The Stages of the Stations of Suluk

You shall most certainly journey from stage to stage.
- The Noble Recital, 84:19

Those who attain faith and do righteous work: blessedness is for them, and a beauteous station will be their journey's end. - 13:29

.. between them We had appointed stages of journey in due proportion: travel therein, secure, by night and by day.
  - 34:18

Meaning of Suluk and Salik

Sulook or Suluk, as a noun, means pathway, and specifically refers to a spiritual pathway. As a verb, it means to walk or journey upon a pathway, to travel on road.

The term Suluk when related to Islam and Sufism means to walk a (spiritual) path (to God). Suluk involves following both the outer path (exoterism /shariah) and the inner path (esoterism/ haqiqa) of Islam virtuously. Suluk also involves being ardent (passionately eager) in the search for God or said in another way, to attune with Divine Will, to decipher The Signs of God, the Ultimate Truth, understanding the self, and understanding the essential meaning of life, particularly of one's own life.

The word Sulook is derived from the Qur'anic term "Faslooki" in chapter 16, An-Nahl (The Bees), verse 69: Faslooki subula rabbiki zululan (engage in the paths of your Lord made easy [for you]). A person who is engaged in this spiritual path is called salik.

The terms Sulook and salik are usually found in relation to Sufism. The term salik is also used for the member of a particular Sufi order or tariqah.

In his writing, The Hundred Steps, Shaikh 'Abd al-Qadir as-Sufi ad-Darqawi wrote:

Suluk is the science of all the internal elements of the Way. The salik is the one who cements himself in the knowledge necessary to prevent madness. When the time comes that the Heart moves and Love is awakened in it, and the center of the creature is possesed by the winds of desire and the torments of yearning.

When the world and all of its things are converted to torment and test for the seeker, suluk guides the walker to wisdom, so that he can avoid rushing when it is necessary to restrain himself, and make possible a valiant action when it is tempting to abandon oneself. Suluk is the means through which it is possible to benefit from Yadhb (attraction) without turning into a Majdhub; mad for Allah: that is: there is attraction - that is essential - but one avoids defenseless attraction. This means that one can have the experience without being condemned to the station.

Our Way is to be salik-majdhub. Externally sane and internally mad for Allah. Externally sober and internally intoxicated. Externally suluk is to change bad words for good words, bad actions for good actions, bad intentions for good intentions, until one lives in correct and straight words, actions and intentions. The sign of the salik is that he is safe from his own hand and his own tongue.

Suluk permits one to benefit from the state by the absorption of the doctrine and to leave the station with the expectation of further gifts from the Merciful Lord. Its ending is to have its renewed confirmation by the seekers and avoid pretensions except by the tongue of the real.

Cordial disciplines

One of the cordial disciplines of the worships and the spiritual duties of the traveler along the path to the Hereafter is paying attention to the Might of the Lord and to the humility of servitude. It is one of the important stages for the salik (traveler). The strength of everybody's suluk (journey) is in proportion to the strength of this attention, or rather the perfection or the imperfection of humanity is connected to the perfection or imperfection of this matter. The more one is overwhelmed by egoism, egotism, self-conceit and selfishness, the farther he will be from the human perfection and from the nearness of the presence of Allah. The veil of self-conceit and egotism is thicker and darker than all other veils. 

To tear open this veil is more difficult than tearing all other veils, and tearing it is a preparatory step to tearing other veils. In fact, tearing off this veil is the master key for the invisible, the visible and the great door of the ascent to the perfect spirituality. As long as man has his eyes on his own self, his imagined beauty and perfection, he will be veiled and discarded from the absolute beauty and pure perfection. The first condition for travelling to Allah is to leave this house. Actually, it is the criterion for the struggle between right and wrong. So, every salik, who travels with the steps of selfishness and self-conceit, and is wrapped in the veils of egotism, his sufferings would be in vain and his journey would not be to Allah, it would rather be to his self: "The mother of the idols is the idol of your self'.

Allah, the Most High, says: "And whoever Leaves his house migrating to Allah and His Messenger, and then death overtakes him, his reward is, indeed, with Allah," The formal migration, or the form of migration, is the corporeal migration from the formal house to the ka'bah or to the shrines of the holy men [awliya'], but the spiritual migration is the going out of the house of the soul and the house of this world to Allah and His Messenger. To migrate to the Messenger and the guardian [waliy] is also a migration to Allah.

