What is the meaning of prayer? Why is it so important?

The prescribed prayers (salat) are Islams pillars. To fully understand their importance, consider this parable: A ruler gives each of his two servants 24 gold coins and sends them to a beautiful farm that is 2 months travel away. He tells them: Use this money to buy your ticket, your supplies, and what you will need after you arrive. After traveling for a day, you will reach a transit station. Choose a method of transportation that you can afford.
The servants leave. One spends only a little money before reaching the station. He uses his money so wisely that his master increases it a thousandfold. The other servant gambles away 23 of the 24 coins before reaching the station. The first servant advises the second one: Use this coin to buy your ticket, or else youll have to walk and suffer hunger. Our master is generous. Maybe hell forgive you. Maybe you can take a plane, so we can reach the farm in a day. If not, youll have to go on foot and endure 2 months of hunger while crossing the desert. If he ignores his friends advice, anyone can see what will happen.
Now listen to the explanation, those of you who do not pray, as well as you, my soul that is not inclined toward prayer. The ruler is our Creator. One servant represents religious people who pray with fervor; the other represents people who do not like to pray. The 24 coins are the 24 hours of a day. The farm is heaven, the transit station is the grave, and the journey is from the grave to eternal life. People cover that journey at different times according to their deeds and conduct. Some of the truly devout pass in a day 1,000 years like lightning, while others pass 50,000 years with the speed of imagination. The Quran alludes to this truth in 22:47 and 70:4.
The ticket is the prescribed prayers, all of which can be prayed in an hour. If you spend 23 hours a day in worldly affairs and do not reserve the remaining hour for the prescribed prayers, you are a foolish loser. You may be tempted to use half of your money for a lottery being played by 1,000 people. Your possibility of winning is 1:1,000, while those who pray have a 99 percent chance of winning. If you do not use at least one coin to gain an inexhaustible treasure, something is obviously wrong with you.
Prayer comforts the soul and the mind and is easy for the body. Furthermore, correct intention transforms our deeds and conduct into worship. Thus our short lifetime is spent for the sake of eternal life in the other world, and our transient life gains a kind of permanence.
The prescribed prayer is the pillar of religion and the best of good deeds. One who does not perform it cannot construct the building of religion on the foundation of faith. Any foundation on which a building was not built is liable to removal. The Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, taught that it is like a river running by ones house. One who bathes in it five times a day is cleaned of all dirt (which may have smeared him or her during the periods between them). He also taught that the prescribed prayers can serve as atonement for the minor sins committed between them (Muslim, Tahara, 16).
The Quran declares that the prescribed prayer prevents one from committing indecencies and other kinds of evil deeds (29:45). Also, it serves as repentance and asking God for forgiveness. Similarly, any good deed done just after an evil one may cause it to be forgiven. So it is highly advisable that one should do good immediately after doing an evil deed. Like the prescribed prayer, this manner of action may also restrain one from doing further evil.
Prayer seems to be a strenuous demand, but in reality gives indescribable peace and comfort. Those who pray recite ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah (I bear witness that there is no deity but God). Only He can give harm and benefit. He is the All-Wise, Who does nothing useless; the All-Compassionate, Whose mercy and bounty are abundant. Having faith, believers see in every event a door to the wealth of Gods Mercy, and knock on it via supplication. Realizing that their Lord and Sustainer controls everything, they take refuge in Him. Putting their trust in and fully submitting to God, they resist evil. Their faith gives them complete confidence.
As with every good action, courage arises from faith in and loyal devotion to God. As with every bad action, cowardice arises from misguidance. If Earth were to explode, those servants of God with truly illuminated hearts would not be frightened – they might even consider it a marvel of the Eternally-Besoughts Power. A rationalist but nonbelieving philosopher might tremble at the sight of a comet, lest it should strike Earth.
Our ability to meet our endless demands is negligible. We are threatened with afflictions that our own strength cannot withstand. Our strength is limited to what we can reach, yet our wishes and demands, suffering and sorrow, are as wide as our imagination.
Anyone not wholly blind to the truth understands that our best option is to submit to God, to worship, believe, and have confidence in Him. A safe road is preferable to a dangerous one, even one with a very low probability of safe passage. The way of belief leads one safely to endless bliss with near certainty; the way of unbelief and transgression, meanwhile, is not profitable and has a near certainty of endless loss. Even its travelers agree on this truth, as do countless experts and people of insight and observation.
In conclusion, just like the other worlds bliss, happiness in this world depends upon submitting to God and being His devoted servant. So always praise Him, saying: Praise be to God for obedience and success in His way, and thank Him that we are His believing and worshipping servants.

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