The Term ‘Salah’
Salah is an Arabic word which lexically means dua, or supplication. Its legal meaning refers to, among other things, the set of recitations and movements such as standing, bowing and prostrating in a certain manner in response to Allah’s command to perform it and seeking to get closer to Him.
The Importance of the Prayer
The prayer is the first deed about which one will be questioned on the Day of Judgment. If one’s prayer is sound and acceptable, then one will certainly achieve eternal success and eternal happiness. However, if one’s prayer is incorrect, incomplete or corrupt in some way, one will not be successful on that day.
The Prophet (pbuh) also said, “Allah has made five prayers obligatory. Whoever excellently performs their ablutions, offers them at their stated times and completes their bows and prostrations with humility (khushoo’) has a promise from Allah that He will forgive him. And whoever does not do that has no promise from Allah. He may either forgive him or He may punish him.” (Abu Daawood and An-Nasaa’ee)
Once the Prophet (pbuh) asked his companions, “If there was a river by the door of any of you in which he takes a bath five times a day, do you think that any of his dirt would remain?” They replied, “None of his dirt will remain.” The Prophet (pbuh) then said, “That is the example of the five [obligatory] prayers through which Allah wipes sins away.” (al-Bukhaaree and Muslim)
Almighty Allah commands the believers to strictly establish them at all times. The Quran says, “Maintain with care the [obligatory] prayers and [in particular] the middle prayer and stand before Allah, devoutly obedient.” (Quran, 2:238)
He even clearly states that these prayers must be performed at their stated times. The Quran says, “Indeed, prayer has been decreed upon the believers a decree of specified times.” (Quran, 4: 103)
He also severely warns those who neglect them: “But there came after them successors who neglected prayer and pursued desires; so they are going to meet evil” (Quran, 19:59)
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “The five set prayers and the Friday prayers provide expiation for what occurs between them (i.e. sins) as long as the major sins are not committed.” (Muslim)
He also said, “The key to Paradise is the prayer.” (Abu Daawood)
Merits of the Congregational Prayer
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “The prayer in congregation (jamaa ah) surpasses the prayer performed individually by twenty-seven degrees.”
(al-Bukhaaree and Muslim)
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “To perform the late evening Prayer (Isha) in congregation is equivalent to spending half the night in prayer, and to perform the dawn prayer (Fajr) in congregation is like spending the whole night in prayer.” (Muslim)
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “Whenever a certain obligatory prayer becomes due and a Muslim performs ablution and prays with full humbleness, perfecting its bowing, this prayer will be expiation of whatever sins committed before it except for the major sins. This remains always true.” (Muslim)
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Whenever a Muslim performs a prostration for Allah’s sake, Allah raises him one degree and absolves him of one sin.” (Muslim)
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “If a human being prostrates himself at an appropriate point in his recitation of the Quran, the devil withdraws, weeping as he says, ‘Alas! This man was bidden to prostrate himself and he has obeyed, so Paradise is his. I was also commanded to prostrate, but I disobeyed and so Hell is my lot.” (Muslim)
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “A man gets credit only for that part of his prayer of which he is conscious.” (Abu Daawood) This is confirmed by the tradition, “When performing the prayer, one is conversing intimately with one’s Lord.” (al-Bukhaaree) Conversing in a state of heedlessness is certainly not meant by intimate conversation with the Lord.
According to an authentic hadeeth, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “A person may complete [the prayer] and all that is recorded for him of his prayer is one-tenth of it, one-ninth, one-eighth, one-seventh, one-sixth, one-fifth, one-fourth, one-third, one-half” (Abu Daawood and Ahmad)
In short, conscious awareness is the very soul of the prayer.
Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) once prayed while wearing a cloak with an ornamental border, a gift from Abu Jahm. He removed it after he had finished his prayer, saying, Take it back to Abu Jahm, for it distracted me from my prayer. Bring me Abu Jahm’s cloak of coarse wool. (al-Bukhaaree and Muslim)
It is related that Abu Talhah (once prayed in his garden where there were trees. He was attracted by the sight of a honey-bird and spent a few moments following the movement of the bird, as it flew about seeking an opening in the foliage. Thus he forgot how many units of prayer he had completed. He told Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) about the temptation to which he had succumbed, and then said, “Messenger of Allah! I offer my garden as a charity. Dispose of it as you wish.” (Maalik)
Such conduct was intended to remove causes of mental distraction to atone for deficiencies in prayer. The medicine tackled the root of the disease; indeed, it is the only effective remedy. This is a technique for quietening the mind. Mental agitations are stilled by these types of ‘tranquilizers’. A man, who is normally a scatterbrain, full of pressing concerns, cannot suddenly switch off the noises within him and achieve full concentration and inner calmness. One has to learn the art of continuous inner silence.
Hence, when starting the prayer, you should come into the Presence of Allah, as you would on the Day of Resurrection, when you will stand before Him with no mediator between you and Him. You are in confidential communication with Him and you know in whose Presence you are standing, for He is the King of kings. When you have lifted your hands and said ‘Allaahu Akbar’, then let nothing remain in your mind in the time of glorification except the Glory of Allah Most High.
When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was once asked about the true meaning of ihsaan (essence of worship), he replied, “Ihsaan is that you worship Allah as though you are seeing Him; for even though you do not see Him, He surely sees you.” (al-Bukhaaree and Muslim)
If you continually remind yourself that Allah is watching you when you are praying, when you are studying, when you are doing your job, when you are with your family and friends, when you are playing games, when you are involved in sports, then you are well on your way to attaining ihsaan – the most excellent form of worship. Ihsaan raises us to the higher station of closeness to Allah. This is what gives real worth to everything we do. It makes our actions acceptable in the sight of our Creator and Sustainer.