is an Islamic
term for the different levels of a human being's search for God, and the ways in which we manifest our connection with the great life force that exists in every creature.
This searching is divided into four levels:
Shari' a: Means not seeking so much as having faith, in what has been passed down to one, via church, parents, and television. This describes a person who simply accepts the counsel of those who've come before her, who thinks or believes that there is nothing more for her, personally, in religion, or who considers expressed belief of established ritual and/or doctrine enough. (yaqub0r's write up, The Rules of Sharah discusses this more in-depthly.)
Tariqa: A subtler level. That kid in confirmation class who asked all the hard questions, who wouldn't let go until he'd exhausted the Youth Pastor's supply of theological knowledge. Or that one dormmate who went to all the Hari Krishna rallies, read up on Budhism, studied in India for a semester, converted to Islam for a bit, experiment with kosher eating, and really wanted to know what Jesus said, and what he meant by it. Tariqa describes one who tries to understand the true meaning of a/any/all faith(s) in God. For example, if you are told that a certain practice is good, for the Shari'a it is enough to just do it, no questions asked. But the Tariqa wishes to know why, precicely, each movement has a meaning, and where that meaning derives from, and what it represents. Tariqa is the seeker, but he does not embody the highest level of religious experience.
(See Tzaddik for a further discussion of these two grades.)
The third way is called Haqiqa. Haqiqa is not something acheived through the effort of a person. It is only attained when the seeker gives up her seeking and is able to accept a pure experience of the great life force, or Holy Spirit. Haqiqa is the beginning of the experience of a reality not willed by the self, but willed by God. It cannot be taught by any teacher or guru, because it is a personal opening to the strength of life, and must be learnt from the inside, out. If there were a human teacher of the Haqiqa, that teacher would prescribe lessons for his students, and these lessons would end up blocking the students from being themselves. The reality of God, on the level of the Haqiqa, is experienced as the reality and acceptance and love of one's self, and from there, a rich understanding, and love, of everyone and everything else.
Fourth and last is the Ma'rifa. Ma'rifa means one who has been filled with the contact or the power of God, and who follows God's will, which exists within his or her being. Ma'rifa is the fulfilment of a human being's capacity to be a noble creature, one who does good from a good place, who is connected to the strength of God to such an extent that they are able to ask even the mundanest of questions, and receive and answer. Ma'rifa, alike Haqiqa, comes "not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit". It is received, not earned, and can only come when one sets aside their seeking, and finds (rediscovers) their inherent contact with the great life force that in fact sustains our every breath.
based on a talk given by Bapak in Coombe Springs, on 21 August, 1959.