THE MASTER-DISCIPLE RELATIONSHIP
The master-disciple relationship is a facet of Sufism that was laid down by Ghazali, and has remained central to this day. Ghazali sets forth the reasoning behind it:
The disciple [murid] must of necessity have recourse to a director [shaikh or sheikh: in Persian pir] to guide him aright. For the way of the Faith is obscure, but the Devil's ways are many and patent, and he who has no shaikh to guide him will be led by the Devil into his ways. Wherefore the disciple must cling to his shaikh as a blind man on the edge of a river clings to his leader, confiding himself to him entirely, opposing him in no matter whatsoever, and binding himself to follow him absolutely. Let him know that the advantage he gains from the error of his shaikh, if he should err, is greater than the advantage he gains from his own rightness, if he should be right.14
Once the seeker is initiated, his shaikh subjects him to a rigorous spiritual regimen, designed to induce the desired enlightenment. The discipline can come through a variety of forms, including assigned activity (e.g., sacrificial service of the master), oral instruction (including the use of "teaching stories"), and various spiritual exercises (we shall consider examples later). The precise training that the shaikh employs will vary from disciple to disciple, according to the perceived needs of the individual.