As long as one's soul has an inclination to oneself and to egotism, it is not journeying (its rather fixated). And so long as there are residues of I-ness in the salik's eyes, and as long as the walls of his own town and the adhan (call) announcing selfishness have not yet disappeared, he is regarded present, not a traveler or an emigrant.

It is stated in Misbahush-shari'ah that Imam Sadiq said: "Servitude is a gem whose core is Lordship [rububiyat]. Whatever is lost of servitude is found in the Lordship, and whatever is hidden of Lordship is obtained by servitude."

The one who travels on the foot of servitude, and allows to inflame his heart with the brand of the humility of serfdom, will reach the Glory of (His) Lordship. The way of attaining to the facts of Lordship is journeying along the footsteps of servitude, and what is lost of servitude because of egoism and egotism, can be recovered under the shadow of the Lordship's patronage, until he reaches a stage in which the Haqq (Allah), the Most High, will become his ears (hearing), eyes (seeing), hands and legs, as is stated in the true and well-known hadith.

When the salik forsook his conducts (tasarrufat) and completely submitted the kingdom of his existence to Allah, leaving the house to its Owner, and perishing in the Glory of (His) Lordship, the Owner of the house would Himself manage the affairs. Thus his conducts would become divine, and his eyes would be divine and he would see with the Haqq's (Allah's) eyes, his ears would become divine and he would hear with the Haqq's (Allah's) ears. The more complete the lordship of the soul and the more its glory be cherished, the more, in the same proportion, the Glory of the (divine) Lordship decreases and becomes incomplete (in the salik's kingdom of existence), because these two stand face to face.

Thus, the salik to Allah has to recognize his state of humility, and to place the humility of servitude and the Glory of the Lordship before his eyes. The stronger this viewpoint, the more spiritual his worship and the stronger the spirit of his worship, until, if, with the help of Allah and the perfect holy men (awliya'), he reaches the truth of servitude and its core, he will catch a glimpse of the secret of worship. In all the worships - especially (in) the salat which has a position of comprehensiveness (jami'iyat), and is, among the worships, like the Perfect Man, and like the Greatest Name (of Allah), or rather it is the very Greatest Name these two positions, i.e. the position of the Glory of Lordship, which is a fact, and the position of the humility of servitude, which accompanies it, are occult. Among the recommended acts the qunut, and among the obligatory acts the sujud, have particular specialties. (the full text of Adabus Salaat is here | Etiquette of Divine worship by Imam Khomeini)

It should be noted, however, that absolute servitude is of the highest degrees of perfection and of the loftiest positions of humanity, of which no one has any share except the most perfect of the creatures of Allah, Muhammad at the top, followed by the perfect walis (the Guardians). The others are limping in servitude, and their worshipping and servitude are endued with causes, only with the steps of servitude one can reach the real absolute mi'raj. That is why the noble ayah says: "Glorified is He Who carried his servant by night ..." It was the step of servitude and the attraction of (His) Lordship that carried that holy person to the mi'raj of proximity (qurb) and union (wusul). In the tashahhud of the salat - which is a return from an absolute "annihilation" [fana'] that was achieved in the sujud there is once again a tendency to servitude, before paying attention to the Messengership. It may also be a reference to the position of Messengership as a result of the essence of servitude.

The Stages of the Stations of the People of Suluk

Know that there are for the people of suluk, in this station (i.e. paying attention to the humility of servitude and the Glory of His Lordship) and other stations, countless stages and degrees, only to a few of which we can generally refer, since comprehensively knowing all their aspects and counting all the stages are beyond the capacity of this humble creature: "The ways to Allah are as numerous as the breaths of the creatures".

