Description: Mystic union with God arises through transformation of the self through following a divine path or [tariqa], sometimes described as the action of the Prophet. The path brings liberation from bondage to sensual passions and desires; and the attainment of spiritual discipline. As the soul is perfected, individual qualities are transmuted into divine qualities, leading to complete obliteration of individual existence and perfect identity with God.
The path is not a continuous process of change. There are stable stations or [maqamat] on the way, which mark particular spiritual attainments achieved by the aspirant's personal effort. Each maqam is reached when the soul experiences a number of spiritual states or ahwal, and lasts for a fixed time. As soon as a maqam is reached then the earlier station has been completely attained. A hal (singular of ahwal) is not the same as a maqam; it is an unstable or passing mystical feeling of the heart granted by the grace of God to a chosen few. Thus maqamat are the results of actions of self-mortification while ahwal are gifts during which the individual is dead to himself, standing by a state created in him by God. Both are considered expressions of God's love, the one on the path of [mujahada] (striving), the other on the illuminative way of [mukashafa] (contemplative vision).
Many different interpretations of the path exist depending on the Shaykh or Sufi who described it. Orthodox Sufis speak of three main stages: [shari'a], [tariqa] and [haqiqa], the word, the action, the inward state. Others refer to four: [nasut], following the law; [malaqut], the angelic nature; [jabarut], spiritual powers; [lahut], divine qualities. Particular teachers detail many more stages.
At each level or station on the spiritual path, the individual is referred to by a particular title indicating his status. The first stage has been described as repentance, the turning from that which is against God. Further stages include poverty and love, leading to purity of soul and a feeling of oneness with God. The last station is [fana], the soul's absorption into God. At the stage of [baqa], perfection is reached, the sufi as [perfect man] abides in the world of divinity.
It can be interpreted that the Sufi travels three paths to realize identity with God. First, reflecting his being in the descending order of creation, means attainment of mental or sensual faculties, at the lowest when involved with animal instincts. This is the journey from God. There is then the journey to God, tariqat. Then return to the world as perfect man, serving humanity and guiding others on the spiritual path - the journey with God.