ISLAM PILLAR 2:
What is the Meaning of Prayers in Islam?
Prayers (salat) are acts of worship done on a daily basis and they are an obligation on all Muslims. I cannot stress how important it is for Muslims to do their prayers and the amount of rewards that will be gained from it in this life and the akhira (hereafter). As told by many scholars, salat is what distinguishes a Muslim and a non-believer from one another and it is a true sign of believing in Allah. Anyone can say I am a Muslim, but action (prayers) is what really differentiates between the strong and weak believers. I understand as a new Muslim you may have ups and downs when it comes to prayers but I highly recommend you make it a priority to improve with performing your prayers. Actually, in salat, there is always room for improvement for all Muslims (even if you are a pious scholar). I know some people who are slacking off in their prayers and pray only once in a while so they need to improve by starting to pray all salat at all times. And I know many others (including myself sometimes) who pray but their level of concentration/reverence is low and so in this case they need to improve on that. We are all standing in different levels and so if you set the right intentions and the more you work on it, the more benefits you will gain out of salat.
The importance of Prayers (Salat)
There are many reasons that the prophet Mohammed (PBUH) told us about the importance of prayer, but one of the main reasons is: one of the first things that humans will be questioned about in the Akhira is prayer. Secondly, this is the ONLY PILLAR that was commanded by Allah to prophet Mohammed (PBUH) while he was above the seven heavens. This event occurred in the night of Israa and Miraj where angel Jibreel (Gabriel) accompanied the prophet (PBUH) on a journey to Jerusalem (Israa) and then on a journey through the seven heavens (Miraj). You can read more about this event in the Quran in the first couple of verses in Israa chapter and more details in the books of the life of the Prophet and hadiths of Sahih Muslim/Bukhari.
Another good reason, and I would consider this as my main reason for enjoying the prayers, is because it moves you closer to Allah and gives you peace and tranquility. When I was younger I did not know this, but the older I got the more I realized how I would lose the feeling of safety and calmness without salat. Salat is massively mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah (teachings of the Prophet) but there are couple of verses in chapter Al-Ma’arij that really caught my attention, which I want to share with you: 19. Verily, man was created very impatient; 20. Irritable (discontented) when evil touches him; 21. And niggardly when good touches him; 22. Except those devoted to Salat (prayers); 23. Those who remain constant in their Salat (prayers). In other words, a human will never be in the right/balanced state of mind unless he/she prays in the right way as taught by our beloved prophet Mohammed (PBUH).
How to Perform the Prayers?
In Islam, it is an obligation to do five daily prayers: 1) fajr (dawn before sunrise and it is two raka’as), 2) dhuhur (noontime and has four raka’as), 3) asr (afternoon time and has four raka’as), 4) maghrib (sunset and has three raka’as), 5) isha (evening/nighttime and has four raka’as). The raka’a means the bowing down while standing at 90 degrees and then it is followed by a sujood which means bowing down while you are on your knees and your forehead, hands and feet touching the floor. Also, each salat contains recitation of Quran, praising the names of Allah (Allahu Akbar; Subhan rabiya Al-Azeem; Subhan Rabiya Al-Ala), and Testimony of Allah and the prayers/blessings on His prophets Mohammed/Abraham (Shahada). There is one rule that is mandatory to do salat and that is to be fully clean. Muslims do wudu (cleansing of hands, mouth, nose, face, arms, hair, ears and feet) prior to every prayer unless one can stay clean for a while and nature doesn’t call. Please make sure to consult with nearby imams/sheikhs (scholars) in your local mosque if you are doing this for the first time.
There are also other prayers that are considered a sunnah (tradition) of the prophet Mohammed (PBUH). They are usually done right after the five obligatory prayers and in some other specific times (ex. late night prayers). These are very important and high rewarding prayers, but they are not obligatory.
Improving your Prayers
Your main concern at the moment is to pray the five obligatory prayers and try really hard to do them ON TIME. Praying on time has high rewards from Allah and it is the best way to receive that energy that will boost you up to go on for the next part of the day. If a CEO or a political leader calls you and says I want to meet you for an appointment at 12:00 pm tomorrow, I am sure you will fully prepare for this meeting and you will reach there on time. Well what about if this meeting is with Allah, the Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and earth? This is your priority as you will be facing the Qibla (directing yourself towards Mecca), which houses the Ka’aba. Also, for men, it is highly recommended to pray in the mosque if they can as the reward for this will be 27 times higher than praying anywhere else. For women, they will get the same high rewards praying at home. Also, women are not allowed to pray when they are on their period.
Health Benefits of Prayers
The amount of physical and mental benefits to humans from performing salat is massive. As science and technology is growing every day, and new scientific facts were discovered about the (yoga like) movements in the prayers. For example, when we do the sujood (bowing down with head on the floor), the extra blood flowing to the brain that never happens in any other movement will prevent many diseases such as chilblain, sinusitis, bronchitis, etc. This was just an example but there is a lot of research and findings available on the net if you have an interest in learning more. You can research scientific miracles of Islam and the Quran.
I hope you find all of the information beneficial and I pray to Allah to give you strong will and patience when learning/performing prayers (salat).