Since the dawn of human civilization man has urged and strived for the station (maqaam) of nearness (qurbiat) to Allah subhanahuwata’ala. We can find many examples of this in The Holy Quran. Almighty Allah (swt) states:
“And when Musa (Moses) came at the time and place appointed by Us, and his Lord spoke to him, he said: “O my Lord! Show me (Yourself), that I may look upon You.” Allah said: “You cannot see Me…” (Sura Al-Araf verse: 143)
The urge and strive for achieving the station of closeness to Allah (swt) can also be seen in the holy life of the Companions (Sahabas) (Ra:) of Hazrat Muhammad (sm). It is stated in the Quran:
“And when My slaves ask you (O Muhammad) concerning Me, then (answer them), I am indeed near. I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me.” (Sura Al-Baqarah verse 186)
Now the most significant question would be how close is Allah (SWT) to man? Allah (SWT) himself provides answer to this question in the holy Quran:
“And We are nearer to him than his jugular vein’ (Sura Qaf verse 16)
So when Allah (SWT) is so close to us, He exists in our existence, then what in this universe actually holds us from seeing Him and feeling Him. It is our “Nafs” (which in English is called the lower soul).
The Qur’an describes the human soul, or nafs, as having three conditions or potentials which are present within it simultaneously. The first, or lowest, of these is referred to by the term: “nafs al-ammårah bi’l-su’ – the soul that constantly incites to evil.” The second of these is referred as “nafs al-lawwåmah – the reproachful soul.” And the third is the “nafs al-mu†ma’innah – the soul at peace, or tranquil soul” It is this soul that is most worthy of divine assistance and acceptance. Of this, the Qur’an relates:
“O tranquil soul! Return to your Lord, pleased and well-pleasing. Enter among My servants. Enter My Paradise.” (Sura Al-Fajr, verse 27-30)
So those who wants to achieve the stage of nearness and union to Allah (swt) must struggle against their “nafs al-ammårah bi’l-su’’. This struggle against “Nafs” is termed as “Jihad-il-Akbar” by Hazrat Muhammad (sm).
The hadith master Mulla `Ali al-Qari relates in his book al-Mawdu`at al-kubra, also known as al-Asrar al-marfu`a :
Suyuti said: al-Khatib al-Baghdadi relates in his “History” on the authority of Jabir: The Prophet came back from one of his campaigns saying: “You have come forth in the best way of coming forth: you have come from the smaller jihad to the geater jihad.” They said: “And what is the greater jihad?” He replied: “The striving (mujahadat) of Allah’s servants against their idle desires.” (Ali al-Qari, al-Asrar al-marfu`a (Beirut 1985 ed.) p. 127)
The Prophet sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said: al-mujahidu man jahada nafsahu fi ta’at Allah ‘azza wa jall (“The struggler is the one who strives against his soul/self in obedience to God, the Mighty and Majestic.”) [At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, Tabarani, Hakim, etc.]
The path and the process that leads and guides us to struggle against the greatest enemy of mankind, i.e. Nafs, and reach the station of nearness (qurbiyat) and union (fana wa baqa) with Allah (swt) is termed as Tariqat.
Allah said: “Those who have striven for Our sake, We guide them to Our ways” (29:96).
The Holy Quran has mentioned “Tariqat” in Sura Al-Fatiha as “Sirat-al-Mustakim” as stated:
“Ihdina-sirat al-mustaqim Sirat al-ladhina an’amta ‘alai-him” (Sura Al-Fatiha)
Meaning: “Show us the straight path:The path of those whom Thou hast favoured”
The above meaning clearly suggests that “Sirat-al-Mustakim” “The Straight Path” is the path that the “Favoured Ones” of Allah (SWT) have followed. There is no doubt that amongst the ones whom Allah (SWT) has favoured are the Prophets, Siddiquine, Shohadas and Swalehin (or Awliya-Allah).
The Holy Quran in Sura Al Maidah has mentioned “Tariqat” as “Minhaj”. The Quran states:
“To each among you, We have prescribed a law (Shariat) and a clear way (Minhaj).”(Surah Al-Maidah Verse 48)
In the above verse of the Holy Quran we can clearly see that Allah (SWT) has clearly mentioned two things mendetory for His servants to follow: one is Shariat, which is the law, and the other is the Clear Way which leads to the stage of nearness to Allah (SWT).
