Allaah the Exalted said:
Indeed the prayer has been enjoined upon the
Believers at stated times.
Al-Bukhaaree (rh) said: "At stated (fixed) times. He has set time limits for them"
Abu Amr ash-Shaybaanee said: The owner of this house - and he pointed to the house of Abdullaah (ibn Mas'ood) - said: I asked the Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) 'Which action is most loved by Allaah?' He (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: "Prayer at its proper time." Then he said: What next? He (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: "Righteous conduct towards the parents." Then he said: What next? He (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) said: "Jihaad in the path of Allaah." He (Abdullaah) said: He informed me with them, If I asked him for more he would have told me more.
The Messenger (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) explained in this hadeeth that prayer at its proper time is the the most loved of actions and he (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) put this before righteousness to parents and Jihaad in the path of Allaah. The evidence for this is the use of the particle 'What next'. This particle is used to denote order and this is well known to the people of the arabic language.
Al-Haafidh Ibn Hajr said in 'Al-Fath': "Ibn Bazeeza said: That which requires looking into is the placement of Jihaad at the forefront of all the actions of the body, as it entails sacrificing ones self, with the exception of having patience upon preserving the obligatory prayers, performing them at their times and also good conduct with ones parents, a matter which is necessary all the time. None can remain patient in being observant of Allaah in this matter except the Siddeeqoon (the truthful) and Allaah knows best."
I say: I will put forward an example which will make clear the intent here:
There is a man immersed in his trade and whatever other engagements it entails and whom Shaytaan has managed to deceive so that he misses the takbeeratul-ihraam(the opening takbeer of the prayer in congregation) or a portion of the prayer in congregation. You come to him with texts about Jihaad in the path of Allaah the Exalted and also stories about the bravery of the Companions (ra). You instill in him the aspiration for Paradise and make him renounce the world. He looks at the world after you have admonished him and he sees it become small and insignificant. He reflects upon the Hereafter and sees it becoming great and awesome in his soul. So he races towards the Garden whose width is as the width of the Heavens and the Earth. He rushes to write his will, he concludes the rights he owes to others and says farewell to his family and loved ones and embarks upon the journey to battle. He is killed as a martyr in the path of Allaah.
If you had not called this man to Jihaad in the path of Allaah, the Exalted but had called him to preserving the prayers, mentioning the texts which cause inspiration and instill fear and the stories which have great effects (upon the soul), what would you have seen from him?
Perhaps he would have responded and cried over what occured. He would have made firm his resolution to safeguard the prayers upon their times and perhaps he would manage that for some number of days. But then Shaytaan comes and whispers to him, and his engagements and appointments increase, his commitments and meetings reach high proportions and Shaytaan therefore, obtains from him what he desired. He misses some of the times of prayer and then returns to struggle against his soul in order to help himself against Shaytaan. Then the same thing occurs another time and in this manner he is constantly wrestling with and battling against Shaytaan, five times in every day of his, and life is nothing but days and days...
This is a battle aginst the soul and the former example is also a battle against the soul. But where does the first type stand when compared to the second? This striving, is striving for a whole lifetime and that striving is only for an hour or perhaps days, months or years. But in either of the two situations I say: In both there is good.
I ask Allaah the Exalted that He makes me amongst those who safeguard the times of prayer and its khushoo' and likewise all of His commands, and that he writes me amongst the martyrs. Indeed He has power over all things.
Mis'ab bin S'ad said: I said to my father: O my father! Do you consider this verse: 'Those who are forgetful in their prayers'. Which of us is not forgetful? Which one of us does not converse with his soul (during the prayers)? He said: That is not what is meant. It refers to the wasting of the (correct) time for prayer. A man plays about, (wasting time in idle talk) until the time for the prayer passes.
Moosa bin Ismaa'eel said: Mahdi narrated from Ghaylaan who narrated from Anas (ra) that he said: I cannot recognise anything (now) which used to be in the era of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam). It was said: The Prayer. He said: Do you not do what you do with regard to the prayer.
He meant delaying it past its proper time.