Niyya, a newly launched Muslim lifestyle brand, has given that most fundamental of Islamic objects, the prayer mat, a long overdue makeover. In lieu of plush velvetesque fabrics, jewel tones, and ornate patterns, Niyya.co utilizes thick cotton, a pop art color palette, and an abstract aesthetic informed equally by modern art and Muslim iconography. Pushing the expected one step further, Niyya presents prayer mats as multi-use objects. Kajal spoke to London-born founder Myhra Mirza about her entrepreneurial journey, influences and intentions.
Kajal: Congratulations on launching Niyya! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got here?
Myhra Mirza: I’m a product designer and have always wanted to make something to help or impact the Muslim community but was never sure of the exact way to enter that space. Two years ago I was going on vacation and was searching for a portable prayer mat. I noticed that it was one of the few Islamic items that have not been visually redesigned. It was either of the same beautiful traditional designs that have been around for decades or an overly basic design of a bordered line on a solid color. So just from a design perspective, I thought it would be a fun and interesting project to undertake – to create something contemporary but familiar.
Also, when researching travel mats, I found that most don’t offer much padding between you and the ground. So I not only wanted to create an item that resonated with a young, more contemporary audience but also wanted an item that provided a little more padding between the user and the floor
Why the name Niyya?
I picked the name Niyya because I thought it was beautiful to build a brand around the concept of intention and how that can vastly differ from owner to owner. The primary intention I created it for was for prayer but as I started thinking of materials I shifted my views of just focusing on design to opening up the possibilities to multi-use. I thought it was powerful to be able to wear an object as a scarf in the winter that you could then remove and use for prayer on the go. It then it just snowballed from there.
By creating it with durable and multipurpose material it allows the prayer mats to be utilized by all. Basically, it’s created for whatever purpose you intend, whether it’s as a neck scarf, shawl, throw, beach mat, or for prayer on the go. It’s meant to help bridge communities, especially in this socio-political climate, to have people from different walks of life use the same product for what they dictate as important. As well as a flexible tool for the Muslim community to use with pride.
I’m very intrigued by your positioning this as a multi-use object. Coming from a very religious family I know some people who would balk at the idea of a prayer mat being used for anything else. Were you nervous about positioning this as a multi-use object, have you received any push back about it?
Not at all, I think that once again it is all based around the intention. I have a fairly religious family too and from that it actually helped me cultivate this idea. I remember plenty of times when we were on vacation and hadn’t packed a mat that we would use the spare clean towels that the hotel provided as our makeshift prayer mat. God tries to make its easier for us to make prayer, for example, we can utilize tayammum (dry ablution), or qasr prayers (reduced prayers) whilst traveling. The whole point of a prayer mat is to ensure you have a clean surface between you and the ground while you are conversing with your maker. By making it from a durable yet versatile fabric it ensures it stays clean because you can easily throw it in the wash.
The Niyya aesthetic is a departure from the prayer mats I grew up with – can you talk me through your design choices?
While I wanted to modernize the design, I still wanted the design to evoke familiarity so keeping an arch motif was very important. Additionally, I used abstract shapes that were influenced by strokes of the Arabic alphabet to create patterns within the mat. When designing and naming these first 4 mats, I thought it was important to base it around its main purpose, prayer and the process that helps you achieve peacefulness – Salaa (prayer), Dhikr (remembrance & mindfulness), Sabr (patience) and Tahara (purification/ cleansing). The colors and designs are also, in turn in part representative of that. For example the blues and whites that are present in the Tahara mat help it evoke that idea of being cleansed/ or wiped clean. Usually we associate blues and white with light and water and those are two elements that can purify an object.
As a designer I have many influences, not just in my day job but also by viewing and consuming art, whether it s via illustrations, or designers I see online, commercially or in galleries. But also in my daily life, in nature, whilst traveling, for example, it could be in packaging I like, colors in a photo, architecture, flowers, tiles, magazine layouts, the shapes and colors of a worn-out carpet at the cinema. The great thing about inspiration is that it comes from everywhere, even the mundane objects we sometimes overlook..
Are there plans for more products? A modern Tasbih ? Rehli?
I would love to release more designs and potentially different sizes, as well as tasbih’s or prayer outfits in the future but currently, want to focus on the mat since it has so many design possibilities and uses. It has been important for me to create a tool that can be used physically and as a discussion point, and hope that any other new products I create would be in the same vein.
All images courtesy of Niyya.co