Extracted in most parts from "Book of Wisdoms: al-Hikam al-'Ata'iyya" by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller
"Allah created you and that which you do" (Qur’an 37:96).
The method of the spiritual ascent is threefold, consisting of knowledge (‘ilm), practice (‘amal), and the resultant state (hal) bestowed by Allah. Knowledge here means everything conveyed to us by the Holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), which is the content of the Sacred Law or shari‘a.
The practice of this knowledge, inwardly and outwardly, with heart and limbs, is the spiritual path or tariqa.
The resultant state, Allah’s drawing near to the heart that thus draws near to Him, is the dawning of the Divine Presence upon the soul, termed by Sufis "ultimate reality" or haqiqa.
Ibn ‘Ata' Illah, as a spiritual guide, is concerned in this work with the second moment of this ascent, that of way and works, so begins his book by letting the traveller know that the matter of his spiritual progress is in Allah’s hands alone.
Discouragement at the inevitable mistakes one makes in the path is a sign of relying on one’s deeds rather than on Allah.
Works, whether prayer, or the dhikr or "remembrance" of Allah, or fasting, or jihad, do not cause one to reach the end of the path, but are merely proper manners before the majesty of the Divine while on it.
Just as putting one’s net in the sea does not produce fish, though one must keep it there so that if Allah sends fish they can be caught—so too works are a net, and their spiritual outcomes are from Allah.
Abu Hurayra (Allah be well pleased with him) heard the Holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) say:
"None of you shall be saved by his works." A man said, "Not even you yourself, O Messenger of Allah?" He said, "Not even me myself, unless Allah envelopes me in mercy from Him. But aim to do right" (Muslim, 4.2169: 2816).