Monday, March 16, 2009


Ṭarīqah (Arabic: طريقة‎ transliteration: Ṭarīqah; pl. طرق; ṭuruq, Persian: tariɢat, Turkish: tarikat) means "way, path, method" and refers to an Islamic religious order; in Sufism, it is conceptually related to ḥaqīqah "truth", the ineffable ideal that is the pursuit of the tradition. Thus one starts with Islamic law, the exoteric or mundane practice of Islam and then is initiated onto the mystical path of a ṭarīqah. Through spiritual practices and guidance of a ṭarīqah the aspirant seeks ḥaqīqah - ultimate truth.


A ṭarīqah is a school of Sufism. A ṭarīqah has a murshid "guide" who plays the role of leader or spiritual director of the organization.

A ṭarīqah is a group of murīdīn (singular murīd), Arabic for desirous, desiring the knowledge of knowing God and loving God (also called a faqīr Arabic: فقير‎, another Arabic word that means poor or needy, usually used as al-Faqīr ilá l-Lāh, "the needy to God's knowledge (الفقير إلى الله)).

Nearly every ṭarīqah is named after its founder, and when the order is referred it is in a nisbah formed from the founder's name. For example, the "Rifai order", named after Shaykh Ahmad ar-Rifai, is called the "Rifaiyyah", the "Qādirī order", named after Shaykh `Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī, is called the "Qādiriyyah". Often ṭuruq are offshoots of another ṭarīqah, for example, the Qadri Al-Muntahi order is an offshoot of the Qādiriyyah order founded by Riaz Ahmed Gohar Shahi, the Jelveti order is an offshoot of the Bayrami order founded by Hacı Bayram-ı Veli in Ankara who are an offshoot of the zahidiyye founded by Pir Zahid al-Gaylani in Iran. The Khalwati order are a particularly splintered order with numerous offshoots such as the Jerrahī, Sunbulī, Nasuhī, Karabashiyyah and others, the Tijaniyyah order prevalent in West Africa also has its roots in this ṭarīqah.

In most cases the shaykh nominates his khalīfah or "successor" during his lifetime, who will take over the order. In rare cases, if the shaykh dies without naming a khalīfah, the students of the ṭarīqah elect another spiritual leader through a vote. In some orders, it is recommended to take a khalīfah from the same order as their Murshid. In some groups it is customary for the khalīfah to be the son of the shaykh, although in other groups the khalīfah and the shaykh are not normally relatives. In yet other orders, a successor may be identified through the spiritual dreams of its members.

Tarīqahs have silsilahs (Arabic: سلسلة‎) "chain, lineage of shaykhs". Almost all orders except the Naqshbandi order claim a silsilah that leads back to Muhammad through ‘Alī. (The Naqshbandi Silsilah goes back to Abu Bakr the first Caliph of Sunni Islam and then Muhammad.) Many silsilas contain the names of Shī‘ah Imams.

The differences between Sunni and Shī‘ah Islam were not as acute in the first three centuries as they are today. Indeed, during Ottoman times the Sunni Turkish sultans would use the reverence that they and other Sunni Muslims had for the Shī‘ah Imams to appease the Shī‘ah minorities that lived within their empire and many towards the end of the 19th century believed that a Sunni-Shī‘ah unity was impending.

Every Murid on entering the ṭarīqah gets his 'awrād, or daily recitations, authorized by his Murshid (usually to be recited before or after the pre-dawn prayer, after the afternoon prayer and after the evening prayer). Usually, these recitations are extensive and time-consuming (for example the Murid's awrād may consist of reciting a certain formula 99, 500 or even 1000 times). One must also be in a state of ritual purity{brainwashing} (as one is for the obligatory prayers to perform them while facing Mecca). The recitations change as a student (murid) moves from a mere initiate to other Sufi degrees (usually requiring additional initiations).

Being mostly followers of the spiritual traditions of Islam loosely referred to as Sufism, these groups were sometimes distinct from the ulema or officially mandated scholars, and often acted as informal missionaries of Islam. They provided accepted avenues for emotional expressions of faith, and the Tarīqahs spread to all corners of the Muslim world, and often exercised a degree of political influence inordinate to their size (take for example the influence that the sheikhs of the Safavid had over the armies of Tamerlane, or the missionary work of Ali Shair Navai in Turkistan amongst the Mongol and Tatar people).

The Tarīqahs were particularly influential in the spread of Islam in the sub-Sahara during the 9th to 14th centuries, where they spread south along trade routes between North Africa and the sub-Saharan kingdoms of Ghana and Mali. On the West African coast they set up Zāwiyas on the shores of the river Niger and even established independent kingdoms such as al-Murābiṭūn or Almoravids. The Sanusi order were also highly involved in missionary work in Africa during the 19th century, spreading both Islam and a high level of literacy into Africa as far south as Lake Chad and beyond by setting up a network of Zawiyas where Islam was taught. Much of central Asia and southern Russia was won over to Islam through the missionary work of the ṭarīqahs, and the majority of Indonesia's population, where a Muslim army never set foot, was converted to Islam by the perseverance of both Muslim traders and Sufi missionaries.

A case is sometimes made that groups such as the Muslim Brotherhoods (in many countries) and specifically the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt (the first, or first known), are modern inheritors of the tradition of lay ṭarīqah in Islam. This is highly contentious since the Turuq were Sufi orders with established lineages while the Muslim Brotherhood is a modern, rationalist tradition. However, the Muslim Brotherhood's founder, Hassan al Banna, did have a traditional Islamic education (his family were Hanbali scholars) and it is likely that he was initiated into a ṭarīqah at an early age.

Certain scholars, e.g., G. H. Jansen, credit the original Tarīqahs with several specific accomplishments:

  1. Preventing Islam from becoming a cold and formal doctrine by constantly infusing it with local and emotionally popular input, including stories and plays and rituals not part of Islam proper. (A parallel would be the role of Aesop relative to the Greek mythos.)
  2. Spreading the faith in east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where orthodox Islamic leaders and scholars had little or no direct influence on people.
  3. Leading Islam's military and political battles against the encroaching power of the Christian West, as far back as the Qadiri order of the 12th century.

The last of these accomplishments suggests that the analogy with the modern Muslim Brotherhoods is probably accurate, but incomplete.

Tariqah in the Four Spiritual Stations

The Four Stations, sharia, tariqa, haqiqa. The fourth station, marifa, which is considered 'unseen', is actually the center of the haqiqa region. It's the essence of all four stations.

Orders of Sufism

Traditional orders

PHILTAR (Philosophy of Theology and Religion at the Division of Religion and Philosophy of St Martin's College) has a very useful Graphical illustration of the Sufi schools.

Non-traditional Sufi groups