One of those stages is the Stage of Knowledge ['ilm], which is such that it proves, by scientific conduct (suluk) and philosophic argument, the humility of servitude and the Glory of (His) Lordship. This is a pure sort of knowledge, since it is clearly proved in the high sciences and supreme philosophy that the entire House of Realization (dar-i tahaqquq) and the complete circle of existence are mere relation and attachment and nothing but poverty. The Glory, Kingdom and Sovereignty belong to His Sanctified Essence of Majesty. No one can have any share of Glory and Majesty, while the humility of servitude and poverty is engraved on the forehead of every body, and is registered in the innermost part of their truth. The truth of gnosis and vision [shuhud], and the result of suffering and suluk, are in lifting the veil off the face of the truth, and discerning the humility of servitude and the origin of poverty and lowliness in oneself and in all the creatures. The invocation ascribed to the master of all beings (the Prophet of Islam):"O Allah, show me the things as they are", may be a reference to this stage, i.e. wishing to see the humility of servitude which requires discerning the Glory of the Lordship.

Therefore, if the salik on the road of the truth, the traveler in the way of servitude, covers this distance with the steps of scientific suluk and the mount of intellectual advance, he will fall in the veils of knowledge and attain to the first station of humanity. But this veil is a thick one, as it is said: "Knowledge is the greatest veil." The salik should not stay behind this veil. He is to tear it, since, should he be contented with this stage and keep his heart chained by it, he would fall into istidraj (being engaged in other than the Haqq). Istidraj in this stage, means becoming engaged in the numerous secondary branches of knowledge, presenting many arguments justifying his intellectual roamings in that field, and depriving himself of the other stages, because his heart is attached to this stage only, neglecting the wanted result, which is attaining to annihilation in Allah. He, thus, would spend his life in the veil of argument (burhan) and its branches. The more these branches, the thicker the veil and the greater the distance from the truth. The salik, therefore, should not be deceived, in this stage, by Satan, secluding himself from the truth and reality, and stopping his journey to the goal on the pretext of being a great scholar, a very learned person and a powerful man of argument. 

He must set to work briskly, be serious in his quest for the real demand, and take himself to the next stage, which is the Second Stage. And that is such that he should write what (his) reason has understood through irrefutable proof and scientific conduct, with the pen of intellect on the tablet of the heart, to convey the truth of the humility of servitude and the Glory of Lordship to the heart and free himself from the chains and the veils of knowledge. We shall refer to this stage presently, insha'allah. so, the result of the second stage is acquiring belief in the facts (article of faith, that which is unseen, the hereafter, trial of the grave and day of return to the Lord, the final Resurrection, reward and punishment).

The Third Stage is that of "tranquility and calmness of the soul", which is, in fact, the perfect stage of faith. Allah, the Exalted, said to his "friend" [khalil = Ibrahim]: "Have you not believed [yet]? " He said: "I have, but just to have a calm heart."

The Fourth Stage is that of "vision" (mushahadah), which is a divine light and a divine manifestation, as a consequence of the manifestations of the Names and the Attributes appearing in the secret of the salik, and enlighting his complete heart with the visionary light. This stage comprises many degrees that are out of the capacity of these pages. In this stage an example of the effect of the nafilahs: (I would be his hearing, sight and hand) will appear, and the salik will see himself drowned in limitless ocean, beyond which there is another very deep ocean, in which the secrets of "fate" are partly disclosed. Each one of these stages has its special istidraj (being engaged in other than the Haqq) through which the salik is exposed to great perishing [halakat]. So, he will have to rid himself, in all stages, of egoism and I-ness. He should not be self-conceited nor egotistic, both of which are the sources of most of evils, especially for the salik. 

- from Adabus Salaat | Etiquette of Divine worship by Imam Khomeini

Salik as the Initiate

A salik (initiate) is a traveler who follows a way to a goal and makes efforts to meet with God. The way of traveling differs according to the capacity, abilities and gifts with which each individual has been favored. Some are extraordinarily attracted and taken by God Himself to the ranks of loving and being loved by God and being pleased with Him and His being pleased with them, without having to observe some of the rules that must be observed during journeying. Such are mentioned as those who are attracted by God. They can reach, through the blessings of the Prophet’s Ascension, in a few minutes, hours or days the states and stations that others can reach after many periods of suffering, and become purified of carnal dirt. Their hearts are refined in the shortest way possible and, reaching their Beloved and Desired One at a speed that is not possible through other efforts, they are able to feel all the spiritual pleasures of being favored with His company. They have reached the horizon of “a perfect human being,” which is regarded as the point where the outward and inward have been united.

