Tariqa means guidance, which is related by a teacher, a sheikh (or a religious priest). At any given point in time, there are several sheikhs existing in the world and all have their own disciplines of reaching Allah (SWT). Examples of these disciplines, as mentioned earlier, include the Qadria, Chishtia, Suhrawardia, Naqshbandiya etc. These disciplines are well known as Tariqas' or ways to reach Allah (SWT) as defined and taught by the Sheikhs.
Different Tariqas may represent varied 'visual' practices, but all revolve around the same core teachings of Allah. The differences among them are only superficial and represent the many different ways to reach Allah (SWT) which are as varied as a man's breaths. All Tariqas offer major stages of spiritual advancement to adapt the way to Allah (SWT) and all adhere the concept o 'Fana fi-sheikh'.
'Fana fi-sheikh' dictates that one must be totally sincere in following one's sheikh and his teaching to the extent that eventually there is no distinction between the two, the two are one. As Hazrat Jalaluddin Rumi (R.A) once said "I am Shamsuddin of Tabriz" and his great teacher Shamsuddin said "I am Jalaluddin". The same can be said of the great Sufi Saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and his student Hazrat Ameer Khusro.
Through the guidance of one's sheikh, one progresses from Fana-fi-sheikh and reaches the next stage of fana fi-rasul which means reaching the Holy Prophet (PBUH). At this stage, the student follows and adheres to the traditions (the sunnat) of the Holy Prophet (S.A.S). The student is a true practising Muslim and his behaviour is exemplary to other to follow. When he has perfected this stage, the Prophet (S.A.S) takes him to the final ultimate stage of Fana-fi-Allah (SWT), where the individual himself no longer exists, his whole existence is submerged in Allah (SWT)'s love only. An example of this stage is the proclamation by Mansoor hal-aj (R.A) when he uttered the words 'anal-haq' which translates into 'I am the creative truth'. When one finishes himself, one no longer exists but through Allah (SWT), dissolved and annihilated within Allah (SWT), one reaches the ultimate stage of 'fana'. To reach this stage, the individual has already passed through the two seas of fana.
These stages can be defined as follows:
1. Dissolve oneself, so one looses one's memory which is kept in a safe place ready for the next stage.
2. Allah (SWT) slowly allows His knowledge to be diffused into the follower of Tariqa.
3. The follower now experiences the world through his newly acquired attributes and knowledge and 'sees' the world through 'new eyes'.
4. Once the follower has absorbed this knowledge and experiences, he is ready to be sent back (spiritually speaking) to the world, to the masses. He is now qualified to teach others in Gods ways and become a Sheikh. These are noble souls with Ilim (knowledge) and Amal (deeds). And, this is the reason why they are Kamel (the enlightened ones).
The above stages are defined, and agreed by the great teachers such as Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani (R.A), Hazrat Moin-uddin Chishti (R.A), Hazrat Bah-uddin Naqshbandi (R.A) and the Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi (R.A). Beyond these stages, begin the rankings of the Prophets (A.S).
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