Shari’ah, Tariqah, Haqiqah

by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks


The meaning and usage of the terms shari’ah, tariqah and haqiqah is a question that has been the subject of some controversy. What exactly do they mean and why do they exist in the first place. The first of those words "shariah" is to most of us a completely familiar term. When we talk about "shari’ah" people generally understand that we are either talking about the din in general or specifically about the legal aspects or fiqh of Islam. The common expression is " we have to live according to the shari’ah" and we immediately understand when we hear this " according to the law of Allah, the Most High". The question that often mystifies Muslims is what else can there possibly be besides the law of Allah, the Most High? We have our din, we have the shari’ah the prophetic code to live by, what is the tariqah or haqiqah we hear about in connection with tasawwuf? We hope to clarify some of this in the following essay.

I’ve made the point that tafakkur is the indispensable beginning of the conscious, purposive Muslim life. Without tafakkur our lives as Muslims have to be shallow. Our Islam wont be more than imitating our parents or wont go beyond simply falling in line with the Muslim social and cultural life style. The crucial point here is that tafakkur can be revolutionary. It can change our lives radically and totally. Through the barakah and nur of tafakkur the meaning of life is shown to be far more than merely imitation and blind belief. We become dissatisfied with our simple, shallow, imitative, material existence. This dissatisfaction often leads to anguish and confusion. We are in great peril if no reliable and solid guidance is available during this time. It is best we bide our time in patience and open ourselves to mature and wise counsel. Tafakkur, we have to remember, can be induced or even forced on us from unexpected quarters. The ways of guidance are many and sometimes mysterious. Deep tafakkur can, for instance, be triggered by a crisis in one’s life - the death of a loved one or the loss and the subsequent despair of a job lost or a critical accident where the victim looses a limb and so forth.

To this Muslim "in crises", Allah, the Most High speaks beckoningly, " Surely this (Quran) is a reminder (tadhkirah) and he who wishes let him seek a path (sabil) to his Lord."

This verse makes two important points;

  1. The Quran is a tadhkirah. It serves as a reminder of fundamental truths we have forgotten, the truth of where we come from and where we ultimately are all going to. It is a light that re-awakens us to the nature of reality, to the truth of ourselves and of what is beyond the grave. We are called to our higher purpose and destiny. "And we have not created men and jinn except to worship Me". Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, says, "to worship me," means to "to know me".
  2. If the Quran reminds the Muslim of this let him adopt a path that leads to a deeper spiritual knowledge of Allah, the Most High, to His Pleasure and ultimately to His Paradise. Let him adopt a path that leads to his ultimate destiny, to the ma’rifah of Allah, the Most High.

The "sabil" or path or general program that leads to these high goals comprises three interrelated aspects, according to the ‘Ulama. Let’s us look briefly at each of these aspects:

The haqiqah in turn involves three important phases of development:

So to summarise what we are saying here; the shari’ah is the boat we all have to sail on, the tariqah is the sea, and the haqiqah is the jewels and pearls we extract from the sea; or the shari'ah is the tree, the tariqah are the branches and the haqiqah is the fruit we enjoy.

All three of these aspects together are referred to as the "sabil" (way) to your "Rabb" in the verse quoted earlier. We cannot come near to Allah, the Most High, unless we combine all three aspects in our life; knowledge of the shari’ah, practicing the shari’ah and consequently reaping the fruits of practicing the shari’ah. The solution to our dissatisfaction and spiritual alienation is found in combining all of these aspects. The words shari’ah, tariqah, haqiqah has been coined by the ‘Ulama to refer to these crucial aspects of the din.

It is reported that Imam Malik, may Allah be pleased with him said: He who practices the shari’ah without the haqiqah is a fasiq (reprobate); and he who lays claim to the haqiqah without the shari’ah has left the fold of Islam; but he who combines these aspects have truly realized (the fullness of Islam).

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