In Sura Jinn Allah (SWT) has identify this Straight Path or Clear Way as “Tariqat”. Allah (SWT) states in The Holy Quran:
“And [ Allah revealed] that if they had remained straight(Isteqamat) on the way(Tariqat), We would have given them abundant provision”(Sura Jinn Verse 16)
So from the above verse it is clearly understood that “Tariqat” is not an innovation but a term used in the Holy Quran by Allah (SWT) as synonym of “Sirat-al-Mustakim” and “Minhaj”.
A class of the objectors (whom we regard as critics and deal with them as such) in which category, the learned scholars of the Orientalists are also a part, are of the opinion that the source of the practices of Tasawwuf is the Mythology of Hindu religion and they gleefully relate in their research theses that like the practices of Hindu sages, the practices like Chilla exaction, constancy in adoption of certain verbal rituals and practical modes of physical concentration (commonly known as Riyazat in Tasawwuf Terminology) and the like rehearsals among the Hindu jogies and sadhus all have been borrowed from Hindu sources and introduced in the Tasawwuf creed among Muslim Mystics! Are not these research scholars aware that the greatest leader and emancipator of mankind who was also the greatest religious teacher of all times Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa (SM) had himself chosen this special spiritual exercise known as “Chillah Kashi” in the cave of Hira before his declaration of Prophethood. It can be defined as the period or time spent in retirement in some cell either in hill cave or Khanqah (monastery) etc. for spiritual specialization, in complete and uninterrupted seclusion. There are numerous verses in the Holy Quran and Ahadis which inspire and encourage the Muslim seekers of peace of heart. A true follower of Tariqat conducts the entire worldly affair without indulging his heart in it. Although a sufi performs all the tasks associated with worldly affairs but his heart and mind completely occupied with the divine love and remembrance of Allah (SWT) because for a sufi the life in this world is merely a matter of illusion. Allah (SWT) states regarding this in the Holy Quran:
“Know you (O Mankind) that the life of this world is only play and idle talk, and pageantry and boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children; as the likeness of vegetation after rain, where of the growth is pleasing to growers and cultivators, but afterward it dries up and you see it turn yellow, then it becomes straw. And in the Hereafter there is grievous punishment, and (also) forgiveness from Allah and His good pleasure, whereas the life of the world is but matter of illusion.”(Surah Al-Hadeed: Verse, 20)
In this connection a Hadith of the Holy Prophet (SM) containing a grim warning may also be taken notice of with an attentive perception.
“What I fear about you after me is that the doors of embellishment and mundane success shall be flung open before (for) you.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
It is a matter of conscious reflection that for an Ummah who possesses its own Holy Scripture (Al-Quran) which, among other fundamental principles of successful life, contains thought-provoking and light-bearing enunciations, bringing forth the effective features of selfless devotion to Almighty Allah (Zuhd) and righteousness (Taqwa), why at all should the followers of Islam look to others who are themselves bereft of such glorious preaching, for giving them guidance for a successful life in the presence of Almighty Allah?
There is another objection that is the Sufis had disassociated themselves with the mundane affairs of the world in emulation of the Christians monastics had done before the advent of Islam and they had denied to themselves the boons and pleasing things which Almghty Allah has created for his servants. This was an open defiance of the Hadith which has expressly condemned Rohbaniyat (monasticism) in these words:
“There is no Rohbaniyat in Islam (abstinence from worldly affairs).”
It is true that the Sufis in the initial phase of the admittance in the clans of Sufism, and in order to train themselves in this arduous and exerting creed which demands purity of heart and mind together with the cleanness of habits and behavior as the essential prerequisites of this code of life, it is imperative that the candidate in this field must strive to curtail and minimize the spheres of his ultra Sufistic activities so that when he concentrates his attention in the observance of prescribed rituals and practices his mind and heart may not get distracted. As the practice in mystic exercises advances the desire and attraction of mundane delights become less and less in number and quantity. At some stage, the perfection in observance of mystic rules and requirements become norms of the new responsibilities, the Sufi does not feel any hindrance by getting rid of worldly pleasures and proceeds with greater zeal and enthusiasm in holding aloft the banner of Islamic crusades to reform the society and invite the new entrants in the Islamic fold by presenting himself as a true Islamic personality as specimen for the new comers to emulate him.
