Origins of Islamic Mysticism and Its Movements


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Islamic mysticism, both Sufism and Irfan, can be traced to have originated within the Islamic tradition. Its elements are divided among familiar terms of Islam: sharī’a, tarīqa, and haqīqa. Haqīqa being the end goal and the starting point, sharī’a. The middle stages are identified as tarīqa. Understanding tarīqa is pivotal to understanding the spiritual concepts of Islam.

Defining tarīqa within the prophetic tradition gives insight towards how the prophet practiced his faith: both externally and inner realization. Referenced by Schimmel, the Prophet states that tarīqa is his ‘actions’. Our actions will take us towards reaching an end goal. To help us understand this rationally, we can evaluate the following understanding of orthodox mystics.

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Referencing the hadīth of Jibrīl, we must seek to understand the questions and the order in which they were asked. Islam, the starting point, secondly īman, and lastly about ihsan. Just as īman is the belief that will take you to perfection, tarīqa is the system that will take you to haqīqa. In the orthodox method, there is a focus on developing in stages. For example, the sharī’a corrects the external; the behavior. However, the role of tarīqa is to develop the internal; the heart and character. This can be seen to be aligned perfectly within the tradition of the holy prophet.

Understanding tarīqa during the early Islamic period was simple. It is simply to follow the sharī’a and turn away from the desires and the world. Their aim is to turn to God and only God, alone. Even later when different orders came about, mystics identified tarīqa as different stages or stations, as everyone’s path can be different. Ibn ‘Arabi states that each person’s tarīq is a path which they travel alone in order to reach Haqq, the Truth. Ibn ‘Arabi’s concept is equivalent to the Tao of Islam, with tarīqa being defined to the sacred path.

The Tijanis explain that Sufism is complying with Allah’s command both externally and internally, and focusing on what pleases Him and not ourselves. Comparatively, sharī’a focuses on the outwardness, and haqīqa the esoteric reality In order to reach this, the path to follow is the tarīqa. Therefore tarīqa can also be defined as the ‘way’, referencing Jalal ad-Din Rumi. The Prophet, pbuh, defines the path, or the way, as something both external and internal. In other words, this can be a literal path, along with a spiritual development along the way. When these definitions are reviewed holistically they are found to be complementary, giving insight on reaching our point destination.

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