Traditional Degrees of Commitment & Attainment
Any form of Sufism is a graduated path, which includes certain levels of commitment and attainment. What follows is a brief description of these various degrees:
1) Muhib (literally “lover,” one who is attracted to the tariqa). The commitment of the muhib is simply to be present for teaching and to pursue introductory practices with a modicum of diligence.
2) Talib (literally “candidate,” one who has achieved a cursory knowledge of the Path and is being prepared for actual admittance to a school. The goal of the aspirant must be to overcome the habits of the “commanding nafs,” the specific qualities of which include pride, enmity, cruelty, lust, and stinginess. The primary task of the candidate is to admit — and then to begin to correct — imperfections of character so as to fulfill introductory practices, become conversant with introductory concepts. and begin to adequately practice the aci1h (or “courtesies”) of the Path.
3) Murid (literlly “one guided”). a person who has been formally accepted into the school. one in whom the nafs is beginning to be controlled). The commitment of the murid is to progress beyond the stage of the “commanding nafs,” encounter and overcome the “blaming nafs.” The specific qualities of which include: blaming others, backbiting, trickery and conceitedness. After taking formal initiation (bay’at haqiqa), the murid must form a strong internal bond (rabita) with the guide, follow the latter’s instructions diligently, soften and open the heart, undergo tests of loyalty, continue to question with utter politeness and sincerity, and (above all) fan the flame of inspiration or of ardent devotion (ishq) to God.
4) Dervish (literally “one who waits at the door” or “poor one,” one in whom the nafs has been considerably diminished). The commitment of the Dervish is to attain (and then surpass) the “inspired nafs,” the specific qualities of which include generosity, contentment, modesty, liberality, and gratitude. While the stabilization of these qualities is seen as positive, the dervishusually has not yet surpassed the condition of dualistic perception, and may succumb to bouts of inflation.
5) Wali (literally “trusted friend, one in whom the nafs has been mostly surpassed). The commitment of the wali is to attain (and then surpass) the “contented nafs,” the attributes of which include dignity, sincerity, courage, compassion, and complete loyalty. While the wali is considered to have achieved the degree of “minor sainthood,” he/she must, at his stage, achievetawakul (complete reliance upon Allah alone) and overcome the remaining habits of dualistic perception, including a self-serving form of “detachment.”
6) Rahbar is a wali who has been appointed to function as a “spiritual guide.” In addition to the traits already attributed to a wali, irshad includes: ilm, specific knowledge about the “sciences” of the Path as well as an extensive understanding of marifah or mystical experience. While a guide may function as a murshid, he/she may not yet have attained the level of the “purified nafs,’ the attributes of a mature murshid (see below).
Beyond these degrees lies the function of the Murshid (literally “one who guides”). The attributes of the guide are many. They may include having fully traversed all the degrees of fana(anihilation) and baqa (subsistence).