Salah. It is the second pillar of Islam and the most important pillar after Shahadah, which is the declaration of faith. It is understood that Salah is an intrinsic condition of being a Muslim. A person who doesn’t pray the five daily prayers is considered a kaafir. It is not, however, a mere act of worship that we are programmed to do five times in a day. In fact, praying in such a fashion rids one of all the benefits of Salah.
The Prophet SAW said, “The first matter that the slave will be brought to account for on the Day of Judgment is the prayer. If it is sound, then the rest of his deeds will be sound. And if it is bad, then the rest of his deeds will be bad.” [Recorded by al-Tabarani. According to al-Albani, it is Sahih. Al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami, vol.1, p. 503.]
This hadith clearly shows us that not only is Salah the first thing that we will be held accountable for, the perfection of our Salah determines that of the rest of all of our deeds. The importance of Salah in an individual’s life can therefore not be underestimated. Not only is it a pillar of Islam that is of paramount importance, when established well Salah contributes to our development on a personal and spiritual level.
“Indeed, mankind was created anxious: When evil touches him, impatient, And when good touches him, withholding [of it], Except the observers of prayer – Those who are constant in their prayer”
Qur’an 70: 19-23
Allah has talked of the nature of mankind several times in the Qur’an and in this Ayah from Surah Al Ma’arij He has said that human beings were created anxious. Other translators have also used the words impatient and avaricious for the Arabic word هلوعا in place of anxious. A study of the further Ayah gives an explication. In times of trials, humankind is unwilling to be patient and require instant deliverance. And in times of good, they are miserly and withhold from those who are needed. These are all indicators of a negative personality.
If this is how we’ve been created how do we as individuals become patient and generous and kind? How do we inculcate these positive traits? The answer has been provided in the very next verse. The people who establish prayers five times a day are able to overcome their inherently selfish nature. And in the verse, after that Allah has given further specifications. It is not enough to pray five times a day. A person has to be steadfast in their prayers. They shouldn’t observe Salah as a mere ritual, but do so with Ikhlaas, that is sincerity.
Hence by observing Salah not only do we get to enter Jannah through the Gateway of Salah, in our lifetime, but we also get to inculcate traits that are positive and selfless in nature. When we are performing Salah, we are expected to do so with Khushoo which is roughly translated as submission to Allah. In a state of Khushoo,’ we submit ourselves entirely to Allah: body, soul and mind. Not only does this makes us disciplined and attentive, but it also enables us to become less self-centred. By means of focusing on maximizing Khushoo in Salah, we develop humility. A humble person is one who knows that they are but a mere creation of Allah and that in front of His Magnanimity and Greatness they can never develop a sense of pride. Attaining Khushoo in our prayers is an act of constant war against the self, a Jihad against one’s Nafs.
Based on the Ayah above it is evident that a person who observes Salah will develop the quality of patience. In the face of trials and tribulations, they will not give up on their faith in Allah and His help. They will hold steadfastly to their Imaan and continue facing the circumstances in their life without complaint, without negativity.
“O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.”
Qur’an 2: 153
When faced by trials we’ve been asked by Allah to seek His help through patience and Salah. Those who do so will have the satisfaction of knowing that their problem is being handled by Allah Himself. This knowledge gives them the ability to go forth in life with a strength of mind and heart and to face all obstacles bravely without fear. It strengthens our connection with Allah and helps us realize that we only need to rely upon Him for all our requirements. It frees us from dependency on the people in our life. If we ever need something, we simply need to pray.
Purity and cleanliness is a condition for the acceptance of Salah as well. Each time we prepare to pray we ensure that we are in a state of purity, that our clothes and the place where we pray are clean. This, in turn, is carried forward to a Muslim’s life as he or she ensures that they’re always in a state of purity physically as well as spiritually by staying away from sins, as evidenced by the following ayah and hadith.
“Recite, [O Muhammad], what has been revealed to you of the Book and establish prayer. Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing, and the remembrance of Allah is greater. And Allah knows that which you do.”
Narrated Abu Huraira:
I heard Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) saying, “If there was a river at the door of anyone of you and he took a bath in it five times a day would you notice any dirt on him?” They said, “Not a trace of dirt would be left.” The Prophet (ﷺ) added, “That is the example of the five prayers with which Allah blots out (annuls) evil deeds.”
Sahih al-Bukhari 528, Book 9, Hadith 7
These are but two of many Ayahs and ahadith that help substantiate the fact that Salah is an act of worship that contributes immensely to the development of a person as a Muslim. Salah is that act of worship which leads to holistic growth of an individual. The better someone performs, the better they become as a Muslim. They stay away from sins and increase in good deeds. They are in constant remembrance of Allah. They are humble and kind and generous. It is not simply that Salah is called the key to Jannah.