These perfect ones, who are attracted by God toward Him, are the hidden treasures of the Divine mysteries, the centers on which the lights of the Divine Knowledge and Existence are focused, and those who offer the water of life to believers for the health of their spiritual life, a water with which they will quench their thirst for eternity. They revive dead hearts with their speeches, open blind eyes with their glance and attentions, and cure the spiritual wounds of those who are in their aura. They live intoxicated with ever new gifts and favors, and cause those around them to experience the most dazzling of observations. With their seeing directed by their insight, and their speaking dependent on their hearts, they are enraptured with the colors and lines which pertain to Him, and which they see in everything they look at, and they scatter pearls and coral whenever they open their mouths to speak. Since they are dazzled and enchanted by even a half-seeing of Him, those who do not know them think that they are insane or intoxicated. Ruhi of Baghdad describes their state very well:

Do not think that we are intoxicated with the wine of the grape;
We are among the intoxicated from eternity in the past.

If some temporarily go into ecstasies with the initial signs of Him, they immediately come to their senses because of their nature, and they take refuge in wakefulness and self-possession, continuing on their way to meeting God in wakefulness. There is nothing in their feelings, thoughts or acts which causes people confusion; nor are there utterances of pride incompatible with the rules of Shari’a, nor any affectations, nor relaxed behavior. They advance toward being pleased with Him and His being pleased with them in reliance on Him in the atmosphere of The eye did not swerve, nor did it stray (53:17).

Some others complete their spiritual journey by observing its heavenly rules, reaching the horizon of attraction toward God with the support of Divine help and feeling as if their will-power has been connected to a sacred center of attraction. They continue their future life connected to that center in the manner of those who have let themselves go in the current. You can find in such people, who have taken off toward nothingness and carnal non-existence, neither anxieties, worries, nor grief. They are occupied with the Eternal Friend, they feel His intimacy, and live free from uneasiness and troubles because of the peace they find in His presence. The following verses of Niyazi Misri indicate this horizon in one respect:

Having renounced the worldly worries,
And taken off to carnal non-existence;
Zealously flying without ceasing,
I call, “O Friend, O Friend!”

There are still some others who constantly make an effort, from the beginning to the end, and, without expecting any return, sincerely fulfill their duties of servanthood. They neither feel attraction nor are attracted toward God, nor do they display any affectations, nor have any superiority or inferiority complexes or fancies and fantasies. They show great will-power and patience, observing even the least important rules of devotion without any show and being extraordinarily steadfast in His way. They prefer living an Islamic life over wonder-working and pleasures, and never adopt Paradise and what lies beyond it as a goal of their devotion. Regarding believing and devotion as the greatest blessing of the Lord, they live in thankfulness for such gifts in utmost humility and modesty. With his particular style, Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi describes being favored with this blessing as follows:

Happiness has come and held us by the skirt,
And set up our tent in the heaven.
Yesterday the Beloved asked me:
“How do you do with this unfaithful world?”
I answered: “How can one be who,
Has seen the fortune of the fortunate state?
Thanks that I have found in the bottom of my teeth
The sugar that Egypt cannot see even in her dreams.”

The first thing an initiate must do is to turn to God in repentance and contrition, in determination to emigrate to what God is pleased with from what He is not, to what He asks us to do from what He does not, and to a life in the heart and the spirit from a carnal life. So long as their efforts are supported by such a high degree of refinement of the carnal self, purification of heart, and good morals, initiates feel that they change both inwardly and outwardly while their horizons become gradually enlightened. To the extent of their sincerity and purity of intention, they begin to present an example of straightforwardness in acting, with the mechanism of their consciousness becoming gradually radiant. With belief developing into conviction, and conviction deepening with increasing knowledge of God, and knowledge of God being transformed into love, and love growing into burning passion, and passion ending in constant wonder, a human being, who has been created of dust, of wet clay, becomes the focus of attention for the inhabitants of the heavens. Those dwelling in the pure realm of the Divine dominion regard it an honor to follow the example of such humans. Whoever turns to them for guidance intends to be guided to the truth, and whoever holds fast to them intends to grasp a strong rope.

