While Muslims are not required to use a prayer mat, Islamic teachings require the area of prayer to be clean, and using a prayer mat is an easy way to ensure cleanliness. The prayer mat is placed between the dirty ground and the person praying.
Prayer mats also create an isolated space to devote oneself entirely to prayer, and cannot be used for anything other than praying. They are considered symbolic and must be cared for. Prayer mats are normally symbolic of the owner's village or religious or holy places, such as Mecca and Jerusalem. Prayer mats have a special niche at the top that represents the mihab in every mosque. This niche is the head end of the rug, which is pointed towards Mecca before each prayer.
During prayer, the person places his feet at the foot end of the rug, his head at the head end of the rug, and his hands on either side of the niche. Many prayer mats have beautiful designs and stitching, not only to represent symbolic or holy places, but to assist new Muslims in proper positioning on the mat. After prayer, the prayer mat is immediately folded or rolled and put away, to ensure that the mat remains clean.