Every Muslim, from the time he or she attains puberty must perform the salaah. Except for a woman in menstruation, no person is excused from this act of worship.
Before a person begins his salaah he must perform the ritual ablution in the prescribed form. The object is symbolic preparation for the salaah and not, as often believed, cleanliness. A person has to be clean to perform the ablution (wudhoo). Then he stands facing Mecca and declares his intention to pray for gaining proximity to Allah. With this declaration he enters the formal state of salaah in which he remains until the completion of his prayers.
A salaah consists of a number of units called rakaahs. Each unit (rakaah) consists of
1. recitation of the opening chapter and one other chapter of the Quraan while in the standing position,
2. the bowing down (rukoo) and glorifying God in that position and
3. two prostrations each called a sajdaah in which again God is glorified. Then the second rakaah would commence.
The morning prayers to be performed between the dawn and sunrise have two rakaahs, the mid-day prayers four rakaahs, the sunset three and the evening four.
The prayers are ended by affirmation that Allah is One and has no partners and that Muhammad is His servant and messenger. Salutations are offered to the Prophet, all the righteous souls and all who are engaged in prayers.
Salaah is regarded as not only a ritual act of worship but a communion with the Maker. It is the most important form of ibaadah and sickness (other than insanity), age or infirmity is no excuse for not performing prayers.
Lapsed prayers constitute a debt to God and are a first charge on a muslim's time and conscience. In the event of a person having died without having said any of his lapsed prayers, the eldest son, or if the deceased is not survived by a son, his heir must say or pay someone to say the lapsed prayers of the deceased.
Seyyid Hossein Nasr writes in his Ideals and Realities of Islam:
" In the canonical prayers man stands before God as the representative of all creatures. He prays for and in the name of all beings."
Amongst the many sayings of the Prophet on the subject are:
" Salaah is the spiritual ascension of the faithful where he communes with Allah."
" The good deeds wipe out the evil deeds of a man. The salaah and patience (sabr) are the best of deeds."
Salaah is a spiritual activity where the person performing it is totally immersed, mentally and physically, in the remembrance of God. (XXIX:45, XXII:34 & 35, XXVII:1-3, XX:6-7 and 14, IX:71, LXXIV:38-48, VI:71 & 72, XV:98 & 99, XI:114 & 225).