This “greatest copy and pattern of creation”, who has become a source of radiance in the inner depth of his or her self, turns into a center of Divine gifts and a storeroom of favors, becomes a blessed one who offers everyone the water of life. Each of the different mansions which such a traveler passes through during the journey upward is called a “state,” and the relatively stable point  to which his or her abilities develop, and which we may describe as the “arch of perfections” of a traveler, is called a “station.” “The gifts and radiance of everyone is in proportion to his or her capacity.”

Every traveler to the Truth ends the journey at a certain peak and observes all the worlds, materially and spiritually, from this summit or pinnacle. The final point which every traveler reaches according to his or her capacity is the peak particular to that individual, and therefore each peak is of a relative height. The highest, the only real peak, which separates the mortal from the Eternal or the contingent from the absolutely necessary, which is mentioned in the Qur’an in “or nearer” in the statement a distance between the strings of two bows adjacent each other or even less (53:9), which describes the nearness of God’s Messenger to God, is the one belonging to the master of creation, upon him be the most perfect of blessings. All other heights are defined, in comparison with one another, with such expressions as “lower” or higher” or “greater” or “less” and belong to those whom God has made near to Him, and the godly are relative and in proportion to the capacity-capital of everyone and the Divine gifts with which they are favored.

When the initiates step on their individual horizon of perfection and make their heart into a polished mirror to the sacred Divine gifts, that heart becomes familiar with the Divine look and the breezes of Divine inspiration, and they begin to feel and view creation differently, according to the individual’s level. They burn with the excitement of demonstrating to others what each sees and feels.

Those initiates always think of Him and mention Him as “The One to be worshipped is He-God”, breathing the truth of “The One to be sought is He-God”, pondering their inner world and the outer world, respiring with “The One to be known is He-God” and relating everything to the truth of the Divine Being around the axis of Names and Attributes, developing their belief, first based on acceptance without seeing what is believed in, into a conviction based on a seeing by the heart, supported by a state of spiritual pleasures. They experience verbal and physical devotion with such delight that it is as if they have entered Paradise and been favored with a vision of God. Haqani says:

What behoves an initiate is to proclaim: We worship but God alone.

They hold back from everything which they think is not approvable in His sight, and think of Him only. They reflect deeply on a profound understanding of the fields that He allows.

Initiates who have come to the end of their journey think only of Him, consider Him, know and concentrate on Him with His title of “He.” They consider and concentrate on Him because of Him and because they must do so, and they consider all else than Him-whether relating to this world or the next-only in accordance with and in proportion to His permission. For one who has focused on Him only and considers all else save Him because of Him, the only thing to be sought and desired is He and His good pleasure. Let us listen to Mawlana once more:

O you who are seeking the world;
you are like a day laborer in this world;
And you, lover of Paradise, 

are also far distant from truth.
O you, who are unaware of the truth 

and pleased with the two worlds,
You are excused, for you have not felt 

the pleasure of suffering for the Beloved’ sake.

In short, initiates who have determined their goal well and who are aware of the horizon where they are, leave both their bodies and souls, with which others are most concerned, on the bench where corpses are washed for burial, and scatter all their capital of being before the door of their heart. Freed from all concerns of everything save Him that may keep them from their way, they turn to their heart and try to understand its voice. They put their eyes and ears under the command of their insight, they plunge into the pure world of metaphysical considerations. It sometimes occurs that they can transcend space in one attempt, and make their voices heard by the inhabitants of heavens in another.

This point, where the heart turns completely to the invisible speaker in it, is like a launch pad from which initiates can rise to the door of eternity in one leap. A step forward, with their head and feet having met at the same point, the heroes of ascension (to God) and descent (to return to being amidst the people) become like a ring. In such state, where the “bird of petition” should be sent to God, lips and voice fall silent, and only the warm sounds of the heart are heard. The head bends itself down to lean ever increasingly on the heart, and whispers to itself: Worship your Lord until certainty comes to you (by death) (15:99).

