Linguistically, Shari’a means the way or the path to the pond; the route the traveller must tread if he wishes to quench his thirst and assure the safety of his flock. Like water, the Shari’a, is both internal and external to the human condition: it both constitutes the human soul and it nourishes it. We learn from Umm al-Mu’minin, ‘Aisha bint Abi Bakr (may Allah be well-pleased with them both), “The demeanor of the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] was the Qur’an” (kana khuluquhu al-Qur’an). The purport of this is that Quranic injunctions were the Messenger’s sacred nature, that the Shari’a was his fitra.
The Mujaddid Alf-i Thani, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, writes in one of his letters (maktubat) that the Shari’a is comprised of three parts, namely ‘ilm (knowledge), ‘amal (practice), ikhlas (sincerity). The attainment of Shari’a depends on the realization of these three aspects which constitute it. Without knowledge, practice is impeded. Without sincerity, both are misguided.
He continues to say that both tariqa and haqiqa (the latter signifying the attainment of a level of consciousness and spirituality whereby one is in full realization of Allah’s all-encompassing existence) obtain to the third element in Shari’a, namely ikhlas. Therefore, tariqa is a sine qua non, or indispensable precondition, for the attainment of Shari’a, and conversely the single objective of tariqa is to facilitate Shari’a on the individual as well as social levels.
The people of tariqa are thus the people of Shari’a, and during the sojourn of the spiritual wayfarer the inner wisdoms of the outer norms become apparent to him. The ultimate aim is to reach a state of rida (contentment with Allah's commands), as this is the final destination of both suluk (being preoccupied with Allah) and jazb (being absorbed in Allah).