What is salah (prayer)? Why is salah (prayer), which consists of a few acts, is so much important in Islam?
God Almighty does not need anything; He does not need our worship, either. It is we who need worship. Worship is a kind of remedy for our spiritual wounds. It is the food for our spirit and the remedy for the diseases in our heart. Therefore, the reason why God Almighty orders worship is our own benefit. When a doctor insistently advises some medicines to a patient, he does it for the benefit of the patient not for his own benefit. It is nonsense to say to the doctor, “Why do you insist on this medicine? Why do you need it?”; similarly, it is nonsense and illogical to think, “Why does God Almighty order us to worship? Why does He need it?”
The reason why Allah created the universe is to show the manifestations of his names and attributes and to present the wonderful reflections of those manifestations and these beautiful works of art to the witnessing of His own sacred being and to the comprehension of conscious beings like human beings.
Man is usually busy with worldly affairs; so, he does not look at those divine wonders and does take lessons from them related to the oneness of the Creator, His endless knowledge, power and wisdom. One can find the way going to the artist from the art, and to the giver of the bounties from bounties only by getting rid of worldly affairs. The only means of getting rid of those pursuits is prayer (salah).
Light, air, water, meals, which are the food for our worldly life and biological existence, are necessary; similarly, worship and especially prayer (salah), which is the light of the mind, the air of the heart and the food of the spirit, are necessary for a sane person.
Prayer (salah), which means to repent and to apologize, due to our mistakes, to Allah, who is the pre-eternal and post-eternal sultan of the whole universe, who created us out of nothing, who grants us thousands of bounties, promises the eternal life of Paradise to those who show respect to Him, whom we need at every breath and who is our benefactor, is the expression of respect by man toward his Lord. No mind, heart or conscience can put up with the disrespect toward Lord by not performing prayers.
Prayer is like an index of worship that contains all of the other pillars of Islam. For instance, a person who performs prayer also performs a kind of hajj by turning toward the qiblah; he performs a kind of fasting by not eating and drinking during the prayer; he gives a kind of zakah by allocating his time, which is his capital of life, to mention the names of Allah. In addition, during the prayer, he performs the worship of the beings in the universe by standing like trees and plants, by bowing down like the four legged creatures and by prostrating like reptiles.
Similarly, some angels worship Allah by standing all the time, some worship by bowing down and others by prostrating all the time. A person who performs prayers fulfills the worship of the angels by trying to do them at certain periods of time; in a sense, he becomes like an angel.
Prayer is an indicator of worship that is the primary fundamental of the religion of Islam. The following is stated in a hadith: “The most distinguishing property between a Muslim and a non-Muslim is prayer (salah).” (Muslim, Iman, 134; Abu Dawud, Sunnah, 15; Tirmidhi, Iman, 9)
Every person that enters the spiritual climate of Islam based on the contract of belief needs to breathe in this air of worship. It is a civic responsibility of citizenship for every person who accepts to be a spiritual citizen of Islam to perform prayers. The spirit, mind and conscience have the right to benefit from this spiritual atmosphere of worship. It is a great cruelty to deprive them of the interaction with their Lord just because the soul does not want it.
The call to prayer announced five times a day is a call to stand in the presence of Allah and it is like a command to invite the soldiers to muster in the military quarters of the world of the eternal Sultan. A person who does not appear five days on end in the military headquarters is regarded as a fugitive and his military service up to that time goes down the drain; he will have to start military service from scratch.
Think of the situation of a person who does not appear despite the call of Allah five times a day and runs away!
Prayer is real reunion. It means thanking the real friend who grants us abundant bounties.
Prayer is a stand in silence to the sublime Creator.
Prayer is a luminous bond that connects the earth with the sky. It is a necessity of the common sense for those who want to attain the brightness of divine peace to clutch at this bond.
Performing prayers in congregation is very important. Prayer in congregation is regarded as one of the magnificent worship ceremonies of Islam. The fact that prayer in congregation is given a lot of importance in Islam shows that this holy religion is a religion of unity and that a constant solidarity is aimed among Muslims.
Prayer in congregation eliminates the privileges originating from lineage and social classes. No matter what lineage, color and nationality they belong to, all Muslims stand in the same rank when they perform prayers and they turn to the same qiblah, worshipping Allah all together like a single body.
Prayer in congregation is the best means of integrating the community. It is a very good opportunity for believers to find out about one another’s situation.
If the stones of a building are strong, the building is also strong. Accordingly, if everybody, who is a stone of the building of the society, becomes spiritually and physically sound and strong through the worship of prayer, the building of the society will be sound and strong. The basic condition for this soundness after belief is prayer.
There are a lot of verses and hadiths stating the importance of prayer. A few of them are presented below to give an idea:
“O ye who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer: for Allah is with those who patiently persevere.” (al-Baqara, 2/153)
In this verse, it is pointed out that it is necessary to learn to be patient and to benefit from the grace of prayer in order to pass the test in the world. In fact, prayer and patience are like the cogwheels of a machine that support each other. To perform prayers five times a day necessitates perseverance. However, a person who performs prayers learns to be patient because he disciplines his life. That is, prayer helps one be patient and patience helps one perform prayers.
“Prayer it is indeed hard, except to those who are humble.” (al-Baqara, 2/45)
In the verse above, it is emphasized that performing prayers is directly proportionate to knowing Allah. It is really difficult for those who are deprived of this knowledge to show long term patience related to performing prayers.
This old world has seen so many people who said, “I performed prayers for one year; I noticed that it would never end; so, I gave it up.”
“Guard strictly your (habit of) prayers Especially the middle prayer, and stand before Allah in a devout (frame of mind).” (al-Baqara, 2/238)
“Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds.” (al-Ankabut, 29/45)
“The Believers must (eventually) win through, those who humble themselves in their prayers.” (al-Muminun, 23/1-2)
In the meeting of “Alastu bi rabbikum”, which is beyond the boundaries of human mind and which is a secret meeting of the unseen world, everybody said “yes” with their spiritual structures and tongue of wisdom to Allah’s question, “(Am I not your Lord?) Prayer is a signature that reaffirms the promise given in the unseen world in this world. Prayer is the ascension of the believer.