What is the Importance of prayer as a means of differentiation?
The Prophet (J) advised anyone who became Muslim:
“The symbol of Islam is prayer. Whoever prays in time, paying attention to the details, and whole-heartedly, this person is a believer.” (Fadail al-Amal, 255-256).
He used to teach those who embraced Islam how to pray and he let them know that prayer is the pillar of religion, and it distinguishes the believer from the disbeliever.
The Companions of the Prophet (J) regarded the avoidance of prayer as equal to disbelief. Abu Bakr used to tell the people who were around when it was time for prayer:
“O people! Arise! Extinguish the fire you are in with prayer!”
Prayer is not only a means of distinction between the believer and the disbeliever, but it also distinguishes between believers with regard to their having different degrees. Abu Hurayra narrates this hadith:
“Two persons from the tribe of Udaa came to the Prophet (J) to embrace Islam. Later, one of them was martyred on the battlefield. The other died a natural death one year after him. I dreamed that the one who died one year after entered paradise before the one who was martyred. I was amazed and said:
‘Is not the degree of the martyr higher? Should not he have entered paradise first?’
When I told the Prophet (J) about this he said:
‘Do not you see how much reward the latter has? He fasted in the month Ramadan during the extra year after the first was martyred. He also offered more than six thousand units of prayer.’” (Ahmad, ibn Maja).
Regarding another occasion of this kind the Prophet (J) commented to the companions:
“Has not the person who died a year after worshipped more?”
“Certainly”, they replied.
Then the Prophet said:
“Has not he prostrated more than the one who died a year earlier?”
“Certainly”, they answered.
And the Prophet (J) said:
“There is as great a difference between them as between the sky and the earth.”
The privilege of prayer is stated in the following sayings of the Prophet (J):
“Allah did not enjoin anything superior than belief and prayer. If He were to enjoin anything superior, He would enjoin it on the angels. Whereas some of the angels bow down and some of them prostrate night and day.”
“Prayer is the most valuable striving (Jihâd).”
“When the individual stands up for prayer Allah turns towards him. When he completes the prayer, Allah turns away.” (Fadail al-Amal, 256).
“If there comes a disaster or calamity from the sky the people in mosques are saved from it..” (Fadail al-Amal, 256).
“The key to paradise is prayer.” (Tirmizi, Taharat, 3).
“Prayer is the sacrifice of every pious believer.” (Kuzai, Musnad, I, 181).
“The person who neglects a prayer is like the person who has lost all his wealth and family.” (Nasai, Ahmad).
As prayer is so superior and important, Islam demands training in the early years of life for it. The Prophet (J) advises us to be very serious in this regard:
“ Order your children to pray at the age of seven. At the age of ten (if they do not) beat them lightly. Let them also sleep by themselves (at this age).” (Abu Dawud).
Source: Osman Nuri Topbaş, ISLAM SPIRIT AND FORM, Erkam Publications