Any discussion of the Sufi way, its methods and goals (and indeed those of any mystical tradition) will inevitably come up against certain difficulties, and these should be addressed immediately. Perhaps the most problematic issue we face is raised by the intrinsic ineffability of mystical experience, whether a moment of divine revelation or the lifelong quest for understanding. QUOTE. Because of this, important ideas and doctrines are often expressed through the medium/a of metaphor and symbolism, and this is particularly true in the context of the poetic sensibility of early Arabic culture. The exoteric, outward aspect of most religions is a complex combination of various doctrines and practices, which may take years to gain an understanding of, and Islam is no exception. Sufism however, representing the esoteric face of Islam, requires a dedication and commitment which may see the student devote his life to learning its ways. Entire volumes have been devoted to the sufi path and its goal without even approaching a conclusive description of the subject, and an essay of this length can only hope to scratch the surface. With this brief discussion I hope to outline TITLE, yet it would be hopeless to attempt this without acknowledging that ??. ((((not just long but also impossible to arrange/structure....not intended to be written about!)))
A notable feature of Sufi training is the importance of the initiate (murid) belonging to an order, and being under the instruction of a master or spiritual director known as a sheikh. Before setting out along the Sufi path one must find a guide whose every instruction must be followed. It is considered dangerous to attempt Sufi practices without the initiation and guidance of such a guide, and it is said of one who does so that "his guide is Satan" (nic.32). For this reason, "the selection and following of a spiritual guide is the most important duty of a Sufi" (arch.65)
Although the teachings and instructions received may seem contradictory, counterproductive, and even blasphemous at times, they must be accepted without question. A full understanding of the truth cannot be imparted all in one go, and things which are taught early in the process may seem nonsensical until understood from within the context of things which are yet to be taught. Even if the reason for an instruction is not understood, it must be obeyed, and this is why the poet Hafiz implored those seeking understanding to "stain thy prayer carpet with wine if Pir-e-Mughan (a spiritual guide) bids thee. For the salik (guide) will not be ignorant of the ways and laws of the stages" (arch.66) .
Once accepted and initiated by a sheikh, one may begin to work through the various states and stations which make up the Sufi path. The nature of the path which is followed will depend on the brotherhood or order to which the sheikh belongs, and indeed the word tariqa, meaning path, is also used (in the plural ; turuq) to refer to these Sufi orders. Although there are many different turuq in which can be found many different approaches to spiritual training, they should not be regarded as separate and distinct sects of Sufism. They share the same fundamental principles and are simply different paths to the same goal.
As I have said, the methods used along the path will depend on which of these turuq one is associated, and although many practices such as meditation and recitation of sacred words or phrases are common to most turuq, some are more distinct, such as the dance of the Mevlevis (who came to be known as whirling dervishes). Various turuq differ also in the states and stations which they recognize as making up the path which must be traveled. As AJ Arberry mentions in his discussion of al-Qushairi's Risala, we must distinguish between states and stations. Whereas the station (maqam) is...