The first and most important duty in Islam after one has brought faith in Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) and in Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) and borne witness to Divine Oneness and the Apostleship of the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) is Salaah (Prayers). It is a most special act of Divine worship which a Muslim is called upon to perform five times a day. There are numerous verses of the Holy Quraan and the Tradition of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) enjoining the Salaah on us. It has been described as the pillar and the foundation of the Islam.
Salaah, if it is offered with a sincere heart and proper devotion and mental concentration, is particularly vested with the property of cleansing the heart reforming one's life and ridding it of sins and impurities. It generates love for piety and truth and promotes fear of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) in man. Thus it is that Islam has laid greater emphasis on it than on all other religious obligations. When anyone came to the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) to embrace Islam, the first promise the sacred Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) took from him, after instructing him in Divine Oneness, was that he will offer the Salaah regularly. In fine, after the Kalimah, Salaah is the bedrock of Islam.
We know from the Traditions that the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) used to equate neglect of the Salaah with infidelity. He denounced it as the way of the nonbelievers. He would say that those who did not offer the Salaah had no share in the faith.
A Tradition of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) reads, "What separates a believer from infidelity is simply the Salaah."
This Tradition clearly warns that if a Muslim will give up the Salaah, he will get associated with infidelity; his conduct will become the conduct of an infidel. In another Tradition the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) has said, "He has no share in Islam who does not offer the Salaah."
And here is another Tradition from which we can imagine what a great act of virtue and felicity is it to offer the Salaah regularly and how utterly fatal and ruinous is it to neglect it. Once while urging upon the Muslims to be most particular about the Salaah, the sacred Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) is reported to have observed:
"Whoever will offer the Salaah properly and regularly, it will be for him on the Last Day a source of light, a proof of his faith and a means to salvation. (On the other hand) whoever will not offer it carefully and regularly, it will be for him neither a source of light, nor a proof of faith, nor a means to salvation, and the end of such a person will be with
Qaaroon, Fir'aun, Haamaan and Ubai-bin-Khalf."
Brothers! Let us now imagine what our end is going to be if we failed to cultivate the habit of offering the Salaah correctly and regularly.
The Ignominy and Disgrace of the Defaulters on the Last Day
The ignominy and disgrace the defaulters of Salaah will have to suffer at the very outset on the Day of Judgment has been spoken of in these words in the Holy Quraan:
The day that the shin shall be laid bare, and the)' shall be summoned to bow in adoration, but the)' shall not be able, their eyes will be cast down, ignominy will cover them, seeing that they had been summoned aforetime to bow in adoration while they were whole (and had refused). [XI: 42]
The verse tells that on the Last Day when the hour of judgment will arrive (when all mystery will vanish and reality will be fully manifested) and every man and woman born into the world from the first day to the last will be raised up again and gathered together, Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) will reveal Himself to them in full glory and splendour. Everyone will then be called upon to bow in adoration before Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa). The fortunate and the faithful among them who had been regular in their Salaah in the world and were, thus, accustomed to kneeling down before Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) will, at once, bow down in adoration, but those who in spite of being healthy and strong had not observed the Salaah in their lifetime will find that their backs had suddenly grown stiff like a board and they will remain standing with the infidels, unable to bend down and carry out the prostration. They will be covered with ignominy, their eyes will be downcast, they will not be able even to look up. Before the chastisement of hell, they will have to bear this chastisement of humiliation and disgrace. May Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa), by His Grace, save us all from it!
In truth, a habitual defaulter of the Salaah is a sort of a rebel against Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) and deserves all the humiliation and punishment that may be meted out to him. According to some Jurisprudents of Islam, a Muslim who rejects the Salaah is liable to be punished with death like an apostate.
Brothers! We must consider it thoroughly and well that without the Salaah the claim to Islam is altogether meaningless.
Salaah alone is the Islamic act that joins us with Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) and makes us deserving of His grace.
