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Muslim Journeys: Pathways of Faith


Following the correct pathway to spiritual fulfillment and success is a key Islamic principle. Readings for this theme explore the basic requirements for learning and obeying the precepts of the Qur’an, following Muhammad’s teachings, and engaging in specific formal practices. Also introduced are the pathways leading from Judaism and Christianity to Islam, the youngest of the three Abrahamic religions; the divergent paths followed by the Sunni and Shia communities; and the mystical routes to spiritual fulfillment known as Sufism.

The theme “Pathways of Faith” resonates with Islam’s most important principle: following the correct pathway to spiritual fulfillment and success. One significant pathway for Muslims is Islam’s place as the youngest religion in the extended Abrahamic family of Jews and Christians. Islam’s fellow monotheistic believers may be traced back to the earliest roots of Jewish tradition in the Patriarchal Age of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as reported in the biblical book of Genesis and finding fulfillment down through generations in the work of Moses, the Hebrew prophets, and Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, “Pathways of Faith” pays attention to all the children of Abraham, “the People of the Book”: Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Although the Islamic tradition respects its two older siblings, its own pathway of faith has specific teachings and required practices based in its revealed scripture, the Qur’an (“recitation”). Muslims believe that the Qur’an was recited by the angel Gabriel as a series of revelations from Allah to the Arabian prophet Muhammad, whose own life, teachings, and personal example also came to be deeply respected by the growing Muslim community through imitation, and by being handed down in the form of oral reports addressing a range of spiritual, ethical, and legal issues. Thus, learning and obeying the precepts of the Qur’an and following Muhammad’s teachings are central aspects of Islamic belief and practice.

All Muslims share central doctrines (e.g., Allah is one, Muhammad is his prophet) and practices (daily prayers, fasting, almsgiving, the pilgrimage to Mecca known as the hajj), but there are historical political differences that divide the global Muslim community (Umma) into two major subcommunities: the Sunni majority and the smaller, but no less important, Shiite community. There are also optional mystical pathways known collectively as Sufism that provide richly varied opportunities for spiritual fulfillment.

Scholar & Essay

This theme was developed by Frederick M. Denny, Professor Emeritus of Islamic Studies and History of Religions in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. An alumnus of the College of William and Mary and Andover Newton Theological School, he also holds M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago and has previously held teaching appointments at Colby-Sawyer College, Yale University, and the University of Virginia. He has conducted field research on Qur'anic recitation, Muslim popular ritual, and the characteristics of contemporary Muslim societies in Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and North America. His publications include a widely used college level textbook,An Introduction to Islam (4th ed. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2010) and several edited volumes. He is founding editor of the scholarly book series Studies in Comparative Religion at the University of South Carolina Press. He was lead editor for the second edition of Atlas of the World's Religions (Oxford University Press, 2007). Denny served for eleven years on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Religion.