Shari’ah, Tariqah, Haqiqah by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks
The meaning and usage of the terms Shari’ah, Tariqah and Haqiqah is the subject of some controversy. What exactly do they mean and why do they exist in the first place. The first of those words “Shariah” is to most of us a reasonbly familiar term. When we talk about “Shari’ah” people generally understand that we are either talking about the din in general or specifically about the legal aspects or fiqh of Islam. The common expression is ” we have to live according to the shari’ah” and we immediately understand when we hear this ” according to the law of Allah, the Most High”. The question that often mystifies some Muslims is what else can there possibly be besides the law of Allah, the Most High? We have our Din, we have the Shari’ah the prophetic code to live by, what is the Tariqah or Haqiqah we hear about in connection with Tasawwuf?
Allah, the Most High says, ” Surely this (Quran) is a reminder (tadhkirah) and he who has the will let him seek a path (sabil) to his Lord.”
This verse makes two important points;
- The Quran is a tadhkirah. It serves as a reminder of the fundamental truths we have forgotten, the truth of where we come from and where we ultimately are all going to. It is a light that re-awakens us to the nature of reality, to the truth of ourselves and of what is beyond the grave. We are called to our higher purpose and destiny. “And we have not created men and jinn except to worship Me”. Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, says, “to worship me,” means to “to know me”.
- So having been reminded of all of this let the Muslim adopt a path, a way that leads from his state of forgetfullness to our original state of rememberance. Let him seek a means to return to Allah, the Most High, to His Pleasure and to His Paradise. Let him adopt a path that leads to knowledge (ma’rifah) of Allah, the Most High. The verse also alludes to another important point. Let the one who “has the will” persue the path to Allah. It is a well-known teaching of the masha’ikh that the beginning of the path is “iradah”, the persistent desire to travel closer to Allah. So the first thing we need to search for is a means to awaken the “iradah”, and once awoken to thank Allah for this blessing. When this “iradah” appears in our soul, this longing to draw close to Allah is the clearest sign of His calling us to Him.
According to Sh. Amin al-Kurdi in his “Tanwir al-qulub”, the Prophetic path that leads to these high goals comprises of the following three interrelated elements;
- Knowledge, of the legal rules, beliefs, ethical and spiritual principles revealed to the Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, collectively called the Shari’ah. The scholars of Tawhid, Fiqh and Tasawwuf did the crucial work of deriving, extracting and compiling the Shari’ah from the Quran and the Sunnah. Some would add as a primary source, the practise of the People of Medina and still others would add the consensus of the Companions, may Allah be pleased with all of them.
- Practice of the Shari’ah, preferably under the guidance of a qualified master and teacher. The practice of the Shari’ah basicly means staying away from all the prohibited things, both outwardly and inwardly, and carrying out the commands of the shar’ to the best of ones ability. The practise of the Shari’ah is referred as the Tariqah. Tariqah in Arabic means, “road” or “method” and from a very early phase in Muslim History, probably from the second century AH, was used to denote the “practice” of the Shari’ah.
- Realisation or becoming a reality, in Arabic called the Haqiqah. Haqiqah is the fruit of knowledge and its continuous practice. The Haqiqah is the fruit of the Shari’ah and the Tariqah. Haqiqah, says Sh. Amin al-Kurdi, also has a a number of phases or aspects;
- The lifting or thinning of the veil between the seeker and the Divine Essence and His Attributes, His Majesty and Beauty, His Nearness to us and His Nearer–thanness. As a result of these realizations and this “tasting”, the seeker gains access to the secrets of the Tariqah and the lights and insights of the Haqiqah.
- The nafs is cleansed of all the lower qualities and rebuilt with the praiseworthy qualities. The great akhlaq of the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, now becomes his akhlaq. His patience, repentance, taqwa, istiqamah (regular worship), reliability and tawakkul (trust in Allah) are deep rooted and genuine.
- His chest has now finally opened to the nur of Islam. Ibadah and good deeds comes to him without any effort. He has reached the stage of al-nafs al-mutmainnah (the peaceful self) and reached a state of complete acceptance of the Din at every level of his being.
As the Prophet, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is reported to have said, ” He who practices what he knows, Allah will teach him what he doesn’t know.”
So to summarise; the Shari’ah is the boat we all have to sail on, the Tariqah is the sea, and the Haqiqah is the jewels and pearls we extract from the sea; or the Shari’ah is the tree, the Tariqah is the branches and the Haqiqah is the fruit we enjoy. All three of these aspects together are the elements of the “sabil” (way) to your “Rabb” in the verse quoted earlier. In our quest to come near to Allah, the Most High, to really understand the Quran as a tadhkirah, we have to combine all three elements; knowledge of the Shari’ah, practicing the Shari’ah and consequently reaping the fruits of practicing the Shari’ah. The solution to our dissatisfaction and spiritual alienation is found in this.
The words Shari’ah, Tariqah, Haqiqah in the sense we defined them earlier are used by the ‘Ulama to refer to these crucial elements or stages of the din, knowledge, practise and realisation. These terms are sometimes defined with minor differences by other scholars. We will require substantial space to discuss all the various definitions and statements of the scholars on this subject. Shaykh Amin’s definition seems the most inclusive of all the definitions I looked at, and Allah knows best. As a cautionary note, readers must also remember that words convey certain meanings when used together as we doing in this essay. These words can however have other meanings when used alone and within other contexts. For example, the word Tariqah is also used to refer to a school of Tasawwuf or to the jama’ah of a particular Master of the path. The students of Imam ‘Ali ibn Muhammad Assanusi, the great 18th century reformer, loves to call themselves Sanusi’s. Shaykh ‘Umar Mukhtar whilst fighting Italian Colonialism, called himself and others Sanusi’s in his effort to unify the resistance. The pupils and murids of a great Shaykh often feel deeply honored to bear the name of their Shaykh. And this is really the son honoring the father, rather than a human denuding himself of his individuality or self respect.
And finally it is reported that Imam Malik, may Allah be pleased with him said: He who practices the shari’ah without the haqiqah is a fasiq (reprobate); and he who lays claim to the haqiqah without the shari’ah has left the fold of Islam; but he who combines these aspects have truly realized (the fullness of Islam).