At first glance Saphs look like runners, at least in terms of their long proportions. But unlike runners, where the design is longitudinal emphasizing the length of the runner Saphs are oriented toward the edges rather than the ends. Their design consists of niches running form one long edge to the other and placed side by side in serial repetition. Practically they appear to function as a series of prayer design rugs connected side to side so that three or more people could simultaneously or communally pray.
The origin of this format is still not altogether clear. Some writers would see them as “family” prayer rugs, although there is no established format for family prayer in the Muslim world. Others would see them as serving the needs of a religious group or community of some kind, or simply as a means of facilitating group prayer.