What is a real prayer?
The real prayer is that prayer which is a commitment to prayer, where we organize our day around the prayer. If that is the most important thing in our lives, then that should be reflected in our daily lives. So rather than organizing our days around … what are we organizing our day around? Food. We remember to get up for the breakfast, we break in the mid day for lunch, evening for dinner. So our day is organized around our bellies. Or other people, their days are organized around what? Work. We have work at such a time, we have a break after the shift.
So our days are organized around what? We organize our day around the most important thing in our lives, which is prayer. So that is why it is five times a day. It forms the framework, the skeleton on which the flesh is placed, of the body of life; Salaah, formal daily prayers. And those formal daily prayers are geared to keep us in a state of consciousness of God: Allah. That is why Allah said in the Qur'an, this is not a philosophical point for debate or discussion. Allah said in the Qur'an,
"… establish the prayer for the remembrance of Me." 
Establish the prayer, He did not say pray. For if He said pray, then we could do once a day, once a week or every Ramadan. But He said establish the prayer. Establish the prayer means five times a day. In order that we would remember God throughout our day, those are the times we start things, we take a break and remember, so that in between the time that we are doing other things, we are with the family or at work or at school or wherever we are, in the park or whatever, that consciousness of God would be there to guide us. It is called Taqwa. It is called Taqwa; the consciousness of God. So that is the purpose of prayer. To develop a consciousness because we are dedicating time, we are saying words which God has prescribed for us, we are remembering God throughout the prayer, so that helps to heighten our consciousness, so that outside of the prayer, whatever we are doing should be done in a way which is pleasing to God. That is the purpose. That is the goal. So that is the starting point.
Prayer in Islam has different aspects, and all of the aspects need to be fulfilled. Among them, we said, is the consciousness of having to be within the prayer. So it is not just physical actions but actions guided by consciousness. That consciousness of God and the degree of consciousness will determine the amount of reward that people get from the prayers. So two people might pray externally the same way, but one is conscious of God; reflecting on God during the prayer, the other one is thinking about the NBA finals, “This team won. Oh no!” That is the one going on in their head. They are doing externally the prayer, but inside of it, “No, why did you win?!” So what value is there in that prayer? It is the one in which one is conscious of God that we have guidance.
Also the way in which the prayer is done itself. If it is not done the way the Prophet (ﷺ) did it, the value of it becomes decreased also. Because he (ﷺ) stood up in the mosque on one occasion and went through the motions of prayer, and told the people,
“Pray as you saw me pray.” 
He gave us guidance. So we need to follow his way. And so on and so forth through all the other pillars, the basic principles of Islam. The general guideline that he gave in order to ensure that we are making the best prayer we can pray, he said,
“Pray a farewell prayer.” 
Pray a farewell prayer, what is a farewell prayer? If somebody told you that there is only five minutes left in your life, you will die, you have five minutes to make your last prayer, the last thing you can do before you leave this life, what kind of prayer are you going to make? Is it the Fajr prayer that we pray this morning? Will we make a prayer like the prayer we made in the Fajr this morning? Or are we going to make a different kind of prayer? We will make it a different prayer. We are going to try and put as much as we can in every word, every movement, every thought that we have in the prayer. That is the prayer that we should make every time. That is the one which is going to benefit us in the life to come, in this life as well as in the life to come.
 [Qur’an 20:14]
 [Sahih al-Bukhari 631]
 [Sunan ibn Maajah, hadeeth 4171.]< Back to Questions