There are 5 Tenets (pillars or principles) of Islam, (i) Shahadah (Iman - faith), (ii) Salah (Distinctive Submission - a form of Islamic Prayer ), (iii) Zakah (Islamic Charity), (iv) Sawm (Islamic Fasting), (v) Hajj (Pilgrimage to Makkah).
It is in Hadith - Narrated by Ibn Umar (RU) - Allah's Apostle (SAWS) said - Islam is based on (the following) five (principles) - (i) 'there is no (real) god except Allah (SWT) and Mohammad (SAWS) is Allah's Apostle, (ii) to offer Salah ( prayers) dutifully and perfectly, (iii) to pay Zakat (Islamic charity), (iv) to perform Hajj (Pilgrimage to Makka), and (v) to observe fast during the month of Ramadhan. (Bukhari Book 2 Hadith 7 )
The Arabic word Salah ( الصلاة ) is generally translated in English as 'Prayer' or 'Ritual Prayer'.
However, the word "prayer" is used in English to mean (i) supplication (Dua), (ii) liturgical formulations (the branch of theology dealing with the forms of people's worship) (worship - Ibadah), and (iii) religious services consisting mainly of such liturgical formulations.
Salah is a 'specific form of reverence and honor paid to Allah (SWT), a distinct manifestation of Muslims' submission to Allah (SWT) in the form of (i) Allah's (SWT) praise, (ii) specific physical actions and (iii) devotional supplications. Salah is done both publicly (in congregation) and privately (individually).
This distinction has been maintained in Arabic language. Like we use different terms for different prayers; (i) Salah, (ii) Ibadah, (iii) Dua, (iv) Zikr, etc.
Therefore we can translate Salah as 'Distinctive Submission' (or Distinctive Islamic Submission to Allah - SWT) in order to explain it to non-Muslims.
After 'Shahadah', the most important aspect in Islam is obligatory (mandatory) Salah, five times a day.
We get involved in many worldly affairs all through the day for earning our livelihood or in business and some other activities. The compulsory Salah, 5 times at specific hours of the day, give us a break from these activities to remember and divert our attention towards Allah (SWT).
There are innumerable benefits of Salah, both to human body and soul. The following Quranic verses and Ahadith give an idea about the importance of Salah.
It is in Quran - "Verily, I am Allah (SWT). There is no god but I, so you worship Me (only) and establish Salah (regular prayer) for celebrating My praise". (Taha - 14 ).
It is in Quran - "Say (O'Prophet -SAWS) truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah (SWT) the Cherisher of the Worlds". (Al-Ana'am - 162).
It is in Quran - "O' you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and Salah; for Allah (SWT) is with those who patiently persevere". (Al-Baqara - 153)
It is in Quran - "Establish Salah - for Salah restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of Allah (SWT) is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And Allah (SWT) knows the (deeds) that you do." (Al-Ankaboot - 45)
It is in Quran - "Those who believe, and do deeds of righteousness, and establish Salah and Zakah (charity), will have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve". (Al-Baqara - 238)
It is in Quran - "O' you who believe! When you prepare for Salah, wash your faces, and your hands (and arms) to the elbows; Rub your heads (with water); and (wash) your feet to the ankles. If you are in a state of ceremonial impurity, bathe your whole body. But if you are ill, or on a journey, or one of you comes from the call of nature, or you have been in contact with women, and you find no water, then take for yourselves clean sand or earth, and rub therewith your faces and hands, Allah (SWT) does not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to make you clean, and to complete his favor to you,that you may be grateful". (Al - Ma'ida - 6)
It is in Hadith - The Prophet (SAWS) said: 'if there is a brook running in front of someone's house, and if he bathes in it five times everyday, will there be any dirt left on his body?' Then he said that this is the example of the five times salat, by virtue of which Allah (SWT) removes the dirt of His servant's sins.' (Tirmidhi)
It is in Hadith - The Prophet (SAWS) said: 'The one who performed two rakaahs of salat in such a way that his attention was in the salah, then in return, Allah (SWT) forgives all his previous sins.' (Mishkat)
It is in Hadith - Abu Mas'ud Ansari (R.A.) relates that the Prophet (SAWS) said: 'On the approach of the time of every Salah, Allah Ta'ala appoints an angel who proclaims: 'Arise, 0 people! and extinguish the fire that you have (by committing sins) kindled to burn yourselves.' So, the worshipers rise up, make their Wudhu and perform their salah, due to which their sins are forgiven. For those who ignore Allah's (SWT) orders, i.e. those who do not get up to pray, their sins stay on their heads, and in this condition, they remain deprived of Allah's (SWT) forgiveness. So they stay as they were, i.e. they do not attempt to get out and purify themselves from the quicksand and misfortune of their sins.' (Kanzul A'mal)
It is in Hadith - The Prophet (SAWS) is reported to have said: 'Perform the five times salah, fast during Ramadan, give zakat from your wealth, follow the true scholars of Deen, then enter your Lord's Paradise.' (Mishkat)
It is in Hadith - The Prophet (SAWS) is reported to have said that whoever performs the four rakaahs before and after the Zuhr Salah with constancy, Allah (SWT) makes the fire of Hell haraam (forbidden) for him. (Mishkat, Tirmizi, Abu Da'ud, Nisai, Ibn Majah)
It is in Hadith - The Prophet (SAWS) is reported to have said that whoever prayed twelve rakaahs at the time of Chasht, then Allah (SWT) will, as reward, prepare a palace of gold for him in Paradise. (Mishkat, Tirmizi, Ibn Majah)DETAILED READING