Prayer is obviously important. Of this, all religions agree. Indeed, the Christian scriptures assert to "pray unceasingly" [ 1 Thessalonians 5:16]. It is a universal institution, and while differences exist between religions as to the format of prayer [and even within the same faith community], all hands are in general agreement as to its value and importance. This article seeks to take a look at prayer from an Islamic perspective.
 Salaah is our main connection with Allah
This is easily gleamed from the meaning of the word Salaah itself, which is related to the word silah, meaning tie or connection. It allows us to express our yearnings, our inner-most hopes and aspirations, to the Lord of all . In short, Salaah is an act that is done in order for us to see God beyond an intellectual possibility, to see God as real! It's certainly best to view God as real now, rather than on the day of judgement, because acknowledging that on the day of standing [Yawm ul Qiyaamah] will be pointless. Indeed, in the Qur'an, we are told of Pharoah, who had seen himself as Divine [ Q 79:23], finally he recognized the truth when death approached [ 10:90-91], but it was too late then. In these regards, it's important to recall that the Qur'an says:
Art thou not aware that it is God who makes the night grow longer by shortening the day, and makes the day grow longer by shortening the night, and that He has made the sun and the moon subservient [to His laws], each running its course for a term set [by Him] and that God is fully aware of all that you do? Thus it is, because God alone is the Ultimate Truth, so that all that men invoke instead of Him is sheer falsehood; and because God alone is exalted, truly great![ Q 31:29-30, Muhammad Asad translation]
 Why five daily salaahs?
The most important reason is that the Qur'an, the most authentic source, tells us to offer them [ Q 11:114, 17:78, 50:39, 30:17,among many verses ]. The hadith literature also tells us the Prophet [صلى الله عليه وسلم] himself mentions them. In addition to the textual evidences, the simple fact is that God is "needed" at all times. God does not take a day off! So we wish to be in regular communion with the one who is the best of providers, the Lord of this world and the next, the one who is the most forgiving and merciful. Thus, if we believe in God, it's logical to seek to be regular in our seeking of him!
“Allah! Nothing deserves worship except He, the Self-Subsisting, Eternal. Slumber does not overtake him, neither does sleep. To Him belongs what is in the Heavens and what is in the Earth. Who possesses abilities of intercession, except by His permission? He knows what is between them, and what is behind them. None grasp of his knowledge, except by his will. His throne encompasses the Heavens and the Earth, He does not tire in protecting them both, and He is the Most High, the Magnificent”[ Q 2:255]
 "I'm a sinner, so it would be hypocritical to do my salaah"?
This opinion is very widespread. However, as long as we have life there is a chance to correct or to make up for whatever sin[s] we commit. Moreover, there are many ahadith [sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace and blessings] which speak of salaah as a means of expiating or erasing one's sins in the presence of Allah. One hadeeth phrases it in the following manner:
Anas reported that a man came and said to the Prophet "O messenger of Allah! I have done an act that requires punishment [Hadd], so impose the punishment on me!" He [The Prophet] did not ask him regarding it, then came time for salaah [wa hadaratis salaat] , the man prayed with Allah's messenger [Fa-sallaaa Ma'a Rasoolillaah]. After salaah, the man again asked for the sentence to be done to him, to which the Prophet responded " Have you not offered salaah with us?" . The man said he had. The Prophet responded "Consequently, Indeed Allah has forgiven your sin or your [normally required act] that required punishment [Fa Inn-Allaha Qad Ghafara Laka dhanbaka aw Haddaka] [Bukhari and Muslim] "I get distracted in Salaah!"
This is another issue, an important one. This is another reason why five salaahs daily are required. If distracted or unhappy with the salaah, that just gives more inspiration to do better in the next salaah.
 "I don't know how to do it all in Arabic"
Our advice is to learn the words and the format of salaah from a person, rather than in books. It's actually very easy. Moreover, if you do make mistakes in recitation or movements, be confident that you are trying, and that sincerity is what's recorded in the presence of Allah.
 "My work schedule doesn't permit any time for salaah"
A very real concern. In the USA and Western nations in general, there does exist allowances for lunch breaks and the like. Take that as the opportunity to pray.Moreover, if the need is such, one can pray in private, perhaps in an office or even the car, away from staring eyes ! Whatever one does, we suggest never going to bed before having completed your salaahs!
 Salaah while traveling
One can shorten and combine [which is usually called in arabic Jam'u baynas salaatayn] salaahs. Meaning, for example, at Dhuhr time, pray two rak'ahs of Dhuhr, and immediately afterwards pray two rak'ahs of 'Asr, even though it's Dhuhr time. You can do this also at 'Asr time. For Maghrib and 'Ishaa, you can offer the three rak'ahs of Maghrib, and right afterwards offer two Rak'ahs of 'Ishaa, even though it's Maghrib time!
In addition, if conditions warrant, one doesn't have to offer standing, bowing and prostrating, nor face the Qiblah. Rather, one can do the acts by gestures, and face whatever direction necessary. The Qur'an says: "And to Allah belongs the east and the west. so whereever you [might] turn, there is the face of Allah. Indeed, Allah is all-encompassing and knowing." [Q 2:115 Saheeh international translation]
 "Handicap prevents Salaah"
The Qur'an itself recognizes that salaah can be done in any posture when the need exists [Q 4:103]. In a similar fashion, if water is unavailable for Wudoo' [ablution], using clean soil in a symbolic way can serve the same function. [ see Qur'an 5:6].
 "Difference between Du'a and Salaah"
Du'a and Salaah are usually translated by the English word "prayer". In practical terms, Du'a is an informal plea from the heart. One can use texts from the Qur'an or Hadeeth, but it's really just a plea. "God have mercy on so and so" is a Du'a! Salaah is that act of worship that does include some pleas, but it's main function is to remind us about Allah, to connect us to Allah, and to be an act that encourages us to be regular in our moral actions and to stay away from unethical conduct [ Qur'an 29:45]. So there is a difference between the two. Both should be done in a consistent manner, but the salaah itself serves the higher function.
This article has not explored the Fiqhi details of Salaah, and may have left many unanswered questions. Nonetheless, we hope this brief analysis has encouraged the reader to become stronger in his/her observance of Salaah. The Prophet is reported to have said that on Judgement say, it will be the first thing asked about in the Divine court [Tabaraani].
Wa Aakhara Da'waana anil Hamdulillaahi rabbil 'aal ameen.