Well lets start with the basics. In Islam there are 5 fundamental principles that are the foundation of our belief, so much that they are termed Pillars. Some of you non-Muslims may have heard of the term 5 Pillars of Islam, which basically means that the essence of Islam is in the performance and maintenance of these rites.
The second of these 5 Pillars is observing the obligatory prayer or as-Salaah, which there is no English equivalent but for our purposes we will say Reverence and Worship. Salaat is different from a prayer or supplication, in Arabic this kind of prayer is called a dua'a. But the Salaat is something very specific, the act of Salaat is obligatory upon every Muslim after puberty and is a means to commune with the Almighty without the dependence of intercessors or lesser gods ...
After performing the obligatory ablution the first act of Salaah is the niyyah or the intention, it is something that Muslims take very seriously. The act of taken a brief moment to actually wake-up to the meaningful act which you are about to perform. Usually an affirmation of some sort is said, I think the niyyah can be said in English but typically I use Arabic for every aspect of the Salaah.
Then a succession of 8 postures are performed. These 8 postures make up one complete raka'a (number or set). Several raka'a (sets) coupled with the recitation of chapters from the Qur'an are performed at 5 different times per day (1-Morning, 2-Noon and 2-Night). One of the most important aspects of the Salaah is the recitation of the first chapter of the Qur'an called The Opening. It is said that The Opening is the entire Qur'an condensed to one short chapter and it reads:
- In the Name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful. All praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds. The Beneficent, the Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee only do we worship. Thee alone we ask for help. Show us the straight path. The path of those whom You love and favor, not the path of those who have earned Thine anger, more are leading astray. Be it so." (Al-Qur'an, the Opening)
A Muslim says this passage a minimum of 17 times per day, everyday unless they miss a Salaah which I hope they make up, inshaallah.
There is one last thing I would like to mention. The postures themselves are unique of any religion in that they reflect convey a meaning of great significance. Out of the 8 postures there are three main movements, in those three movements is a very special meaning. The first of the significant movements is standing straight up which symbolizes the Arabic letter Alif (A). The second of the significant movements symbolizes the Arabic letter dal (D) and the third the Arabic letter mim (M). Forming the root in ADM or Adam (the first of Mankind).
So in a nutshell the Salaat is a means to which Muslims regularly purify the body and soul of arrogance, hypocrisy and shirk (matters relating to evil) each day. This is not only done on an individual basis but as a community also. In the Qur’an it says of the Salaat,
- "And establish regular prayers at the two ends of the day and at the approaches of the night: for those things that are good remove those that are evil: be that the word of remembrance to those who remember (their Lord)." (Al-Qur’an, 3:114)