Tariqa (Arabic: طريقة Tariqa; plural طرق; turuq; Persian/Urdu: طريقت tariqat; alternate spelling, tariqah) literally meaning 'way', 'path' or 'method' is a Sufi order which symbolises the spiritual journey towards God, and is used to describe the grouping of a number of disciples (mureeds) around a leader or sheikh, to whom they pledge allegiance (bay'ah) as their spiritual guide. Through the tariqa, the seeker is guided through a succession of 'stages' (maqamat, which is associated with 'states', ahwal) to experience divine Reality (haqiqa).
The term tariqa is derived from the following verse in the Quran:
The meaning of "path" in this verse is explained by the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ related by Bukhari and Muslim, ordering his followers to follow his Sunnah and the Sunnah of his successors. Like tariqah in the verse, the meaning of "sunnah" in the hadith is "path" or "way". Tariqa thus came to be a term applied to groups of individuals belonging to the school of thought led by a particular scholar, or "shaykh," as such a person was often called.
A tariqa is often named after its most prominent sheikh or its original founder, due to his scholarship, diligence, hard work and service devoted to the order. For example, the Qadiri order, named after Hazrat Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, is called the "Qadiriyya". Often, many orders have grown so expansively that they have spawned branch foundations or "suborders" (often called tawa'if, sg. ta'ifa, "party, faction"). For example, the Sarwari Qadiri Order is a suborder of the Qadiriyya Order founded by Hazrat Sultan Bahu.
Within the tariqa, the murshid has a number of disciples (mureeds) who are committed to the murshid. The mureed is an "aspirant-seeker" understood to be a member of a tariqa in the initial phases of training. An aspirant becomes subject to the guidance of the murshid or teacher by agreeing to be obedient to whatever instruction is given. Thus, the mureed of a particular murshid will ultimately bear the stamp of that murshid's teaching and character.
In most cases the sheikh nominates his khalifa or "successor" during his lifetime. The khalifa is vicegerent to the spiritual leader of an order who is designated to assume the leadership in the governance of the order at the death of the current leader. Successorship has been hereditary in some orders, elective in others, while in others the sheikh chose the heir to his authority. A sheikh may have one or more khalifas who are authorised to induct others in to the spiritual order.
Each tariqa has a murshid or pir (guide) who is generally considered to be the spiritual heir of the founder of the order, who in turn is believed to have inherited his authority from other Sufis before him, in a line or "chain" (silsila; Arabic: سلسلة) of spiritual authority stretching back to the Holy Prophet ﷺ. Each order thus has its own spiritual lineage, which each individual is able to trace back through his order's founder to the founder of Islam himself.
Nearly all of these chains reach the Holy Prophet ﷺ via his son-in-law and cousin Hazrat Ali . A notable exception is the Naqshbandi order, which reaches the Holy Prophet ﷺ via Hazrat Abu Bakr instead.
Tariqas around the world
Some of the Sufi orders, such as the Naqshbandiyya (named after Hazrat Bahauddin Naqshband, d. 1389) and Qadiriyya (named after Hazrat Abdul Qadir Jilani, d. 1166), are spread throughout Islamic lands and indeed the Western world. Others are more regional in scope, like the Shadhiliyya in North Africa (named after Hazrat Abu'l Hasan al-Shadhili, d. 1258) or the Chishtiyya in South Asia (named after Hazrat Abu Ishaq Shami, d. 940).
Among the principal orders are the Ashrafiyya, Badawiyya, Bektashiyya, Chishtiyya, Darqawiyya, Dasuqiyya, Firdawsiyya, Khalwatiyya, Kubrawiyya, Mawlawiyya, Naqshbandiyya, Qadiriyya, Rifa‘iyya, Shadhiliyya, Suhrawardiyya, Tijaniyya, and Yasawiyya.
Although practices, appearances and internal structures of different orders may vary from one to another, there are no fundamental differences between the tariqas, as the ultimate goal for the seekers on different spiritual paths is essentially the same. The variations have nothing to do with religious principles. In basic principle, the Sufi orders are essentially the same, just as the differences in names among madhahib, or schools of law, refer to methods and not to the essence of religion, which is uniform.