The second Pillar of Islam is the mandatory round of ritual prayers that every Muslim must perform five times every day. The Islamic method of prayer is a ritualized form of worship, which involves the recitation of verses from the Holy Quran and supplications to God; all while standing, bowing and prostrating. This mandatory act of worship is called Salah in Arabic, and differs substantially from the act of praying or supplicating to God in an impulsive act, just speaking one’s mind. Rather, the Salah prayers demand a formalized structure in which you pray a certain way at specific times, as demonstrated to us by Prophet Muhammad; drawing direct inspiration from Angel Gabriel, who in turn learned from God Himself.
The Arabic word Salah, which is generally translated as prayer in English, is linguistically derived from the Arabic word meaning ‘connection’; in that this mode of prayer connects the servant with his Creator. Salah is a Muslim’s way of establishing direct contact with God the Almighty. Salah represents a Muslim’s affirmation of servanthood, and submission to his Creator’s Will. In Salah, a Muslim acknowledges his weakness and neediness by seeking and begging for God’s guidance, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
Salah, or this Islamic ritualized Prayer, is one form of worship amongst many in this faith. However, Salah holds a very special status in Islam because prayer builds a relationship between a servant and his Creator. Salah is considered the center pole of the religion of Islam; whoever demolishes or denies this practice in their life, demolishes his or her Religion. According to Islamic scholars, this is the only form of worship which--if neglected--would exclude the disobedient from the folds of Islam.
When prayer time arrives, one is excepted to discontinue their present activity and pray to connect with God; refreshing his/her faith for his or her own benefit. The act of prayer helps to remind one as to why they are here in this world and for what purpose. Prayers help direct a person’s thoughts and actions away from sin; from that which is not beneficial. Prayers redirect a believer’s thoughts to the remembrance of God.
The Salah prayer is specifically a human form of worship. All other creatures of God, including animals and plants, submit without question to the Almighty in their own unique way. Everything in the Sky and Earth declares Allah’s perfection and worships Him in their own way; a way in which we humans may not understand. All other creations of God are in continuous glorification, praise, and remembrance of God, and worship in their own way. Just like the other members of creation worship Allah, man is expected to worship God as well.
"Do not you see that Allah - glorify Him whoever (is) in the heavens and the earth and the birds (with) wings outspread? Each one verily knows its prayer and its glorification. And Allah (is) All-Knower of what they do" (Quran 24:41)
After all, mankind was created for the purpose of prayer and Divine worship. God states in the Quran:
"And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me" (Quran 51:56)
God commands mankind to establish and perfect their prayer, by praying properly with concentration and the utmost humility. It is the duty of every Muslim to work and practice to perfect their prayer technique, which is a lifetime commitment. Muslims must engage in a lifelong effort to master this art of communication with their Creator. The ones that fall into a habitual routine, reciting their words without concentration and humility, would be missing the point of prayer; not benefitting from their prayer nearly as much as those who pray seriously and with full concentration.
Neglecting mandatory prayer is a very serious sin in the Islamic faith. Allah shares a dialogue in the Quran in which the residents of Paradise ask the people of hell as to the reason for their condemnation, and those condemned respond:
"They will say, ‘We were not of those who prayed, nor did we used to feed the poor, and we used to indulge in vain talk with the vain talkers, and we used to deny the Day of Recompense, Until there came to us the certainty’" (Quran 74:43-47)
In fact, the state of one’s prayer will be the first thing that will be asked of each individual on Judgement Day. If their prayer was in order, then everything else will fall into place. Yet if their prayer was not in order, then this will not be the case. The Messenger of Allah stated: "The first of man's deeds for which he will be called to account on the Day of Resurrection will be Salat. If it is found to be perfect, he will be safe and successful; but if it is incomplete, he will be unfortunate and a loser…” (At-Tirmidhi).
Prayer should be directed only to God the Almighty, as he is the Only One in full control of everything--including man’s destiny. He is All-Powerful, All-Wise, All-Knowing, All-Hearing, and is able to fill anyone’s needs and remove any and all of man’s pain and miseries.
The Islamic ritual of prayer is an expression of submission to God, showing humility to, devotion toward, and love of God. Praying to the Creator on a daily basis is the best way to build a personal connection with Him, while seeking His guidance, blessings, and forgiveness. Muslims pray to God to gain spiritual strength and peace of mind, and to strengthen the foundation of their faith. A Muslim temporarily steps out of his/her daily activities five times a day to connect to God; in order to stay mindful of Him in this world of stress, struggle, and distractions. Prayers remind Muslims that Allah is in control of all things, so they can put their worldly concerns into perspective.
The Islamic prayer method and mode act as a spiritual diet. Such as the body requires food and water throughout the day, our spirit needs to partake in the remembrance and worship of God to stay spiritually healthy. After all, is not the soul more valuable than the body?
When someone does another person a favor or helps them in any way, it’s human nature to want to thank that individual for their aid. Since God has blessed mankind with a countless number of favors, including one’s wealth, health, family, and gifts of all kinds, a Muslim prays numerous times to thank Him throughout their day and night. The best way to demonstrate gratitude is through these five daily prayers.
The Islamic ritual prayers come with many benefits--in this world and in the next--for the ones that engage in them sincerely and mindfully, with concentration and humility. Amongst the benefits of praying is that the act guards and protects a believer from sins and evil doings.
