In Arabic the word tasawwuf, Islamic mysticism, consists of four consonants, t, s, w and f. The first letter, t, stands for tauba, repentance and this is the very first step to be taken on the Path. The outward step of repentance is in words, deeds and feelings, while the heart takes the inner step on repentance. It is the cleansing of the heart from conflicting worldly desires and the hearts total desire for the wish for the Divine.
The second stage is the state of peace and joy, safa which is represented by the letter, s. The first is towards purity of the heart and second towards its secret center. Peace comes from a heart free of anxiety, which is caused by the weight of all that is material - the weight of food, drink, of sleep, idle talk, gossip, etc. All of this, like the gravity of the earth, pulls the ethereal heart down wards, and to free itself from this weight tires and burdens the heart. Then there are ties – desire, possessions, love of family and children – which bind the ethereal heart to earth and keep it from soaring.
To purify and free the heart is to remember Almighty Allah and at the beginning this remembrance (zikr) can be done outwardly, by continually repeating His divine Names, pronouncing them aloud so that you yourself and others can hear and remember. Then as the memory of Him becomes constant, remembrance sinks to the heart, is engraved, and becomes inward and silent. The peace of the secret center of the heart is achieved by cleansing the heart of each and ever thing and preparing it to receive Almighty Allah’s essence alone. The means of this cleansing is the constant inward zikr and recital with the secret tongue of the divine Confession of Unity 'la ilaha illa Llah – there is no god but Allah'.
The third letter, w, stands for wilaya, which is the state of sanctity of the lovers and friends of Allah and depends on inner purity. The one in this state is totally conscious of, in love with and connected to Allah. As a result he is beautified with the best of character, morals and manners and this is a divine gift bestowed upon him. Our Master the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, "Observe divine morals and behave in accordance with them".
Allah says through His Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace):
When I love My servant I become his eyes, his ears, his tongue, his hands and his feet. He sees through Me, he hears through Me, he speaks in My name, his hands become Mine and he walks with Me.
The fourth letter, f, stands for fana, the annihilation of the self, the state of nothingness where the false self melts and evaporates when divine attributes enter one’s being, and when the multiplicity of worldly attributes and personalities leave, their place is taken by the single attribute of unity.
There are also four realms, four worlds. The first is the world of matter, of earth, water, fire and ether. The second is the world of spiritual beings, of the angels, of jinns, dreams and death, of the rewards of Almighty Allah – the eight paradises, and the justice of Allah – the seven hells. The third is the world of Word, the Beautiful Names of Allah’s attributes, and the Hidden Tablet, which is the source of all Allah’s messages. The fourth is the realm of Allah’s pure essence, a realm indescribable because at that level there are no words, names, attributes or likeness and none except Almighty Allah know it.
There are four kinds of knowledge. The first is knowledge of Allah’s precepts, and is concerned with the outer aspects of the life of this world. The second is mystical knowledge, the inner knowledge of causes and effects. The third is knowledge of the spirit and through it knowledge of the divine and finally there is knowledge of the Truth.
The souls are also of four kinds: the material soul, the enlightened soul, the sultan-soul and the divine soul.
Appearances, the manifestations of Almighty Allah, the Creator, are also of four kinds. The first is the manifestation in form, shapes and colors, as if in His beautiful artwork. The second is in actions and interactions, in things that happen. The third is His manifestation in attributes, qualities, the character of things. Finally there is the manifestation of His essence.
The intellect, or reasoning power, is also of four kinds: the intelligence which deals with worldly affairs; the intelligence which considers and thinks of the hereafter; the intelligence of the soul, spiritual wisdom; and finally the total Causal Mind.
Some men stay at the first level of knowledge, soul, manifestation and intellect. They are the inhabitants of the first paradise called the 'paradise of the security of home', that is the earthly paradise. Those who are at the second level belong to a higher level of Paradise, the garden of delight upon Allah’s grace upon His creatures, which is the paradise within the angelic realm. Those who reach the third level are in the level of heavenly paradise, the paradise of divine Names and attributes in the realm of unity.
Yet those who seek and attach themselves to the rewards of Allah, even if they are in paradise, cannot see the true reality within themselves and within the things around them.
Those men of wisdom who seek the truth, those who have achieved the true state of the dervish, the state of total need of anything but Allah, the need to Allah alone, leave everything and seek nothing but Truth. Our Master, the beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) does not mean that the world and hereafter are unlawful, but the Prophet means that the seekers who wish for and seek Allah’s Essence deprive their flesh and their egos (nafs) of the needs, loves and demands of the world and worldly.
As the dervishes overcome their egos and the tyranny of the lower desires of their flesh with the blessing of this divine phrase 'la ilaha illa Llah – there is no god but Allah', and reach the level of beings who can discriminate between right and wrong, condemn the wrong within themselves and wish for the right, then a sky-blue light emanates from them. When, from that state, with the help of inspiration from Allah they opt for the good and leave the bad, a red color engulfs them. With the blessing coming from the name of Allah, hu, that name which none other than the Truth can describe, they reach a level that is cleansed of all harmful attributes and bad actions and find a state of peace and serenity. Then a green light emanates from them. When all ego and its wishes, when all personal will is left behind with the blessing of Haqq, the Truth, and when they submit their wills to the will of Allah and are pleased with all that comes from Allah, their color turns to white light.
These are the descriptions of the novice dervish at the beginning of the Path until they reach a median stage. But the one who reaches the limits of this Path has neither form nor shape nor color, he becomes like a ray of sunshine. The dervish who has reached the highest level has no being to reflect light or color and if anything, his color would be black, which absorbs all light. This is a sign of the state of annihilation.
The beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) commented that the world is a dungeon for the faithful. As he points out, calamities first fall upon the prophets, then upon those who are the closest to Allah, then in descending scale upon those who are trying to come close to Him. Therefore it is appropriate for the dervish to wear black and to tie the black turban around his head, for it is the clothing of the one who is prepared the pains of this path. Our Master the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) says: "Those who are sincere are always at the edge of great danger." But this is the state of the dervish who has left his being and is in the realm of annihilation His poverty of this world which he has left behind and his total need for Allah is great, and he looms as a great beauty over and above humankind.
Courtesy - Secrets of Secrets by Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani (may Allah be pleased with him)