I hesitate to write about Sufism, because I have no personal experience, and know very little about it. I am writing about it, because, my personal inadequacy notwithstanding, not to mention it, while mentioning all others, would have been a disrespect to such a noble path. It is a well travelled path or rather a highway, on which thousands, if not millions, have travelled and a lot have realized God.
Due to the lack of knowledge about the exact methodology used by the travelers ( most of the books, in this area, are in foreign languages that I do not know, and, I have no desire to be a scholar; I, being a mere lover of God ), I will mainly draw from ‘shahabnama ( see sidebar )’ , which has enough details.
Shahab pursued God, by his own account, for at least forty-eight years (see post 9, preselected ….”). He mentions his reading about the four big and several minor channels of Islamic spirituality ( called tarikat or tasauwuf). He should, then, be an authority on Islamic spirituality. But nothing surprises the reader more than his conclusion, that spirituality is nothing more than a method used to entice people to the dry and tedious, often difficult, routine of the practices of the five basic tenets of Islam, called shariat. For sure, the practices are difficult to do, because they have to be performed continuously.
For instance the daily prayers, called namaz (consisting of thanking and glorifying God and the prophets, and asking God for help), requires washing ( and water may be ice cold ) of parts of body before namaz, clean clothes (without urine ), getting up and leaving a warm bed before dawn, and saying namaz five times daily at certain hours ( a rather long namaz before sleep ). Namaz is mandatory; there is no exemption, even for one namaz (except, in certain conditions, such as, travel, sickness or unfavorable environments) in whole adult life. Another tenet requires one month per year of day-time fast, of food and water. There are three more similarly tough tenets
Therefore, according to Shahab, just as children in kindergarten, are taught through play with seducing toys, so the toys of spirituality are used to entice the seekers towards the true path, the path of shariat. Seekers may experience dazzling lights, mesmerizing sounds, of running streams and rushing ocean-waves, enchanting music, invisible voices, shaking of the body, erection of hair,etc. Seekers may think these occurrences are from God, but they are not. They are just seducing toys. The real purpose of all this is to entice the seeker towards shariat.
How does shariat come into the picture? Because, in order to practice various spiritual disciplines, one must strictly and absolutely follow shariat . So the seeker develops a habit of saying prayers , keeping fasts, etc.
Shariat is supreme. It is the big river which leads to God. Various Islamic spiritual channels are just streams which merge into the river. Without shariat ( or following the tenets of Islam ) spirituality( tarikat) is worthless, even if a practitioner walks over water
It also follows, that if one can follow shariat ( which most Muslims do, especially when they get old), then, there is no need of traveling the path of spirituality. It will be redundant.
Spirtual disciplines are similar to what are used in other religions. Fundamental practice is repetition of God’s name and Quranic phrases ( called zikar ). There are others.
I do not know, if amongst the practitioners of Islamic spirituality, this is the majority view. I hope not. I have heard of several spiritually advanced Muslim persons , who , at least externally, did not follow shariat.
Perhaps Shahab is right that shariat must be strictly followed for anybody to reach God through Islamic spirituality or tarikat but the sublime heights of tarikat (nearness and realization of God) are way loftier than mere following of shariat. There are over a billion Muslims worldwide, millions are strict followers of shariat, ,(they should all be God realized, according to Shahab, as far as I understood him ) but those who are near God are perhaps only a few dozens, and those few went through the furnace of tarikat
The great 11th century Muslim saint, Daata Gunj Bakhash,in his book, states, that his teacher (spiritual guide )lived in caves for sixty years. Living in caves and seclusion from society are the ways of tarikat