"Recite what has been revealed to you of the Book, and establish the prayer. Indeed, the prayer prevents from the immorality and evil deeds, and surely (the) remembrance (of) Allah (is) greatest. And Allah knows what you do" (Quran 29:45)
When one becomes lackadaisical in their worship or neglects prayer altogether, he or she will experience the consequence of feeling distant from God; which may result in increased instances of sinning and evil doing. As they distance themselves from prayer and from the remembrance of God, they become easier targets for the Satan to reach out to and tempt them. The one that guards and faithfully practices his prayers would be mindful of everything else that matters. The one that neglects his prayers, in turn, would be neglectful of what really matters in this life.
Amongst the many benefits of prayer is the transformative power that prayer has on a person. Prayer transforms a person’s attitude, behavior, mentality, thoughts, and priorities; redirecting all of these elements to what really matters in life. Prayer softens one’s heart towards Allah and his Creation. Muslims that are steadfast in their prayer are constantly looking to help others and have a genuine concern for them--not just themselves.
If one does not see the benefits and positive effects of their prayers, one should start to question their methods of prayer and their sincerity, humility, and concentration in praying. God references the fate of past generations who did not take advantage of their prayers--wasting them in the process.
"But there came after them successors who neglected prayer and pursued desires; so they are going to face Destruction" (Quran 19:59)
Salah or prayer is also connected to the state of our Ummah (Muslim community). If our prayer is strong, then everything else in the state of our community will be strong. Prayers are the solution to remedying those many problems our nation is facing.
Much like the pillars of a building, where one cannot move them and need to physically walk around them, a Muslim’s life revolves around their five daily prayers; instead of casually trying to fit their prayers into their life. A Muslim’s prayers are always their top priority in life; everything else comes secondary.
The five mandatory daily prayers for Muslims are as follows:
• Fajr Prayer: From dawn to right before sunrise
• Zuhr Prayer: Just after noon (mid-day, when the sun passes the median point in the sky)
• Asr Prayer: Late part of the afternoon (halfway between noon and sunset)
• Maghrib Prayer: Directly after sunset
• Isha Prayer: Late evening, dark night (approximately an hour and a half after sunset)
The five daily Prayers set the rhythm of a Muslim’s day. Prayers must be performed at their appointed due times, unless a reasonable excuse exists to delay them. Prayers are prohibited to be delayed to the point that they overlap into the next prayer’s timeframe.
Before the prayer is begun, a Muslim is required to perform ablution (wudu in Arabic), which is the act of cleaning and purifying oneself from any physical bodily fluids such as urine, blood, etc., with water. The ritual of ablution consists of washing one’s hands, face, arms, head, and feet. It’s important that a Muslim must be clean and free of impurities in his body, clothing, and the area in which the prayer will be performed. One drop of waste matter present anywhere would void one’s prayer.
Prayers can either be performed individually, in a congregation with others at a Mosque (a Muslim place of worship), or anywhere else that is clean.
In Muslim countries, prayer is publicly announced to the community--not by bells--but rather by an Islamic chant or call of prayer known as Adhan in Arabic. Prayer is commenced by standing up facing the direction of Mecca, in present-day Saudi Arabia, where the Holy House of God--known as the Kaaba--is situated. Muslims from all over the globe face the direction in which the first house was built, for the worship of the One God. It’s important to note that Muslims do not worship the Kaaba; rather, Muslims only use the Holy House as a direction to face while worshipping the One God, as instructed by God Himself.
During prayer, Muslims are directed to disconnect themselves and clear their minds of any worldly matter as they are conversing with God. They pray to a God who is near, who is All-Loving, All-Hearing, All-Caring, All-Powerful. A Muslim is to concentrate on their words, and humble themselves exclusively to the Almighty. A Muslim affirms that God is the Master, and that he or she is the servant of God who is in need of the Almighty’s direction, help, and guidance to the straight path. The Islamic prayer is so sacred that it is prohibited for one to eat, drink, or hold a conversation as they pray.
Muslims are commanded to pray in the way that was taught by Prophet Muhammad. The Islamic prayer movements consist of standing, bowing, and prostrating. According to our Prophet, man is closest to God when he is in prostration. The prayer consists of recitations from the Holy Quran, praises of the Almighty, and supplications seeking guidance, forgiveness, and more.
"And establish prayer and give zakah and bow with those who bow [in worship and obedience]" (Quran 2:43)
While not mandated, it is highly encouraged for one even to awaken in the middle of the night to pray to God, as this is a common practice of righteous people.
The Islamic prayer is a ritual which has been unchanged for more than 1400 years, and is repeated five times a day by hundreds of millions of people all around the globe. Earlier Prophets and Messengers also performed Salah prayer, in which the act of prostration was involved. According to the Gospel of Mathew, Prophet Jesus fell with his face to the ground and prayed: “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed: ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’" (Mathew 26:39)
It’s important to note that God is transcendent, free of all needs, and totally independent. He is in no need of human worship or veneration, as He gains nothing from it. Muslims do not pray or worship God for God’s sake; rather they worship Him for their own sake. God made worship and the remembrance of Him beneficial to mankind, both in this world and the next.
"And whoever strives only strives for [the benefit of] himself. Indeed, Allah is free from need of the worlds" (Quran 29:6)
The benefits of praying to the Almighty are vast, and the blessings of prayer are beyond our imagination. Prayer motivates one to do good and strive for the best, so one can live a good life in this world--and in the next world, eternally.
"Indeed, I am Allah. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance" (Quran 20:14)