Prayers are the pillars of faith. Through prayer people establish communication and dialogue with God. It makes one become aware and realize that he or she is not alone in this universe and that each person has been created for a legitimate purpose. God created human beings to recognize and appreciate His grace and blessings.
The Necessity of Connection with the Absolute
The instinct to worship is an innate aspect of human beings - it is part of their natural disposition (fitra). Since the dawn of humanity, civilizations have worshipped the Creator in many different ways. The need for prayer is great, and a deep, strong, innate feeling within people drives them toward the Absolute Power to seek His help and assistance.
Just as the body needs food to survive and grow, the soul also needs its nourishment; and the food of the soul is prayer.
In order for people to receive their necessary spiritual nourishment, and to maintain a strong connection with God, Islam instructs Muslims to pray five particular prayers during the day. For example, the Quran states, “Establish regular prayers from mid-day until the darkness of the night, and recite the Quran in the early dawn; verily, the recitation of the Quran in the early dawn is an act witnessed.” (17:78-79)
Islam has set five prescribed forms of prayers that must be completed everyday at five specific times. All the daily prayers consist of recitations from the Quran and various bodily movements.
People offer their prayers to God for many reasons; the first being the grandeur of the Creator. When one ponders and reflects upon the nature of the universe, and all the diverse and intricate matters that keep life in harmony, one would automatically conclude the existence of a mightier power - God. The Quran states, “Truly, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the succession of night and day, there are signs for all who are endowed with insight, and who remember Allah standing and sitting and lying on their sides, and contemplate creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying]: 'Our Lord, You have not created this without meaning and purpose, limitless are You in Your subtle Glory!'” (3:191)
When a Muslim prays, he or she is acknowledging the grandeur of God. Prayer is a serene and uninterrupted time of communicating and building a relationship with one's Creator. The recitation of the Islamic prayers encompasses a complete mental and spiritual concentration. It is a commitment not to leave the prayers aside. Those believers who establish prayers and show their devotion through them have mastered one of the foremost qualities of reverence toward God, “Successful are the believers - those who offer their prayers with humility and submission … and those who guard their five compulsory prayers. These are indeed the inheritors who shall inherit Paradise and abide therein forever.” (23:1, 23:9-11)
Prayers render moments of reflection and are a reminder of one's actions throughout the day. Prayers have significant benefits upon an individual, such as discouraging bad actions and seeking forgiveness, as the Quran states, “Truly, prayer restrains from evil and shameful deeds.” (29:45) Prayers also keep one's perspective of life's ultimate meaning and goal always alive in the mind, as Imam Ali said, “If a person who prays knew to what extent he was surrounded by God's mercy, he would never raise his head from prostration.”
The need to worship is as strong as the need to eat, and just as a person who lacks proper food will eat anything to put an end to the hunger, a person who does not find proper spiritual nutrition will be led to unlawful worshipping, such as the worship of animals, fire, stars, art, materialism, or anything else - things which have no power to aid nor harm him. Whether people have a structured religion or not, everyone worships something and everyone has an inner need to pray.
In society, whenever people meet others who they perceive to be at a high rank, such as celebrities, politicians, doctors, and scholars they show considerable respect for them, sometimes, at the expense of their own dignity. If people show this much respect for other human beings (who were also created like them from dust) then how much respect should they show before the Creator whose knowledge, superiority, and grandeur is limitless and eternal? Should they not, at least, stand before Him many times a day and bow in respect and gratitude?
Human beings must feel frail in front of God. If they try to act on their own, without the help of their Lord, they will be prone to failure because the source of all power and might is with God only. Those who accomplished great feats for humanity -scientists in the laboratory, soldiers in the battlefield, astronauts in space, doctors in the hospital - all sought assistance from their Lord before embarking on their adventures. Alone, human beings are inferior and in need of God, as the Quran states, “O mankind! You are the ones who are in need of Allah, but Allah is free from all needs, worthy of praise. If He wanted, He could destroy you and bring about a new creation, and that is not hard for Allah.” (35:15-17)
When a Society Ceases to Pray
Forsaking prayer is perilous, just as the Quran states, “There has succeeded them a generation who have given up the prayers and followed their lusts, so they will be living in loss, in confusion and disarray…” (19:59)
Details of the Five Prescribed Prayers
Before a Muslim can begin the daily prayers, there are some preconditions that must be fulfilled, which include the following:
1. The dawn prayer (Fajr): This prayer must be done between the time the first ray of light appears in the sky until the time of sunrise.
2. The noon prayer (Dhuhr): The specific time for this prayer is right after the sun passes over its noon position. However, it can be done up until sunset.
3. The afternoon prayer (Asr): This prayer can be done any time after the noon prayer until sunset.
4. The sunset prayer (Maghrib): This prayer is to be performed after the sun sets at the time when the red sky on the eastern horizon disappears. Yet, it can be done up until midnight.
