Objectives and Principles of the Path (Tareeqah) to self-purification and excellence in worshipful obedience of Allah, the Exalted (Al-Ihsaan-fi-Uboodiyah)
The combined teachings and injunctions of Islam are known as the Shari’a. Both sets of acts – exoteric (commands and prohibitions related to the body) and esoteric (commands and prohibitions related to the heart, mind and inner self) are included. In the terminology of the early authorities of Shari’a, the term fiqh (Islamic law) was synonymous with the word Shari’a. Thus Imam Abu Hanifa (May Allah have mercy upon him), defined fiqh as “the recognition of that which is beneficial and harmful to the self.”
Later, in the terminology of the later authorities of Shari’a, the word fiqh was used for that branch of Islam which related to exoteric acts, while the branch that dealt with esoteric acts became known as Zuhd, Tazkiyah, Tasawwuf and ‘Ilamul Ikhlaq. The ways or methods of reforming the esoteric acts are called Tareeqah.
Tareeqah is a term derived from the Quranic verse: “Had they kept straight on the path (tareeqah), We would have made them drink of a most limpified water” (72:16). The meaning of “path” in this verse is elucidated by the hadith of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam), related by Bukhari and Muslim, ordering his followers to follow his sunnah and the sunnah of his successors. Like tareeqah in the verse, the meaning of sunnah in the hadith is “path” and “way”. Tareeqah thus can be a term applied to groups of individuals belonging to the school of thought pursued by a particular scholar or “shaykh”, as such a person was often called. So Tareeqah means At-tareeq Ilallah (The Path to the pleasure of Allah, the Majestic) as taught by our great Master Sydinina Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) which is based on Quran and Sunnah.
As mentioned previously when Hadrat Jibraeel (Alaihi Salaam) asked the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) what Ihsaan was, to which the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) replied “To worship Allah as if you are seeing Him”. Tareeqah is just another name for Ihsaan, and the method of gaining Ihsaan.
Although the Shaykhs applied different methods in training their followers, the core of each one’s programme was identical. The situation was not unlike what happens in institutions of medicine and law today. The approaches of the various universities may be different, but the body of law and the practise of medicine remain essentially the same. When they graduate from either of these faculties, each student bears the stamp of the particular school he attended.
Just as there are masaa’il (rules and regulations) relating to Fiqh, similarly there are masaa’il relating to Tareeqah. Generally the scholars know about the masaa’il of Fiqh therefore the easiest way for a person is just to ask them and to act upon the guidance. If they do not act upon the guidance then it becomes a proof against them.
For example if a common person goes to a scholar enquiring about a particular issue that he is not sure about i.e. how to make ablution, the role of the Scholar, then, will be to present him with the correct solution. The person then should go and do ablution as he has been shown. However, if he does not act upon the opinion of the scholar and does not make ablution then he will not become pure at all.
Similarly in the path of self-purification (Tareeqah) the easiest way forward is just to follow a guide and Murshid because here we are dealing with the rules regarding inner-purification which are even more complex. Therefore one needs more diligence. The seeker’s duty only remains to present their state to the spiritual guide or Shaykh. The Shaykh’s duty is then to prescribe him the solution. The seeker then should just act upon it. It is as simple as that. After a while the seeker should gradually try and learn some background to the masaa’il of Tareeqah.
In the beginning a person has no idea therefore he has no option except just to follow what he has been instructed, whether he understands or not. This is the principle of every science. When a student begins any science he just has to follow the teacher up to a certain level. After that he will slowly begin to understand the reason and purpose of the teachings as well.
If a person is aware of the basics such as the Fard, Wajib, Mustahab etc then this is helpful. For example if he knows the Fard or Wajib of prayer then he can correct mistakes himself and does not need to go to the scholars to solve his problem. Similarly in the science of self-purification or Tareeqah there are also masaa’il which are known as the principles of the Tareeqah. A seeker should know the basic principles so that he can solve problems for himself and for others, and so that he can become more self-sufficient to a certain level.
If a person is not aware of the principles, the means and exercises the seekers have to do, the effort that is required from them, then this person is on a path to destruction and will die in jahiliyyat [ignorance] by assuming and believing in other things which were not part of the objective or the goal. If you know the ins and outs of the Tareeqah, states, means, objectives, etc you cannot be confused, even if Shaitaan comes to you in a dream and says he is God or a Saint.