Formal, ritual prayer is the second most important pillar of Islam after iimaan (faith). The Qur’anic term for the Islamic Prayer is Salaah, which means ‘attending to’, ‘praying to’ or ‘seeking proximity to’ Allah. The Qur’an has taught all the essentials of Salaah and the Holy Prophet [s] has demonstrated practically how it has to be observed and performed. The Qur’aan declares:
“(Allah has enjoined that) you should keep aright your direction during every act of worship, and invoke Him alone, dedicating your faith sincerely and exclusively to Him”. (7: 29)
“Surely I am Allah. There is no god besides Me, so worship Me alone, and establish Salaah for My remembrance”. (20:14)
Just as belief in the Existence and Attributes of Allah is the essence of the Articles of Faith, so is the Prayer the essence of all Islamic practices and deeds. That is why the Qur’an has stressed, over and over again, the vital importance of Salaah and emphasized it as a fundamental Islamic practice.
“Fall prostrate, and seek nearness (to Allah)”. (96:19)
The Holy Prophet [s] has said:
“Man is nearest to Allah when he has prostrated himself before Him.”
“When one of you is observing the Prayer, he is in fact invoking Allah.”
But how is one to attend to Allah, seek nearness to Him, and invoke Him? There is one, and only one, correct answer to this question: by following the way taught by the Holy Prophet [s] of Allah, which alone is the right and authentic way. The Holy Prophet [s] has taught the essentials of Prayer and practically demonstrated it during his life. His sayings and practices in this regard have been preserved in the books of Hadiith, and the consistent practice of the Ummah (Muslim community) throughout the ages has further confirmed and secured it against corruption.
The other acts of worship, besides the Salaah, have been made obligatory for particular categories of people on particular occasions only, eg., Hajj and Zakaah are obligatory for the wealthy Muslims only; fasting has been prescribed for the healthy and able bodied, for one month only during the year. But Salaah is a duty that has no precondition other than Faith (iimaan). No sooner has an adult person expressed faith in Islam than the performance of the Prayer five times a day becomes binding on him, whether he is a male or a female, rich or poor, healthy or sick, resident at home or on a journey. It is not excused even in the battlefield and has to be observed in congregation, in the way prescribed by the Qur’aan. Besides motivating the people to observe the Prayers, the Qur’aan has even given warnings and held out threats of dreadful consequences and ignominy in the Hereafter to those who deliberately neglect or miss their Prayers. “Each soul is a pledge for its own deeds, except those of the right hand. They in the Gardens will ask the sinners, “What drove you to Hell?” They will say, “We were not of those who observed Salaah.”(74:38-43)
“On the dreadful Day when these people will be summoned to prostrate themselves, they will not be able to do so. Their eyes will be downcast and they will stand utterly humbled. They were summoned to prostrate themselves while they were able bodied but they refused to do so”. (68:42-43)
The Holy Prophet has also stressed the importance of the Prayer. He said:
“The Prayer is the only distinction between the Believer and the unbeliever.”
“The Prayer of the person who observes it regularly will serve him as a light on the Day of Judgment, and will be a means of his salvation, and a proof of his faith. But the Prayer of the person who does not observe it regularly and with due attention will neither be his light, nor will it protect him against the torment of Allah. And such a One will rise with Korah, Pharaoh, Hamaan and Ubayy bin Khalaf, on the Day of Judgment”.
The Holy Prophet one day came out of his house during the autumn season and shook two branches of a tree, which started shedding its dry leaves. He then said, “When a Muslim observes his Prayers with due attention and devotion, he sheds his sins just like this tree is shedding its leaves”. On another occasion he said:
“If one of you has a canal of water flowing in front of his door, and he bathes in it five times a day, will he still remain dirty?… The five daily Prayers have the same effect. Allah washes off the dirt of sin of the one who offers them regularly’.”
The Holy Prophet [s] found great solace and satisfaction of the heart in Salaah. He would spend long hours standing in Prayer, with the result that his feet would get swollen.
The observance of the Prayer is a natural consequence of one’s affirmation of Faith, and one is incomplete and imperfect without the other. A person who is neglectful of his Prayers cannot claim to be true in his Faith. The one who guards his Salaah indeed guards his whole religion, and the one who neglects his Salaah will in time destroy the rest of his religion too.
Literally, Sawm means ‘to abstain from something or to relinquish it’. As a term of the Sharii’ah, Sawm implies abstaining from eating, drinking, and gratifying intimate desires from dawn till sunset. This is the Islamic Fast. Fasting in Ramadaan was enjoined on the Muslims about one and a half years after the Hijrah (migration) in the following verse:
“O Believers, Fasting has been made obligatory on you, just as it was prescribed for the followers of the Prophets before you”. (2: 183)
Thus, Fasting in Ramadan is an imperative duty for Muslims. The one who denies it falls outside the pale of Islam, and the one who does not observe it without a genuine reason, becomes a grave sinner. According to the Qur’aan, Fasting has been an obligatory duty in the Divine Law and has been enjoined on the followers of all Prophets of the past. Fasting has a special significance and role in the training and purification of the human self. Without it purification of the heart cannot be achieved, and there is no other form of worship which can take the place of the Fast in this regard. That is why it had always been an imperative duty in Divine Law as brought and prescribed by the Prophets of the past.
The true purpose of Sawm is to develop piety (Taqwaa) in humanity:
“Fasting has been made obligatory on you … so that it may produce piety in you”. (2: 183)
Piety is a moral quality which is the product of love and fear of Allah. Love of Allah is produced in the heart by a strong faith in His Being and a deep consciousness of His attributes of mercy, beneficence and compassion. Fear is produced by the consciousness of His wrath, displeasure and chastisement. The resultant feeling of the heart and mind is piety (Taqwaa), which is indeed the basis of all good acts, and a deterrent against all evil acts and inclinations.
The fasting person who abstains from satisfying his most basic needs and base urges, for hours together, in hidden and secret places, develops in himself a profound sense of Allah consciousness, as well as the realisation of utter dependence and helplessness, ever in need of Allah’s compassion and beneficence, even for the most elementary necessities of life. When he views Allah’s blessings, from which he benefits day and night, in a hundred and one ways, he is filled with a unique feeling of love and affinity with Allah, and he becomes naturally inclined to adore and worship Him with all his heart and faculties. His abstinence from powerful physical impulses and desires of the flesh, even in secret places, where none but Allah can see him, produces awe of His Presence, so much so that even a slight suggestion of sin terrifies him.
Fasting with full consciousness of faith means having firm belief in Allah’s Being, in His promises with regard to the rewards of the Hereafter, and in His knowledge, wisdom and justice, on the basis of which He will give reward and mete out punishment. This sense of accountability implies that the Sawm should be observed only for the sake of Allah’s pleasure, and that one should abstain from all that is undesirable and forbidden.