5. The night prayer (Isha): This prayer can be done any time after the sunset prayer and before midnight.
During prayer, all Muslims must face the Kabah, the House of God, built by Prophet Abraham and his son Ishmael. The Kabah is located in the city of Mecca, in the Arabian Peninsula. One way to determine the precise direction of the prayer (called al-qiblah) is to use a compass. In North America, Muslims face northeast to locate the shortest path to Mecca.
The place where a person is going to recite his or her prayer should either belong to that person or one must have permission to pray in that area (unless the place is a public one). The spot where the forehead touches the ground must be clean (tahir), and free from any impurities, and prostration must be done on earth or inedible plants (including paper or wood).
Purity of the body
Just as the soul must be pure, concentrating on the Almighty and being in a state of complete calm before one can perform the prayers is essential, the body must also be free from impurities. Certain items are considered ritually impure and must be avoided, removed, or purified before the prayers. A specified washing (wudhu) must also be performed before the prayers as the Quran instructs, “O you who believe, when you intend to offer prayers, wash your faces and your hands from the elbows to the fingertips. Rub [with wet hands] your heads and your feet up to the ankles, and if you are in a state of sexual impurity, purify yourself [by bathing your entire body].” (5:6)
If water is unavailable, dust may be used out of necessity, just as the Quran explains, “But if you are ill or on a journey and you come from the call of nature or have been in sexual contact with women and do not find water, then take clean sand and rub your faces and your hands. Allah does not want to place you in any difficulty, but He wants to purify you and to complete His favor upon you that you may be thankful.” (5:6)
During prayer, a man must wear enough clothing to cover most of his body, and a woman must cover her entire body (including the head and hair), except for the face and hands. Clothing worn during prayer must be clean and lawfully obtained; it must not be stolen or borrowed without the owner's permission.
The call to prayer (adhaan)
The call for prayer is highly recommended and is one of the distinguishing emblems of the Islamic faith. Whereas other religions use a bell or a musical instrument to call its faithful to pray, Islam instructs its followers to use the voice and to proclaim the prayer in this fashion.
The call to prayer consists of two parts: the adhaan and the iqaama. The adhaan is the general announcement to the prayers and instructs the believers to prepare for the beginning of the prayers while the iqaama is the specific proclamation that the prayers are just about to start.
The person reciting the adhaan should stand facing the direction of prayer and say:
Allah is the Greatest
Ashhadu an laa ilaaha illa Allah (2 times)
I testify that there is no god but Allah
I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah
Hayya 'alaas Salaah (2 times)
Hasten to prayer
Hayya 'alaal falaah (2 times)
Hasten to success
Hayya 'alaa khayril amal (2 times)
Hasten to the best of deeds
Allah is the Greatest
Laa ilaaha illa Allah (2 times)
There is no god but Allah
The iqaama should be said immediately before the prayer. It is identical to the adhaan with three exceptions:
1. The initial phrase, ”Allahu Akbar,” is only said twice.
2. The final phrase, ”La ilaaha illa Allah,” is said only once.
3. The phrase ”Qad qaamatis salaah” which means “prayer is being offered” is said twice and is inserted after ”Hayya 'alaa khayril -amal ” which is repeated twice as well.
Each of the prayers consists of a specific number of units (rakat). The dawn prayer has two units, the noon and afternoon prayers each have four units, the sunset prayer has three units, and the night prayer has four units. The simplest prayer to learn is the two-unit dawn prayer, which will be described here.
Once all of the preconditions above have been fulfilled, and the person intending to offer the prayer is facing the proper direction (qiblah), and a sincere intention has been made for that particular prayer (in this case the dawn prayer), then the prayer may begin. The hands are raised up to be parallel to the ears with the palms facing the direction of prayer and the following is said:
Allah is the Greatest
The hands are then put down again to the sides of the body or rested on the thighs and the first chapter of the Quran (al-Fatiha) is recited.
Next, another full chapter of the Quran must be recited. The example given below is the chapter entitled, “The Oneness of Allah.”5
At this point, “Allahu Akbar” should be said and the person should bow, placing the hands on the knees and keeping the back horizontal to the ground. While bowing, the following should be recited:
Then, one must stand up straight again and in the standing position, the following should be said:
Then ”Allahu Akbar” is said, and the person prostrates (sajdah) on the ground. In sajdah, seven parts of the body must be on the ground, namely: the forehead, palms of both hands, knees, and tip of the big toes. The following must be said either once or three times:
The person should then sit up on his or her knees, say ”Allahu Akbar” and then say:
Again, ”Allahu Akbar” should be said and sajdah (as mentioned above) is repeated. Then, the person should sit up on his or her knees for a moment and say ”Allahu Akbar” and then stand up and repeat the same process (e.g. recite the first chapter of the Quran; recite another chapter of the Quran, bow, and do the two sajdahs). Finally, sitting down again, the following must be said:
It is recommended that ”Allahu Akbar” be pronounced three times by raising the hands to be parallel to the ears.
This action concludes the two-unit prayer. However, it is recommended to follow the prayers with supplications or other recitations.
 Ghurar al-Hikm, p.175.
 This particular line is recommended not mandatory.