Seven mountains a Salik must conquer in the quest towards his goal

A contemporary Ba'alawi Shaykh, Abdul Aziz in a lecture recently touched upon the subject matter of salik and murid, and a selective part is quoted here:

(There are) 7 aqabahs or mountains that a salik (seeker) must conquer in the quest towards his goal - aqabah tawbah, aqabah awa'id, aqabah awarid, aqabah bawa'ith, aqabah bawadih and aqabah al-hamd wa-shukr. These aqabahs are like great mountains to be conquered only with huge efforts. A salik  is one who is focused in his journey towards Allah. He leaves all ugly behaviors in preference for good morals. He is one who receives guidance from a guru who is murabbi (one who teaches). As a salik he would begin his studies mastering tasawwuf ibadah (gnostic worship) from classic kitab such as Minhajul Abidin. He is wary of pitfalls on the path caused by illnesses of the heart such as riak (pride) and ujub (self glorification). His knowledge would increase as would his gnosis (makrifah). He will attain the true degree of sincerity (ikhlas) and his worship would become pure. He will be blessed with 'ilm ladunni, the highest kind of knowledge direct from His Presence because his heart is pure. He harbors hope soley in His Lord. He fears none except Allah. He longs and love only Allah.

Wat taqullah wa yu'al limukumullah means one must first have iman (faith) before taqwa (God-fearing). Without taqwa one will not be granted ilm asrar or the secret knowledge. Always keep your wudhu' (ablution) and recite salawat continuously especially salawat 'azamiyah. This particular salawat carries a lot of weight as it would take you to the presence of Rasulullah s.a.w.  So do not be careless about how you spend your time. Prove your taqwa. Prove yourself with a credible faith. By having a pure faith, taqwa, and sincerity, Allah will grant you makrifah (gnosis).

It is important that you avoid having negative impression about your Lord. Just because He contricts your provision or give you illness, you start having ill feelings about your fate. If indeed you have makrifah you will not be restless, you will be calm and say Alhamdulillah regardless of your conditions. If you but know, He will in fact raise your maqam after each and every tests. If you behave in a positive manner based on your understanding of this branch of knowledge He will grant you more knowledge that is beyond your imagination.

I think most of you are still murid, not salik. I say that because you cannot even find the time to make zikr Allah. You are suffering from sickness typical of a murid. You gather knowledge but you do not practise what you know. You must understand that husnul Islam, the best of Islam is one who leaves all that are worthless or unbeneficial to him. So go back to Allah. Become a salik. Be sure to get tarbiyyah (guidance) from a guru who is himself a jazbah and a salik. You must practise what you know because that is a pre-requisite for you to attain real makrifah.

He says: wa'alam nahu min ladun na ilma - "We teach him (he who practises what he knows) with one 'ilm (knowledge)", and that is called ilm' hal. You will know this when you reach this maqam. If you truly love Allah, you will appreciate your time. You will not want to waste it. You will occupy yourself worshipping Him. If you want to know what karamah is, look at the degree of your servitude. Check yourself, see how obedient you are. Do you always keep your wudhu' (Islamic way of baptism with water)? Do you make an effort to tie that "black sheep" - your tongue? You can do that by holding a tasbeeh so that you would automatically remember to make zikr.

It is not good enough to be a murid. You must be a salik... It is a waste of time to just be a murid. Please by all means become a salik. Remove all traces of mazmumah (bad qualities) from yourself and replace them with sifat mahmudah (good attributes). Allah is the ultimate guide who could bring us to goodness.

But go find a guru tarbiyyah (one who will train you) who could prescribe you with what zikr, what salawat and what istighfar to do. When you find one and do as told, you will attain nafs radhiah. You are now at mutmainnah or mulhimmah where you get inspired to do good and regret your wrong doings. You must strive above this level. There are three practises you could do if you cannot find guru murabbi. You could do istighfar, salawat and zikr La ila ha illAllah... Do this morning and night until they become more tasty than the best food that you have eaten in this world. Make them your preferred food. Clean, purify your heart so that nothing is there, save Allah.

Wallahu a'lam.

Had there been immediate gain (in sight), and the journey easy, they would certainly have followed you, but the tedious journey was too long for them; and they swear by God: "If we had been able, we would certainly have gone forth with you"; in the process of holding back, they cause their own souls to perish, and God knows well that they are not truthful.  
- The Noble Recital, 9:42

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Technology of the Heart: The Stages of the Stations of Suluk
The Stages of the Stations of Suluk
Technology of the Heart
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