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The Stages and Stations of Spiritual Journey

The spiritual journey begins with the stage of tabattul (detachment from the world), which is preceded by a state of spiritual awakening (yaqzah) and repentance, and culminates in the stage of fana’ (annihilation), the last stage in the journey to God. This journey to God is finite and comes to an end. However, spiritual masters speak also of a journey in God (fi ’l-lah) which has no end, since it is a journey in infinitude, where the identity of the salik (spiritual wayfarer) is vanished and dissolved in the divine names and attributes. 

Stations (sing. maqam) are attained through the persistence of states (sing. hal) which are ephemeral inspirations. The continuous experience of these states paves the way for the further advancement of the mystic and propels him towards a higher station. Here, the journey toward God (sayr il ’l-lah) belongs to the Sufis, while the journey in God (sayr fi ’l-lah) is exclusive to the possessors of ma`rifah. The number of stations on the journey toward God is unlimited. Some have considered them, from the first to the last, as comprising a hundred, while others have deemed them to be as many as a thousand. This underlies the obvious truth that the number of the stations is contingent upon the capacity of the salik and the intensity of his waridat (inspirations). Some have analogized the traversing of these stages to that of a journey (safar) and believed it to comprise of four journeys, or al-asfar al-arba`ah, the title of the seminal work of Sadr al-Din Shirazi, in which he expounds the principles of his Transcendental Philosophy, or al-hikmat al-muta`aliyah, which is an allusion to the four stages of the mystical journey to God. The states and experiences of Sufi masters in the course of these journeys differ from one another, whose accounts are rarely free from the embellishment of their disciples. The mystical states of these shaykhs are contained in numerous treatises which include Asrar al-tawhid, on Abu Sa`id Abu ’l-Khayr; Sirat al-shaykh al-kabir, on Ibn Khafif; Firdaws al-musrshidiyyah, on Abu Ishaq Kazaruni; Nur al-`ilm, on Abu ’l-Hasan Kharaqani; Maqamat Shaykh Ahmad Jam; Maqamat Awhad al-Din Kirmani, and Manaqib al-`arifin, on Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi. The states and experiences of some Sufi masters are contained in biographical works (tabaqat), which include the Tabaqats of Abu `Abd Allah Salmi and Khwajah `Abd Allah Ansari, Tadhkirat al-awliya’ of `Attar, Nafahat al-uns of Jami, Rashahat `ayn al-hayat and Tara’iq al-haqa’iq. An in-depth understanding of the history of Sufism is made possible through a study of these biographical works, together with the original treatises of these authors and works written about them.

 source: Zarrinkoob , Abdol Hossein "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.478- 479

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