The five pillars of Islam are the five essential acts that keep the soul healthy, that keep the connection with the Creator strong.
The first and most essential pillar is shahadah (testament of faith). This is the soul’s heartbeat.
Without belief—or the heart beat—your iman (faith) and the good health of your soul cannot exist.
Think about it. If you are performing the rest of your Islamic obligations, but don’t believe in Allah and His messenger, nor do you have the intention to please Allah by following His Messenger, Muhammad (peace be upon him), your actions are worthless. It is as if you are a lifeless body just making movements.
Salah (prayer) is the next pillar of Islam.
After establishing belief, the salah is the next thing that the soul needs to remain healthy and the iman high. If shahadah is the heart beat of your iman, then salah is the oxygen that keeps the heart beat going, that keeps your connection with Allah strong.
Basic Needs of the Soul
Yasmin Mogahed said in a speech entitled “Keeping the Torch Lit” that, “you never say you don’t have time to breathe”.
This is the kind of attitude that we need to have about prayer. It is a basic need of iman and therefore the health of our soul.
Just like when we breathe, we inhale what our body needs and exhale what it doesn’t need, in prayer, we are taking in what is good and removing what is bad from our souls.
In prayer, we praise Allah. We ask for guidance and steadfastness. We remind ourselves that Allah knows our deeds and that we will be held to account by Him. And with that we take in the good.
Similarly, in prayer we admit our failings. We humble ourselves before Allah. We ask for forgiveness and seek refuge in Allah from our own selves and from the shaytan (satan). And with that we remove the bad.
What happens if we don’t breathe?
Many people say that they remember Allah in their own way and that they don’t need prayer.
Well, just like we can’t make up the needs of our body and how to fulfill them, we can’t make up the needs of our soul and how to fulfill them either. We cannot make up how to establish a connection with Allah.
We can’t just all of a sudden say, from now on I am going to breathe water: after all it has some oxygen in it. It’s not going to work out too well for the lungs and will certainly cause death to the body. Similarly, we can’t decide how to worship Allah, how to establish salah.
Allah has established a specific way in which He wants us to worship him. This is salah. And He has taught us this way through the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Removing prayer from our lives and finding our own way to worship Allah other than how He has told us to worship Him, will not work out well for the iman and will certainly cause death to the soul.
But why so often?
Yes, we must pray five times a day—at sunrise, mid-day, afternoon, sunset and in the evening—because this is the prescription for human kind who is so forgetful. Even the prophet Adam (peace be upon him) experienced forgetfulness of Allah:
And We had already taken a promise from Adam before, but he forgot; and We found not in him determination. (20:115)
Since prayer is not like the involuntary beating of the heart or the taking in of oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, prayer has to be approached frequently lest we forget.
Without the constant reminder of prayer, we will forget to turn to our Creator, to remember our purpose to Worship Allah, to ask for forgiveness, and to remember to be grateful, and so on.
So praying throughout the day and night keeps us in remembrance. With these five prayers we are either purifying ourselves in order to pray, praying, or about to pray the next pray, keeping our iman high and our souls healthy.
If five times seems like too much, read the story of the mi’raj, about how Allah first decreed that we pray 50 times a day.
Find a Prayer Pal
Establishing prayer in your life can be a struggle at first.
If you are new to Islam or are just becoming more serious about your Islam, salah may slip your mind throughout the day, as you are not used to making time for it on a regular basis. The good news is that once you do make a point to pray on time every time, it becomes second nature and you will feel it missing no matter what you are doing.
Until it becomes like second nature, the best thing you can do is get a prayer pal to help you get in the habit. Find someone you know who has already established prayer in their life and ask them if they will help you do the same. They can text you throughout the day to see if you have prayed. They can even give you a fajr (morning prayer) wake-up call or go with you to the mosque for isha (evening Prayer) prayer.
It may seem like a lot to ask, but many, many people would jump at the chance to get the reward for helping another Muslim pray.
Whatever you have to do to establish prayer in your life and keep the state of your soul healthy, do it. It is literally a matter of life and death… of your soul.