Blessings of Salaah
When a person stands before the Almighty with his arms folded, five times a day, and celebrates His praises and kneels down before Him and touches the ground with his forehead and makes earnest supplications to Him, he becomes worthy of His love and beneficence, his sins are forgiven with every Salaah he
offers, his heart attains enlightenment and his life becomes pure. The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) once gave an excellent example to illustrate this truth. He asked his Companions, " Tell me, if
a stream flows at the door of anyone of you and he takes a dip in it five times a day. Will there be left any grime on his body?" The Companions replied, " No, Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam). No grime will be left on his body". The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) said, " It is exactly the same with the five daily prayers. Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) removes all impurities and sins because of their auspiciousness."
Superiority of Congregation
It appears from the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam)'s Traditions that Salaah should be offered in congregation if one wants to derive full benefit from it. The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) was so very particular about it that once while condemning the conduct of those who avoided coming to the mosque to offer their prayers in congregation due to laziness or indifference, he observed with anger that he felt like burning down their homes.
This one Tradition is enough to show how repugnant it is to Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa)
and the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) if anyone does not offer his prayers in congregation.
Another Tradition says:
"The reward on offering the Salaah in congregation is twenty seven times as much as on offering it alone."
Apart from the reward in the Hereafter, there are many other advantages in offering up the Salaah in congregation. For instance, one acquires the habit of punctuality by attending the mosque regularly to offer his prayers in
congregation. It enables Muslim brethren of the locality to assemble at one place five times every day and this can be turned to great benefit. The practice of offering the Salaah regularly in the mosque congregationally makes a man thoroughly regular in his prayers for it has been seen that those who offer their prayers individually at home are often inclined to be neglectful. Yet another notable advantage in offering the prayers in congregation is that the Salaah of each participant becomes a part of the Salaah of the whole congregation in which, along with others, there are also generally present some venerable and virtuous servants of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) whose Salaah are of a very high order. Their Salaah finds acceptance with Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) and the expectation from His Benevolent Grace is that when He will grant acceptance to
the prayers of some members of the congregation. He will, along with them, accept the prayers of the rest of the congregation,
Now, imagine what rich rewards and blessing do we deprive ourselves of when do not go to the mosque to offer our prayers in congregation without a valid excuse.
Meekness and Humility
The offering up of the Salaah with meekness and humility means that, believing Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) to be Omnipresent and All-seeing, the Salaah should be offered in such a way that the heart is filled with His love and stricken with awe by the thought of His Greatness and Magnificence as if a criminal was standing front of a great judge or a mighty ruler. As a devotee stands up for Salaah, he should visualise that he is standing in the presence of the Almighty that he is standing out of reverence to Him. When he bows his head in Ruku
or kneels down to perform the Sajdah he should imagine that it was all being carried out in front of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) and in expression of his own utter worthlessness and humility. Better still, whatever is recited during Salaah, whether while standing or in Ruku or Sajdah, should be done with a proper understanding of its meaning. The real joy and beauty of Salaah is experienced only when it is offered with an intelligent appreciation of its contents. It is
not, at all, difficult to learn the meaning of the Surahs that are generally recited in Salaah.
The devotion of the heart and the sentiments of awe and humility, indeed, are the very soul of the Salaah. The ultimate success and deliverance of believers who offer up such a kind of Salaah is assured. Declares the Holy Quraan:
The believers must (eventually) succeed, those who humble themselves in their prayers.[XXIII-II]
Says the Prophet (Sallallahu AlaiheWasallam), "Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) has made the five daily prayers obligatory. Whoever did the Wudhu properly and offered them up at the right time and carried out the Ruku and Sajdah as they ought to be, humbly and reverentially, for him the promise of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) is that he will be pardoned; and whoever did not do so (i.e., did not offer his prayers in
this manner), for him there is no such promise. Allah (Subhaanahu Wata'aalaa) will pardon or punish him as He will please."