The importance of the prayer in Islam cannot be understated. It is the first pillar of Islam that the Prophet (may Allah’s blessings be upon him and his purest progeny) mentioned after mentioning the testimony of faith, by which one becomes a Muslim. It was made obligatory upon all the prophets (AS) and for all peoples. Allah has declared its obligatory status under majestic circumstances. For example, when Allah spoke directly to Moses, He said:
“And I have chosen you, so listen to that which is inspired to you. Verily, I am Allah! There is none worthy of worship but I, so worship Me and offer prayer perfectly for My remembrance.” [Taha 13-14]
Similarly, the prayers were made obligatory upon the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) during his ascension to heaven. Furthermore, when Allah praises the believers, such as in the beginning of surah al-Muminoon, one of the first descriptions He states is their adherence to the prayers.
Once a man asked the Prohpet (may Allah’s blessings be upon him and his purest progeny) about the most virtuous deed. The Prophet (S.A.W) stated that the most virtuous deed is the prayer. The man asked again and again. The first three times, the Prophet (may Allah’s blessings be upon him and his purest progeny) again answered, “The prayer,” then on the fourth occasion he stated, “Jihad in the way of Allah.” [This is form a hadith recorded by Ahmad and ibn Hibban. According to al-Albani, the hadith is hasan. Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, Sahih al-Targheeb wa al-Tarheeb.
The importance of prayer is demonstrated in the many of the Prophet’s statement. For example, the Prophet (may Allah’s blessings be upon him and his purest progeny) 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.”
The importance of the prayers lies in the fact that no matter what actions one performs in his life, the msot important aspect is one’s relationship to Allah, that is, one’s faith (imaan), God-consciousness (taqwa), sincerity (ikhlas) and worship of Allah (`ibaadah). This relationship with Allah is both demonstrated and put into practice, as well as improved and increased, by the prayer. Therefore, if the prayers are sound and proper, the rest of the deeds will be sound and proper; and if the prayers are not sound and proper, then the rest of the deeds will not be sound and proper, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself stated.
In reality, the prayer is performed properly – with true remembrance of Allah and turning to Him for forgiveness – it will have a lasting effect on the person. After he finishes the prayer, his heart will be filled with the remembrance of Allah. He will be fearful as well as hopeful of Allah. After that experience, he will not want to move from that lofty position to one wherein he disobeys Allah. Allah has mentioned this aspect of the prayer when He has said, “Verily, the prayer keeps one from the great sins and evil deeds” (al-Ankaboot 45). Nadwi has described this effect in the following eloquent way,
Its aim is to generate within the subliminal self of man such spiritual power, light of faith and awareness of God as can enable him to strive successfully against all kinds of evils and temptations and remain steadfast at times of trial and adversity and protect himself against the weakness of the flesh and the mischief of immoderate appetites.
Equally, we could take a glimpse into the life of Amirul-mu’mineed (leader of the believer), Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) and his concentration in prayers.
Imam’s (as) concentration in prayers will of course vary with individuals but we must mention here, the perfection in concentration achieved by Amir al-Muminin (as). In the Battle of Siffin, an arrow head pierced the thigh of Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as). It was not possible to pull it out because of the unbearable pain it caused. When his son, Imam Hasan Al-Mujtaba (as) was consulted in the matter, he told the people to just wait till his father stands for prayer and to remove the arrow while Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) was praying.
Accordingly the arrow was pulled out while Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) praying and Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) was totally oblivious of the excruciating pain. When Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) stood for prayers, the world ceased to exist for him, his entire being was totally immersed in the contact he had established with his Creator and his relationship with Him.
In Noble Qur’an (Surah Yusuf 12:31) showed that when Prophet Yusuf (as) went in front of the women they cut their fingers but did not feel the pain. If the beauty of Prophet Yusuf (as) a creature of Almighty Allah (SWT) removed pain then think of the beauty of Allah (SWT) and when Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) stood in the presence of Allah (SWT) then all pain from removing the arrow from his thigh was gone.
At the same time the following incident indicates, how much Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) was conscious to fulfill the need of poor? Even in the middle of his prayers.
Hazrat Abu Zar Ghaffari (ra) says that one day he was praying with the Holy Prophet Muhammad (May Allah be pleased with him and his purest progeny) when a beggar came to the Prophet’s mosque (Masjidul-Nabawi) in Madina and began to ask for alms. No one responded to his pleas. The beggar raised his hands towards heavens and said, “Allah! Be a witness that I came to Thy Prophet’s mosque and no one gave me anything.”
Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) was bowing (Ruku) while offering prayers at that time. Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) beckoned and called his attention to his finger, on which was a ring. The beggar came forward and promptly drew Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib’s (as) ring from his finger and left the place. In other words Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) did not wait till his prayers were finished. He (as) was so particular to give alms, that while he was still praying he told the beggar by gesture that he might pull out his ring, sell it and spend the money to meet his needs.
It may be noted that giving alms while bowing in prayers is not included in the teachings of Islam. It is neither an obligatory nor a commendable act. It is general agreed that Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) did so and this incident occurred in the presence of Holy Prophet Muhammad (May Allah be pleased with him and his purest progeny) who raised his face towards heaven and prayed. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (May Allah be pleased with him and his purest progeny) had not yet finished his prayers when Angel Jibril (as) brought the following verse of Noble Qur’an: Only Allah is your Wali and His Messenger and those who believe, those who establish prayers and give charity while they bow (in prayer). (Surah al-Maeda).