Law, Way, and Realization
Know that there are three terms that the ignorant conflate, such that confusion arises about their meanings. And these are Law, Way, and Realization.
Concerning the Law: This refers to the rulings and judgments revealed to the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace. The scholars came to understand them from the Book and Sunna, not directly, but through inference. This refers to the rules encompassed by theology, jurisprudence, and tassuwwuf, which together comprise the Law.
Concerning the Way: It is to abstain from forbidden actions, outwardly or inwardly, and from those that are reprehensible, and from those that are permissible but useless; and it is to fulfill the obligatory duties, and as much as possible from among the voluntary prayers. This is done under the discipline of a person of gnosis.
Concerning Realization: It is thinning the curtain of separation between a person and what he believes from the unseen, until eventually he becomes like a witness of the unseen. Certain states ensue from this, such as godwariness, and pious caution, and renunciation of the world and one’s worldly status, and intoxication, and effusive passion, and so forth.
Related to this issue is the hadÏth of Harith ibn Malik al-Ansari, may God be pleased with him, when the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, said to him, “Harith, how did you wake up?” and Harith said, “I arose as a true believer.” So he, may God bless him and grant him peace, said to Harith, “Behind everything said there is some sort of truth, so what is the truth concerning your faith?” Harith replied, “I make myself hold the world in aversion. That is to say, I turned away. As a result, its stones and its gold became the same to me. I spent the night awake and I spent the day in thirst, as though I saw the throne of my Lord clearly, as though I gazed upon the people of Paradise visiting each other there, and likewise as though I heard the cries of the people in Hellfire.” And he, may God bless him and grant him peace, said, “You have this knowledge, so adhere to it.”
Just as these states follow Realization, so do two others also follow. The first of them is ridding the nafs of shameful defects of character, and its adornment with the traits of character of the prophetic example, such that these become our second nature. And the second is that righteous acts become easy for us, to the extent that, were we to wish to abandon them, our nafs would not allow us to do so. It thus becomes clear that Realization is a fruit of the Path, and that the Path is the practice of the most rigorous standards of devotion.
The Law is a tree, and the Path its branches, and Realization is its fruit. Is it possible for the fruits to exist without branches or branches to exist without the tree? Never. Therefore it is necessary for each of us, as we pursue the path of the Hereafter, to unite these three within us – and success comes only from God Most High.