What is the connection between thanking Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) and offering the five daily prayers (salat)?
Fourth Word (Part 1)
NOTE: The quoted passages are from Ustadh Bediuzzaman’s book and the commentaries below them are my own.
One time, a great ruler sends two servants of his– giving each of them twenty four gold coins – to a two month away private and beautiful farm for [the purpose of] settlement. And orders them “pay your travel and ticket expenses with this money. Also, buy some necessary things for your house there. In a distance of a day, there is a station. A car, a ship, a train, and an airplane are found [there]. They are boarded depending on [one’s] capital.”
The two servants leave after taking their lesson. One of them was pleasant so that he spent a portion of money until [he reached] the station. However, within that spending he obtains such a beautiful business that will please his master, so that his capital rises from one to a thousand. Since the other servant is unfortunate and purposeless, he spends twenty three of his gold coins until [he arrives at] the station. He loses them, giving them to such things as gambling. [Only] a single gold coin of his is left. His friend tells him “Look here, give this Lira for a ticket. So that, in this long path, you will not be left on foot and hungrey. Also, our master is generous; maybe he will show mercy, [and] forgive the mistake you made. They will let you in the airplane as well. We will go to our place of residence in one day. Otherwise you will be forced to travel hungry, on foot, [and] alone in a two month desert.
If this man were to get stubborn and not give that single gold coin of his to a ticket which is equivalent to a treasure key and instead spends it for sinful entertainment for a temporary delight; wouldn’t even the most mindless man understand how very mindless, harmful, and unfortunate he is?
Thus, o prayerless man! And o my soul who does not enjoy prayer!
As for that ruler, [He is] our Lord [and] Creator. As for those two servant travelers; one is religious [and] performs his prayers with eagerness; the other are heedless (ghafil) prayerless people. As for those twenty four gold coins, they are the twenty four hours of life in each day. As for that special farm, it is heaven. As for that station, it is the grave. As for the journey, it is the human journey that will go to the grave, the gathering (hashr), [and] eternity. According to [one’s] actions [and] according to [one’s] strength of refraining from sin (taqwa) they pass through that long path at various levels. A portion of the people of taqwa [i.e. those who refrain from sin] pass through a path of a year in a day, like a lightning. And a portion of them pass a distance of fifty thousand years in a day, like imagination. The Qur’an of glorious significance points to this truth with its two verses. As for that ticket, it is prayer. A single hour is sufficient for the five prayer times with ablutions. If one were to spend his twenty three hours for this very short worldly life and not spend a single hour of his for that long eternal life; how much of a loss he would suffer, how much of a harm he would do to himself, and how much he would act contrary to the mind. Because if the mind accepts to give half of one’s property to a lottery gambling which a thousand men participate – though the possibility of success is one out of a thousand – then not giving one property out of twenty four to an everlasting treasure [where] success is assured by a possibility of ninety nine percent; wouldn’t a man who considers himself reasonable understand how contrary to the mind and reason it is to act [as such] and how far he strays from the mind?
However the soul and the heart and the mind have a great comfort in prayer.
Also, it is not that heavy of a duty to the body. Also, other permissible worldly acts of one who prays take the form of worship with a nice intention.
In this way he may invest his whole it capital of life to the hereafter. In a sense, he preserves temporary life.
Imagine that a poor man enters a palace to offer some gifts for the sultan. Upon entering, he sees gifts worth of millions of Liras offered by people far wealthier than himself. Ashamed by his own, he tells the sultan “I offer you all the gifts here under my name, since you deserve them all. If I could I would offer them all to you.” Since the sultan is not in need of anything, he views this poor man’s gift with a value equal to that of his intention.
The daily prayers in a way resemble this scenario. We enter God’s presence to present our thanks for the boundless favors He bestows upon us. Since our limited thanks is of very minimal value, we present not only our own thanks but that of the universe as well. Indeed, for instance in the tashahhud we say “All greetings belong to Allah and all prayers and good acts.” Since our own greetings, prayers, and good acts are close to nothing; we include that of the whole creation since that is what God deserves (in fact so much more). Since Allahu Teala is in need of absolutely nothing and since He is the all Merciful, He accepts our thanks as though it were universal. In other words, our limited insignificant thanks becomes universal through prayer.
In the chapter of An-Nahl (The Bee), Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) states,
وَاللَّهُ أَخْرَجَكُمْ مِنْ بُطُونِ أُمَّهَاتِكُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ شَيْئًا وَجَعَلَ لَكُمُ السَّمْعَ وَالْأَبْصَارَ وَالْأَفْئِدَةَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
“It is God who brought you out of your mothers’ wombs knowing nothing, and gave you hearing and sight and minds, so that you might be thankful.”
So why did God create us and shower us with mercy? So we may be thankful. For all the boundless favors that we are bestowed by God, our duty as humans is to be thankful and express our thanks through worship. Since prayer is the “pillar of religion”, it accomplishes this in the best form, providing a way to express not only a partial thanks but also a universal one.
Indeed the Prophet Muhammad (عليه الصلاة و السلام) spent long periods of the night to pray and when asked about it replied that he needs to be thankful for the favors of God,
حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو نُعَيْمٍ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا مِسْعَرٌ، عَنْ زِيَادٍ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ الْمُغِيرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ يَقُولُ إِنْ كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم لَيَقُومُ لِيُصَلِّيَ حَتَّى تَرِمُ قَدَمَاهُ أَوْ سَاقَاهُ، فَيُقَالُ لَهُ فَيَقُولُ “ أَفَلاَ أَكُونُ عَبْدًا شَكُورًا ”.
The Prophet (ﷺ) used to stand (in the prayer) or pray till both his feet or legs swelled. He was asked why (he offered such an unbearable prayer) and he said, “should I not be a thankful slave.
It is common to hear people say they perform all their prayers and acts of worship but their worldly lives still do not improve. As seen in the hadith above, worship is an expression of thanks to God for the endless favors given to us, it is not for asking more.
In addition to offering a universal thanks to God, prayer also highlights the role of humans in the universe. Out of all creatures in the universe, humans were chosen to offer the worship of all creatures and act as a representative of the universe before God.
For these and many other reasons, prayer is considered the “ticket” to heaven.
 Twenty Fourth Word, Fifth Branch, Second FruitTwenty Fourth Word, Fifth Branch, Second Fruit
 In-book reference: Sahih al-Bukhari 1130, Book 19, Hadith 10
USC-MSA web (English) reference: Vol. 2, Book 21, Hadith 230
(deprecated numbering scheme)
 Note that praying (dua) to ask for something is encouraged in Islam. It is different than attempting to utilize your worship to achieve more. You may, for instance pray to God in order to buy a house; however performing your daily prayers (salat), fasting, etc… should not be done with the intention that God will provide you with a house. The intention of worship is to be thankful and not to ask for more.