The Prayer and its Effect Upon Abandoning Sins and Developing the Soul
by Imâm Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah
Allaah, the Sublime said:
Indeed prayer restrains from the obscene and evil deeds. Soorah al-Ankaboot [(29:45)].
Allaah has explained in this aayah that a correct prayer, performed with humility and submissiveness (khushoo' ) undoubtedly prevents its performer from obscene and evil deeds and leads him to goodness. Therefore, you will see that the people of the mosque are the most superior of mankind and the best amongst them. The sins and shortcomings of others are many times more than the sins and shortcomings of these people.
If the prayer does not prevent us from obscene and evil deeds then it is necessary to carefully scrutinise the deficiency within it and to correct it. There is no escaping from correcting one's prayer and there is no fleeing from bringing about khushoo' within it. So let us look at the causes and let us strive to treat them with the cure, just as we treat our bodies for their diseases. However the treatment of the souls is more appropriate and comes first, and this is what will help us to understand the saying of the Messenger (PBUH),
“The first thing for which a servant will be held to account is his prayer. If it is correct and sound, all the rest of his actions will be correct and sound, and if it is corrupt then all the rest of his actions will be corrupt.”
[Reported by at-Tabaraanee in Al-Awsat and Ad-Diyaa from Anas . It is also in Saheehul-Jaami no. 2570].
So in the correction of the prayer lies the correction of all the other actions. The position of the prayer (relative to all the other actions) is like that of the head to the body. This is because the servant is nearest to his Lord during his prayer. He calls upon his Lord and seeks forgiveness from Him. He returns to Allaah and cries to Him, the Sublime.
The prayer cannot be corrected except with the correction of the creed, being observant of Allaah, having fear of Him, bringing oneself to account in front of Him, and trembling out of fear of His Fire. When he finishes his prayer and is put to trial with sins and disobedience, he finds strength in his heart to repel them. This is because he looks at the temporary and vanishing pleasures and then at the bliss and joy which never ends and the happiness which is never cut off. So he puts the good which will remain (and last forever) ahead of that which is only transitory and vanishes.
The prayer of the servant is corrupted due to lack of the careful observance of Allaah and weakness in taqwaa .A person is, therefore, not able to produce such awe as will come between him and his acts of disobedience.
There also occurs in the hadeeth,
"Indeed, there is in the body a morsel of flesh, if it is sound and wholesome, then the whole body will be sound and wholesome and if it is corrupt, the whole body will be corrupt. Indeed it is the heart."
[Reported by Bukhaaree, Muslim and others from an-Nu'maan ibn Basheer].
In the correction and purification of the heart lies the correction of the whole body and in the corruption of the heart lies the corruption of the whole body. If the heart is corrected, the hand will be corrected so that it does not steal or strike anyone or commit zina by touching what is unlawful. The feet will also be corrected so that they do not walk towards what is unlawful. The ears will be put straight so that they do not listen to musical instruments, slander or backbiting. The situation of the tongue will improve so that it does not speak except what is good. If the heart is corrupted, the whole body becomes corrupt and the limbs will not depart except towards evil conduct and mischief.
The matter of the heart is either set aright or corrupted by the prayer. If the prayer is good it is an indication that the heart has benefited and that it is sound and wholesome. If it is not good, it is an indication of the heart receiving little benefit and of its corruption. Evil deeds then become manifest and overtake the limbs. Know that every prayer which is performed with awe and humility enlivens the heart and stimulates it to do good deeds and also makes it adapt to good deeds, just as every good action which is performed outside of the prayer increases ones khushoo' within the prayer. In a hadeeth there occurs,
"Upon you is the Night Prayer (Tahajjud) as it was the habit of the righteous people before you. It is a means of nearness to Allaah, the Exalted, a prevention from evil deeds and an expiation for sins."
[Reported by Ahmad in his Musnad, at-Tirmidhee and others. It is also in Saheehul-Jaami, no. 3957].
The Messenger (PBUH) has made it clear that the Night Prayer is a prevention from sins in that it stops the one who performs it from evil deeds and incites him to do good deeds. Therefore, it is necessary for us to establish the prayer and to increase in it. Likewise we must perform the Night Prayer, standing awestruck, humble and submissive to Allaah, the Sublime, our hearts weeping over what we have neglected and fallen short of while hoping for the mercy of our Lord. We seek nearness to him by calling Him by His Names and Attributes, asking Him by them that he establishes us (upon His path) and that He gives us benefit from our prayer and standing at night.
It was said to the Prophet (PBUH),
"So and so prays the whole of the night, yet when he reaches the morning he steals!" He (PBUH) said, "What you say (i.e., about his prayer) should prevent him from that..." or he said, "His prayer will prevent him (from that)." 
When the prayer of the servant reaches its goal in preventing him from sin and disobedience it is written for him in Iliyyeen as is mentioned in the hadeeth,
"If a prayer is performed after another prayer and there is no foolishness (vain talk) between them, it is written in Illiyyeen." [Reported by Aboo Daawood and others. It is also in Saheehul-Jaami, no.3731].
Therefore, the performance of prayer with earnestness and bringing together the elements of love, fear, hope, awe and reverence, all of which are constituents of khushoo' is a necessary and vital matter. As is well known, the difference between an accepted prayer and a rejected one is khushoo'. Ibn al-Qayyim mentions in Al-Madaarij,
"Two people pray in the same row, behind the same Imaam-and the difference between the prayers of the two is like the distance between the heavens and the earth."
And this is because in one heart is khushoo' and in the other heart-which is dead and has found more pleasure in escaping to the valleys of the world-there is the darkness of heedlessness.
1 The taabi'ee, Talq ibn Habeeb was asked to define taqwaa. He said, "Taqwaa is to act in obedience to Allaah, hoping for His Mercy upon a light from Him. And taqwaa is to abandon acts of disobedience to Allaah, out of fear of Him upon a light from Him." Reported by Ibn Abee Shaibah in his Kitaabul-Eemaan, no. 99. Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) explained the phrase, "... upon a light from Him ..." to mean pure and correct faith, that nothing but pure faith initiated the servant to perform the action. [Transl. note]
2 Reported by Ahmad, Bazzaar and others. Shaikh al-Albaanee declared it authentic in Silsilatul-Aahaadeeth ad-Da'eefah, vol.1, p.16, in relation to the false hadeeth, "Whoever is not prevented by his prayer from committing obscene and evil deeds does not increase except in distance from Allaah."