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 (رضئ اللہ تعالی عنہ) - Allah's Apostle (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) said - Islam is based on (the following) five (principles) - (i) 'there is no (real) god except Allah (سبحانہ و تعا لی) and Mohammad (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) 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 (سبحانہ و تعا لی ), a distinct manifestation of Muslims' submission to Allah (سبحانہ و تعا لی ) in the form of (i) Allah's (سبحانہ و تعا لی ) 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 - سبحانہ و تعا لی ) 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 (سبحانہ و تعا لی ).
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 - إِنَّنِي أَنَا اللَّهُ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا أَنَا فَاعْبُدْنِي وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ لِذِكْرِي [Verily, I am Allah (سبحانہ و تعا لی ). 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 - قُلْ إِنَّ صَلَاتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ [Say (O'Prophet ﷺ) truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah (سبحانہ و تعا لی) the Cherisher of the Worlds.] (Al-Ana'am - 162).
It is in Quran - يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ [O' you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance and Salah; for Allah (سبحانہ و تعا لی) is with those who patiently persevere.] (Al-Baqara - 153)
It is in Quran - وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ ۖ إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ ۗ وَلَذِكْرُ اللَّهِ أَكْبَرُ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا تَصْنَعُونَ [Establish Salah - for Salah restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of Allah (سبحانہ و تعا لی) is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And Allah (سبحانہ و تعا لی) knows the (deeds) that you do.] (Al-Ankaboot - 45)
It is in Quran - حَافِظُوا عَلَى الصَّلَوَاتِ وَالصَّلَاةِ الْوُسْطَىٰ وَقُومُوا لِلَّهِ قَانِتِينَ [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 - يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلَاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ ۚ وَإِن كُنتُمْ جُنُبًا فَاطَّهَّرُوا ۚ وَإِن كُنتُم مَّرْضَىٰ أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَاءَ أَحَدٌ مِّنكُم مِّنَ الْغَائِطِ أَوْ لَامَسْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَلَمْ تَجِدُوا مَاءً فَتَيَمَّمُوا صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَامْسَحُوا بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُم مِّنْهُ ۚ مَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْ حَرَجٍ وَلَـٰكِن يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهِّرَكُمْ وَلِيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ [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 (سبحانہ و تعا لی) 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 (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) 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 (سبحانہ و تعا لی) removes the dirt of His servant's sins.' (Tirmidhi)
It is in Hadith - The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) said: 'The one who performed two rakaahs of salat in such a way that his attention was in the salah, then in return, Allah (سبحانہ و تعا لی) forgives all his previous sins.' (Mishkat)
It is in Hadith - Abu Mas'ud Ansari (رضئ اللہ تعالی عنہ) relates that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) said: 'On the approach of the time of every Salah, Allah (سبحانہ و تعا لی) appoints an angel who proclaims: 'Arise, O' 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 (سبحانہ و تعا لی) 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 (سبحانہ و تعا لی) 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 (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) 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 (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) is reported to have said that whoever performs the four rakaahs before and after the Zuhr Salah with constancy, Allah (سبحانہ و تعا لی) makes the fire of Hell haraam (forbidden) for him. (Mishkat, Tirmizi, Abu Da'ud, Nisai, Ibn Majah)
It is in Hadith - The Prophet (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) is reported to have said that whoever prayed twelve rakaahs at the time of Chasht, then Allah (سبحانہ و تعا لی) will, as reward, prepare a palace of gold for him in Paradise. (Mishkat, Tirmizi, Ibn Majah)DETAILED READING