The Classical Islamic Learning Process
Shari`at, Tariqat, Haqiqat, Ma`arifat 

The Classical Islamic Learning Process has four elements, Shari`at, Tariqat, Haqiqat, Ma`arifat. The outward meaning of each element is its "definition", in an objective sense. The inward meaning of each element represents a stage of learning. 

1. Shari`ah -- The Greater Way - The Road Most Traveled … 

Outward: The Road. The large Avenue. The necessary body of knowledge to be learned and put into practice. It is recommended at this point that the student learn only what is essential for the journey. 

Inward: Contact! The learning and practice of the fundamentals of spiritual discipline and walking the path to the Divine. 

This stage is the equivalent in faith to `Ilm-ul Yaqin. This is a very high realization because it means having heard of and accepted the existence of a knowledge of certainty. It means a belief in its existence and a willingness to learn this knowledge, It is the beginning of the pathway toward the discovery of objective truth. 

The student at this stage is known as faqir (needy of knowledge). 

Pure intention at this level is to put yourself at one with The Force That Heals The Universe by learning about and adopting into your being the fundamental knowledges and practices of Surrender. 

The primary manifestation of that intention is study and practice. 

It's symbol is the ayat of Qur`an "Laqad kaana lakum fi rasulillahi uswatun hasanatun, liman kaana yarju 'llaha wal yaumal akhira, dhakara 'llaha kathiran. " (33;21) "Certainly in the Prophet of Allah (Muhammad) there is an excellent example for one whose hope is in Allah and the last day, and remembers Allah much." 

2. Tariqah -- The Lesser Way - The Road Least Traveled… 

Outward: The path. The Way (of the Sufis), the way the road is walked, and the way the lessons are taught. This Way is the walking in Unity between the Shari`at, here representing the outward form, and the Haqiqat, here meaning the Absolute Reality. It also implies the teaching style of a particular master. Masters own their tariqah. They teach their way. Although the Source is the same, they are the interpreter of current events, and it is through their judgement that decree is manifested. It is a manifestation of ijtihad, the licensed exercise of individual judgement. 

Inward: The contact with, approval of, and learning from, a bona fide source of certain knowledge, i.e. a true Sufi master. 

This stage is the equivalent in faith to `Ain-ul Yaqin. It is the seeing and accepting a source of certainty and certain knowledge. 

The student at this stage is known as Murid (desirous, knowing disciple). 

Pure intention at this level is the attainment of total alignment with and surrender to the Will of the Divine and Benevolent Creator by means of following strictly and to the letter the instructions of the Guide. 

The primary manifestation of this intention is service and self-discipline. 

It's symbol is the ayat of Qur`an "Sami`na wa ata`na, ghufranaka Rabbana, wa ilaika al masir", "We hear and we obey. Forgive us Our Lord, for unto Thee is our return." 

3. Haqiqah -- The personal unification with (embodiment of) the Reality of certainty. 

Outward: In noun form it means The Ultimate Truth, The Reality. 

Inward: Realization of Haqiqah is essential for travelling the path. Haqiqah is, in itself, not so much a goal as it is the timeless Reality which must be realized. A true realization of Haqiqah necessitates a knowledge and practice of Shari`ah. For even though on of the manifest qualities is love, the realization of Truth has a fearful aspect also. We quickly realize our need to know how to walk in this reality for (at least) two reasons. One is to show our gratitude, and the second is to avoid error and disrespect. This is why it is said among the Sufis that religion is one hundred percent appropriate behavior, or respect. Qur`an refers to two alternatives to appropriate behavior: "incurring wrath" (the accrual of 'bad karma', exemplified by a joyless, lifeless existence), and "going astray", represented by the results of undisciplined freedom. 

This is the equivalent in faith to Haqq-ul Yaqin. The embodiment of certainty. 

The student at this stage is known as Waliyullah (befriended by Allah, gnostic saint). 

Pure intention at the level of Haqiqat is the annihilation of the personal self into the Sea of Divinity with the emerging of the transformed self that is an adequately trained and knowing representative of objective Truth and Reality. The reality of this is a gift from Allah and cannot be 'attained' but can and must be prepared for. 

Its primary manifestation is realization, true understanding, and freedom. 

It's symbol is the ayat of Qur`an "Ya ayyuhal ladhina amanu, sallu alaihi wa sallimu tasliman", "O you who believe, send upon him you sincere blessings and peace." 

4. Ma`arifah -- The Source 

Outward: In noun form it means "The Known, What is Known, Recognized", meaning The True Wisdom, The Deep Knowing of the Reality (of the human situation). 

Inward: Recognition - Self-Realization - A stage of completion, the end and source of Tariqah. The certainty of guidance and certification of teaching master. This is the goal, this is what's transmitted. it's source is Allah, The Unique, and it is not accidental. 

This stage is the equivalent in faith to Huda-ul Yaqin (certain guidance). 

The student at this stage is known as `Arif (gnostic, teacher). 

Pure intention at the level of Marifat is to continue learning, and to desire for your fellow beings what you have for yourself. 

Its primary manifestation is sobriety, responsibility, and availability. 

It's symbol is the ayat of Qur`an "Laqad jaa`akum rasulun min anfusikum azizun alaihi maa `anitum, harisun `alaikum, bil mu`minina ra`ufun rahim." "Now there has come to you a messenger from among yourselves who takes your suffering seriously and is concerned for you; caring and responsive to those who believe." 

The completion of this process of alignment is the ultimate fulfillment and the end of personal desire and hence the end of the ruling power of the perverse ego (both your own and others'), since ego is the defensive aggressive tool constructed for the purpose of attaining personal desire. Personality is thence put to the uses that Allah intended for it in the first place, namely service, friendliness and education.