, citing a hadith that states: “Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty.”
Pretty prayer accessories are also the focus of Al Khomrah, a brand that Emirati sisters Maryam and Shaima M launched a decade ago after observing a gap in the market for customised prayer clothing and accessories. "The brand was founded from the idea of having a stylish prayer mat and storage case that preserved it from being thrown away to the side, and that matched the decoration of the room it was placed in," Maryam tells The National.
Al Khomrah’s decadent cases are made for storing prayer rugs, clothing, Qurans and other prayer-time essentials, and the brand’s robes are crafted from neutral-toned textiles brought to life with floral and geometric panels. The brand also creates prayer clothing and rugs for young girls.
The psychology of prayer accessories
Prayer accessories can have a psychological impact on one’s relationship with faith, believes Maryam. “This is one of our reasons for starting this business – we are trying to complement the spiritual aspect of praying and at the same time attract children to start praying at an early age,” she says.
Mindfulness and self-care are also elements to take into consideration, say Deena and Nora, founders of UAE start-up Inna Carton, a specialised gift service with cartons for different occasions and themes. Some of its packages – such as the Self-Reflection and Quiet Moment boxes – include iridescent handmade prayer beads with dainty charms and tassels.
Deena says the inspiration behind these boxes was "to remind people of the importance of self-reflection and reconnecting with their inner soul, and to stay mindful in this chaotic life of ours".
The importance of packaging
The social media age we are living in means even products intended for the personal practice of prayer are, undeniably, being presented with Instagram appeal in mind. Luxury prayer products and accessories in the UAE are packaged within high-quality gift-boxes, with scented wrapping paper and thick ribbons tied in perfect bows, making for video-worthy unboxing experiences.
"We believe luxurious packaging is what makes the recipient feel special. It makes opening the package exciting, memorable and worthy to gift to loved ones," says Karim, who uses marble-printed boxes with gold logo lettering for Imaan Lifestyle's beads and rugs.
Deena says even though she started including prayer beads in Inna Carton's gift boxes during Ramadan and Eid in 2018, she realised the demand for these was year-round. Al Khomrah products, for instance, are not only purchased for Ramadan and Hajj, but also for occasions such as house-warmings, says Maryam.
It's little wonder that her brand, which is currently available only in the UAE, was recently acquired by The Arabian Luxury Group. The conglomerate will offer logistical, marketing and operational services, and help Al Khomrah expand to other GCC markets.
Mathilde Loujayne, author of Big Little Steps: A Woman's Guide to Finding a Balanced Lifestyle and a Glowing Heart in Islam, points out that prayer products such as rugs are not a requirement of the religion as such. "Prayer rugs are used to ensure a clean space and environment – nowadays, they have become a norm," says Loujayne, adding that while she wouldn't indulge in decorative prayer beads or mats for herself, they make great gifts.
“My favourite prayer mat is the one I bought on my first pilgrimage to Makkah and for that reason, it’s meaningful to me, but I would purchase such products as Eid gifts,” she says, “because if these aesthetically pleasing prayer beads or mats can be a tool for the younger generation to create a deeper connection with their faith, then why not?”