For the Christians Rohbaniyat or monastic way of life is the motto and aim of life with total and perennial abstinence from the worldly delights as chief gateway to attain Redemption and Deliverance from sinful existence. But before the revered Sufi there is no such abhorrence of materialistic life. What the great sufis have forbidden and forsaken is the disbalanced and abnormally extravagant mode of life which demolishes the edifice of morally planned life. A balanced equitable life with the guaranteed minimum needs which promise bare sustenance is what a genuine sufi demands, no more and no less! The Sufis solemnized marriages, reared children, cultivated lands and transacted business deals etc. but none of these avocations deterred and prevented them from a truly balanced, Islamic life in exact conformity of the Quranic perception:
“These are the true believing Musalmans whom the merchandise, the business transaction cause no negligence in the Remembrance of Almighty Allah.” (Al-Nur: Verse, 37)
By the way, just listen what the great sage and saint Hazrat Khawaja Nizamuddin Awliya Mahboob Elahi (Ra:) has said in his famous book Fawaidul Fawad:
“Abandonment of the world (worldly life) does not mean that a person should cast off all his clothes, becomes naked and only ties a loins cloth round mid part of the body (to hide the shame) and sits at home, but in our view the desertion of worldly life means that one should put on the formal dress eat and drink what is available, but he should abstain from the avarice of amassing wealth and make no niche in his heart for the same.”
Tariqat is a path, a special path which is followed by those who crave for knowledge of Allah. In order to perform the methods of Tariqat, 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 to do it. This teacher of Tariqat is called “Pir” in Farsi and “Murshid” in Arabic. Allah (SWT) says in The Holy Quran:
Meaning: “O you who have believed, fear Allah and seek the means [of nearness] to Him and strive in His cause that you may succeed.” (Sura Al-Maidha Verse 35)
In this verse the word Waseela (medium ) refers to a Kamil Murshid. According to dictionary waseela (medium) means such source or means through which one can reach ones destination and it should be so helpful that all the needs of the needy are fulfilled and he is completely satisfied by obtaining all goals of his life.
Lissan-ul-Arab (volume II-page 725) defines Waseela as “by means of which closeness to some other thing is achieved”. The above verse clearly asks the believers (Momeen) to fear Allah (i.e. to have Taqwa which includes Namaz, Roza, Hajj, Zakat and following the orders given by Allah and His Rasul (SM)) and after reaching the stage of Taqwa find a Wasilah (Murshid) and strive for success.
Striving on the way to spiritual success is not easy. How would someone know the way to success unless the person have someone specialized in the field to guide him. That is why Allah has said in The Holy Quran:
“And [had you been present], you would see the sun when it rose, inclining away from their cave on the right, and when it set, passing away from them on the left, while they were [laying] within an open space thereof. That was from the signs of Allah . He whom Allah guides is the [rightly] guided, but he whom He leaves astray – never will you find for him a protecting guide(Murshid).”(Sura Al-Kahf Verse: 17)
So the above verse clearly indicates that the one whom Allah (SWT) wants to guide will find for him a protecting guide, that is, Murshed, the term used in The Holy Quran.
Someone might argue that in the above verse the term “Protecting Guide / Murshid” refers to Allah (SWT) Himself. Let us see what Allah (SWT) has said in The Holy Quran:
Meaning: “Verily, your Wali (Protector or Helper) is Allah, His Messenger, and the believers, – those who perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat), and give Zakat, and they bow down (submit themselves with obedience to Allah in prayer).” (Sura Maidah Verse, 55)
So it is clear from the above verse of The Holy Quran that it is not only Allah (SWT) who is the Wali and Murshid of the guided ones but also Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa (SM) and his Momeen Awliya-Allahs.
Allah (SWT) Himself has asked the Momeens (the believers) to be with the Sadeqeen (another word used for the Awliya Allah)
Meaning: “O you who have believed, fear Allah and be with those who are true.” (Sura At-Tawbah Verse 119)
In conclusion I would like to say that “Tariqat” is not an alien concept. It is what Allah Has said and His Rasul Muhammad (SM) has practiced. Hazrat Khawaja Garib Nawaz Moinuddin Chishti Ajmeeri (Ra:) said:
“Ma talibe Khuda yam bar din e Mustafa yam”
Meaning: “I seek Allah (SWT) on the basis of Din e Mustafa (SM).”