Tariqa (“way”) or sulyuk is a method of spiritual exaltation and the knowledge of the Truth through mysticism.
Influential Sufi orders have followed tariqa. They controlled the social life of Muslims and then contributed to the spread of Islam among the peoples of Asia Minor, Egypt, Central Asia, Africa and other regions of the Islamic world.
In Tariqa, a murshid (guide) has several disciples (muridin) who are loyal to the him. A Murid (“desiring the knowledge”) is a member of the Tariqa in the course of training. The student becomes subordinate to the leadership of the murshid or the teacher and agrees to obey unquestioningly any instruction received. Thus, the murid of a particular murshid will eventually bear the mark of the teachings and character of this murshid.
In the 11th century, zuhdi (supporters of Muslim asceticism) united around spiritual mentors practiced in tariqa. Initially, they followed the path of spiritual purification and struggled with their passions, but then they began to practice hermitage and asceticism, faithfully serving Allah. Tariqas had their own centers or abodes, called ribats, khanqahs and zawiyas.
In the 9th-11th centuries, Sufism theorists, such as al-Muhasibi, Junayd of Baghdad, al-Kalabadhi, al-Sarraj, al-Sulami and al-Hujwiri, proposed a different definition of tariqa. At that time, a tariqa meant a set of moral and ethical positions and psychological techniques with which the Sufi learned the true divine reality (Haqiqa) by thinking and engaging in psychophysical exercises. Tariqa began to represent a method of gradual mastery of the essence of contemplative mysticism through the spiritual experience of “positions” (maqams) in a single combination with psychological ecstatic states (ahwal).
In the 11th-mid-12th centuries, tariqa became a school of teaching the ‘Mystical Way’. Sufism became available not only to the elite but also to common people. In Khorasan, an institute was established based on the abodes. The specific relationship between the student (murid) and the teacher (murshid) was its important feature. The disciple considered his teacher to be a guide to the mysterious path of consciousness and obeyed him in every matter.
There can be many tariqas. Each Tariqa has its own physical, religious and ascetic exercises and practices (halva, zikr al-jahr and zikr al-hafi, sama), strengthening the spirit and body. There are also special initiation rituals and strict regulations regarding privacy.
By the end of the 12th century, murids began to practice Silsila. The institution of the chain of spiritual continuity contributed to the certainty that the path of mystical consciousness became holy. The introduction of the murid to silsila was considered a mystery and was closely associated with esotericism.
Thanks to the emergence of the institute, Sufi orders quickly introduced a system of hierarchy into their ranks and acquired an organization recognizable nowadays. In each order, it was necessary to follow discipline and certain rules. Members of the order learned the path of mystical consciousness through silsila. For general understanding, it is a set of mystical concepts, private mystical teachings and practices, cultivated in the system of fraternities.
The canonization of the ritual and the bureaucracy that entered the structure changed the “mentor-student” relationship. By the 17th century, these were very different statuses of “saint-novice.” Murid became subordinate to the highest leadership of the order, and his spiritual teacher ceased to have much influence over him. At the same time, there was a distinctive feature of tariqas — zikr. Zikrs of tariqas are special prayer formulas, an integral part of the spiritual practice. Usually, zikr are held after the completion of namazes, during the mawlid, during councils (majlis) or at any other convenient time.
All tariqas fall into three categories:
There are Sunni or Shia tariqas, depending on which creed (aqidah) and legal school (madhhab) their adherents follow.
In Sufism up to the 14th century, 12 orders emerged within the framework of Khorasan, Mesopotamian, Maverannahr and Maghreb mystical traditions:
Naqshbandi and Shadhili tariqas are the most popular orders. Some scientists single out several more branches, other than the mentioned 12, including Dasukiya, Sadia, Bayramiyya and Safaviyya. These orders then grew into independent tariqas. Many fraternities lacked an internal organization and structure to develop into an order.
The Tariqas’ orders had their peculiarities:
By the middle of the 20th century, there were hundreds of orders and millions of members of them. To date, Sufi tariqas are most prevalent in central Islamic countries, where they have played a vital role in the religious life of the Muslim community. Tariqas also exist in West Africa, Eastern Europe, India, Central and Far East Asia.