Shaykh Abd al-Aziz al-Dabbagh was asked,
What is the difference between the way of al-Shadhili and his followers, and the way of al-Ghazali and his followers? The first seems to be fully centered around gratitude and joy to the Giver without any exertion or struggle, while the other seems to be focused on spiritual exercises (riyadah) and hunger and staying awake and tiring acts of exertion, so are they both in congruence on the necessity for riyada? and Imam al-Shadhili seems to command (his followers) to have gratitude after coming close to Arrival (wusul) or upon reaching it, or even to have gratitude and joy in Allah from the first moment of the Path. And could both Ways be taken at the same time by one person, or is it that you cannot benefit from one unless you avoid the other? Please give a thorough response…
The Way of Gratitude (Shukr) is the original Way, and it was the way traveled by the hearts of the Prophets and the Pure Ones among the Sahaba and others, and it consists of worshipful devotion (‘ibadah) of Him Most High with sincerity in servanthood and being free of all personal aims and selfish portions, coupled with recognition and admittance of one’s own impotence and deficiency and inability to fulfill the rights of Lordship, and that all of that become established and settled in the heart in every passing moment and hour. So when He (Most Exalted) saw their truthfulness in that, He rewarded them in accordance with what His overflowing Generosity would dictate, such as an opening into His Knowledge and obtainment of the secrets of secured belief (iman) in Him.
When the folk of Striving heard of the attainments of these, they made these attainments their ultimate aim and desire, and sought them through acts of fasting, praying at night, periods of solitude (khalwa), until they obtained whatever they obtained.
Therefore, in the first way (of Gratitude) the move (hijrah) was – from the beginning – towards Allah and His Messenger, and not towards spiritual illumination and unveilings, whereas in the other way (of Struggle) it was towards the obtainment of spiritual openings and levels and degrees in that. The travel in the first way is a travel of hearts, while in the second way is a travel of bodies; and the Opening (Fath) in the first is of-a-sudden, without the servant having any expectation or wait for it, so that while the servant is busy with repentance and seeking forgiveness, the manifest opening comes to him.
Both ways are correct, but the Way of Shukr is more correct and more sincere. Both ways are agreed upon the necessity for spiritual exercises and strivings, but in the first it is a striving of the hearts, by upholding the attachment between him and Allah Most High, and stationing the heart constantly at His Door, and fleeing to Allah in both states of motion and stillness, and striving to stay away from any periods of heedlessness (ghaflah) between moments of wakeful presence (hudur)… in a word, it consists of firm attachment of the heart to Allah and perpetuity in that state, even if outwardly one does not find (in them) great acts of worship. This is why you would find such a person fasting sometimes and feasting other times, sleeping sometimes and staying awake other times, sleeping with their spouses, and performing other duties of the religion which would appear in contradistinction with a way of life of bodily and physical riyadah.
As for the second way, the move (hijrah) is towards spiritual openings and levels. Then after the Opening, some of them remain stuck in their primary intention, so that his heart becomes attached to the things he witnesses, and he becomes happy and content with the unveilings and walking on water and moving long distances in short periods of time (lit: “folding up of distance”), and he sees that this is the ultimate goal. These are the people whose hearts are emptied of Allah from the beginning of their affair till its end, among “those who are the greatest of losers in their acts, whose strivings are misguided in this life, while they imagine that they perform excellently” (Qur’an 18:103-04).
But others (among this second way) change their intentions after the Opening, and Allah has mercy on them and takes them by the hand, so that their hearts become attached to Allah, and turn away from anything else. And this state which occurs with them is the beginning state for those in the first way (of Shukr) – so look at the great separation existing between the two!
So in summary, the traveling in the first way is a traveling of hearts, and in the second way is a traveling of bodies, and the intention in the first way is pure, and in the second is mixed and impure, and the Opening in the first is of-a-sudden and unexpected, and in the second is obtained through secondary means and efforts, and this is how the two ways are divided. Also, in the first Path, the Opening (Fath) is only obtained by the believer (mu’min) knower (‘arif) beloved (habib) close one (qarib), in distinction with the second Path, in which one hears of certain monks and rabbis undertaking physical acts of spiritual striving through which they attain to some degrees and ranks. In all of this we speak of physical and spiritual acts of striving and exertion in an absolute sense, regardless if they come from someone on the Path of truth or falsehood, and we are not referring specifically to the riyadah of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with him), for he is a true leader and a real saint.
As for your asking whether both ways can be taken by one person at the same time, then yes it is possible, for there is no contradiction in having one’s heart attached to Allah Most High in all moments, and undertaking outward acts of mujahadah and riyadah, and Allah knows best.