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What is Tariqa and Shari`ah? What is the difference between them? - Shaykh Said Afandi al-Chirkawi

The reason for this conversation about Tariqa was a letter of Jamal Hassanov from the village of Khindah of the Khunzakh District. In his letter, he asked several questions.

Jamal, my brother in faith, I shall try to talk to you with the help of Allah and relying on what I have heard from `Alims to make sure that the answer to your moving questions will also be of use for other people striving for knowledge. If this talk is true and trustworthy, accept it, but if it is not, reject it. If you find any mistake, correct it and forgive me. But if you have some other questions, you may ask them too. Thus we can come to a mutual understanding with each other and gain knowledge from each other, inshaAllah, for knowledge is a thing which must be passed to each other by the will of Allah.

Sufis say, “Tariqa is a path, a special path which is followed by those who crave for knowledge of Allah.“ In order to perform the Wirds of Tariqa, it is necessary to have a man who is able to teach the right way to fulfill them and who has a valid permission for it and order (Amr) to do it. Thus, it is allowed to teach Tariqa if there is permission and order to do it. Otherwise, Imams of Tariqa do not permit to teach Wirds to others, no matter what heights of theological knowledge the person has reached.

It is said in Tariqa books, “If a Shaykh teaches Wird without any permission for it, his Murid will perish” (what is meant here is a spiritual death).

There are different paths of Tariqa. Each of them has its own special tasks (Wirds), methods of teaching which must be in accordance with how they are described in books. Every Sufi path has its own Imam, just like each of the four Mazhabs has its own Imam. For example, Imam of Naqshbandi Tariqa is Imam Muhammad al-Bukhari, Imam of Shazili Tariqa is Abu al-Hassan ash-Shazili, Imam of Qadiri Tariqa is `Abdul-Qadir Gilani, Imam of Zuhadi Tariqa is Imam al-Ghazali, etc.

Names of Tariqas can change. For instance, Naqshbandi Tariqa first was called Siddiqi because the first man to follow this path after the Prophet (pbuh) was Abu Bakr as-Siddiq. Then it was renamed Taifuri, but finally it came to be known as Naqshbandi, and it is this name which is popular today, though later it was also called Khalidiya and Mahmudiya.

Every Tariqa must have its chain coming from the Prophet (pbuh) himself to the last living bearer of this doctrine, the Shaykh, without interruption.

The most important condition for the one who is going to teach Tariqa is to be a link in this chain. The meaning of the word “Silsilah” (chain) is that all links of this chain are connected with each other without interruption. It may be illustrated by the following example: in order for us to have electricity at home, first it must pass through a transformer and only after that it can be distributed to houses. The transformer itself must be connected to a power station. Only in this case will electricity be supplied to light bulbs, sockets, switchers etc., if they are in good condition, and houses will be lighted with the help of Allah. However, if there is no connection between the transformer and the power station, it will be of no use, though the transformer itself may be made of most precious metals and glitter brightly, lighting the vicinity. This is an example we had in mind when we spoke about a special path (Tariqa).

However, we do not mean here that no one except Sufi Shaykhs can be of use for people. There is a Hadith which says, “`Alims are the luminaries of the Ummah.” They bring benefit to people and guide them to the right path according to the knowledge given by God to everyone.
At the same time, it is necessary to know that not everyone who has got knowledge becomes an `Alim. For instance, if we call anyone who knows Arabic language an ‘Alim, it will be absurd because there are enough unbelievers who know Arabic. Pay attention to this too.

As we have already pointed out, though there are many paths of Tariqa, they all have the same purpose, which is to know Allah. For example, in order to perform the Hajj many people go there by plane, others go by bus or by car, and some of them go on foot, that is everyone goes as they can and according to what is predestined by Allah. But whatever way they choose for getting there, their purpose is the same, to perform the obligatory Hajj. Likewise, all Tariqa trends have the same purpose, which is striving to know the Almighty. Shari`ah is the Law of Allah and the rules of serving Him which were brought to mankind through prophets and revelations of Holy Scriptures sent to them. As for the difference between Shari`ah and Tariqa, they are truly just the same and there is no difference between them as such. People view them as different things and think that there is no connection between them.

قال عليه الصلاة و السلام: ((الشريعة أقوال و الطريقة أفعال و الحقيقة أحوال و المعرفة رأس المال)). و طهارة الشريعة بالماء و التراب، و طهارة الطريقة بالتخلية عن الهوى، و طهارة الحقيقة خلوّ القلب عما سوى الله تعالى.
قال الشيخ نجم الدين الكبرى: الشريعة كالسفينة و الطريقة كالبحر و الحقيقة كالدرّ. فمن أراد الدرّ ركب في السفينة، ثم شرع في البحر، ثم وصل إلى الدرّ، فمن ترك هذا الترتيب لا يصل إلى الدرّ. فأول شيء وجب على الشخص من المطالب فهو الشريعة، و المراد منها أوامر الله و رسوله من الغسل و الوضوء و الصوم و الصلاة و غير ذلك..الخ. <<جامع الأصول>> ص 77/78

Speaking about Shari`ah and Tariqa, `alims give different illustrative examples. Some of them say that they are like a back and a stomach, one cannot live without other. Others say that they are like a body and a soul.

Others compare Shari`ah with a ship, Tariqa with a sea and Haqiqah with a pearl extracted from the sea. First a man has to go on board a ship in order to get a pearl from the sea. Shari`ah is this ship. Only then he can dive into the sea, that is into Tariqa. This is the meaning we can derive from this example.

Many people say that it is necessary to learn Shari`ah before entering Tariqa. How may a man enter Tariqa without knowing Shari`ah? Brother Jamal, if you are concerned about this problem, then listen to me!

The meaning of entering Tariqa after learning Shari`ah is that we must get basic knowledge about Shari`ah including the right way to perform the major and minor ablutions, prayers, observe fast, pay Zakah, etc. This is what must be learned and performed by everyone who wants to know Tariqa. But you should understand that knowing Shari`ah does not mean that it is impossible to enter Tariqa without observing all its parts to the full extent.

Of course, there are certain conditions for entering Tariqa; we shall discuss them further on, inshaAllah. But to say that it is possible to enter Tariqa only after gaining perfection in fulfillment of all parts of Shari`ah is like giving an advice to visit a doctor only after you have cured all diseases. The aim of visiting a doctor is to cure all diseases, isn’t it? But does a healthy man need a doctor after healing? Shaykh Hassan-Afandi from the village of Kahib also said so.

Jamal, think over these words! I do not think you are one of those who cannot reason. It is logical that a man who is ill must visit a doctor first of all.

The Prophet (pbuh) said that Shari`ah is like words which are uttered. Tariqa is adherence of the body to these words; Haqiqah is a state of soul which results from uniting Shari`ah and Tariqa; the knowledge of Allah (Ma`rifah) by means of true learning is our main purpose of serving Him.

Ablution and cleansing by Shari`ah is performed with water and, in case of its absence, with earth (Tayamum). But in Tariqa ablution is performed by means of preserving one’s Nafs from yielding to passions. And in Haqiqah ablution is performed by cleansing the heart of everything except Allah.

Note, Jamal, that it follows from all this that in order for a prayer performed by us to become perfect, Shari`ah, Tariqa and Haqiqah must unite. This is how strong the connection between Shari`ah and Tariqa in serving the Almighty must be. However, there is no Tariqa without Shari`ah, even though Shari`ah is possible without Tariqa.
Taken from: Majmu`atul Fawaid by Shaykh Said Afandi al-Chirkawi