What does it mean to offer up a prayer? It means to give serious thought to our lives being scrutinized by an all-seeing Deity, and to ward off all indecency and evil with words of submission to and praise of God. Steadfastness and regularity in saying one’s prayers are enjoined by the Quran, but the Prophet cautions that “if a man’s prayer does not fend off indecency and evil, then his prayer is not true prayer.” (Sahih Ibn Hibban, Hadith No. 2560)
True prayer demands that all one’s mind and heart be given to it. If one’s prayer is bereft of spirit, it is no better than an empty ritual, a mechanical series of mouthing which bears no relation either to real life or to genuine piety. Such lip service to the outward forms of religion will certainly not protect one from falling into the ways of evil.
It is like a son claiming great respect for his parents but allowing them to toil unceasingly without once offering them help. Or the brother who claims great affection for his sister, but who allows her to go hungry while he himself eats up every last morsel. Or the man who swears himself to lifelong friendship, but who shrugs his shoulders and turns his back the moment his friend is in dire distress. Just as none of these people are sincere in what they profess, so is the man who mouths pious words with his mind elsewhere a hollow impostor in the eyes of God.
Whatever a person recites in prayer is a covenant before God that he will keep His commandments. It should never then be possible to step out of the place of worship after prayers and immediately begin treating others with callousness and arrogance. Since the very act of praying is a manifestation of one’s heart being full of fear and love of God, how can someone behave as if he has never heard of such sentiments the moment he leaves the hallowed atmosphere of the place of worship? Prayer which does not prevent such undesirable and mean-spirited conduct is soulless and without value. In fact, it is not prayer in the true sense of the word at all.