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My understanding is that in Sufism one is initiated into the tariqah by a Sheikh, and that one is bound to follow his rulings. Is this correct? In practice what does this mean?

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I think it's more like: the sheikh is a spiritual guide that will, through some a'maal (like reading tasbih, quran, meditation, etc.), help you to become a better muslim. A good metaphor is : to go from point A (where you are) to point B (closer to Allah's pleasure), you can use a map (quraan and ahaadith) or take a guide (sheikh).

But remember that you should follow the Sheikh's ruling only if it's not in contradiction with Shariah...

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