IT IS IMPORTANT to read the Koran (also spelled Qur'an) for yourself. You need to know what it says since it says a lot about how Muslims should treat us, the "unbelievers." Sixty-one percent of the Koran is about kafirs (non-Muslims). You've heard Jihadis quoting violent passages from the Koran, justifying their actions. And you've heard other Muslims saying the Jihadis have it wrong, and quoting peaceful passages.
Anyone talking about the Koran may have an agenda, may be biased, and may be deliberately distorting the contents. The only way to really know for sure what's going on is to read it yourself.
But if you've ever tried to read it you know it's hard. Most English translations are in Old English — why, I have no idea — and the Koran repeats itself many times, making it difficult to stay awake while you read it. The chapters are arranged in order from the longest to the shortest chapter, rather than in chronological order, so it seems to jump around, which is confusing. And sometimes, because of the way the Koran is written, it's difficult to know who is speaking to who.
In addition, the Koran makes references to events in Mohammad's life, and of course, unless you know a lot about Mohammad, you won't know what these events refer to.
A version of the Koran fixes these problems. A Simple Koran puts the passages in an understandable order and translates it into modern, readable English.
It also explains the events in Mohammad's life the Koran refers to, and makes it perfectly clear who is speaking to who.
An interesting thing comes to light in reading this version. Because the chapters are laid out in chronological order, you can clearly see the progression from tolerance at first — tolerance of the Jews, and even seeking the approval of the Jews — to rejection of them and their "evil ways," to outright hatred, condemnation, and urging war against them.
The way the Koran is normally laid out, you would never notice this progression as the revelations changed.
But wait a minute, you might be thinking, the fact that his revelations changed means there are conflicting passage in the Koran, right? So can't believers pick and choose what they want? Unfortunately, the Koran itself tells the believer how to handle its own contradictions. It says if a revelation contradicts one that came before it, the new one overwrites the earlier one. This is the principle known as "abrogation." The bad news for us infidels is that all the intolerant and violent passages abrogate the earlier tolerant and peaceful ones.
When reading this version in the order it was written, you can clearly see the passages get more and more violent and intolerant as Muhammad grew more politically powerful.
Reading the Koran is something you can do to help halt terrorism and stop the Islamic political encroachment. You'll be able to see through the deliberate confusion Jihadis create, and you can be a source of clarity for your fellow Westerners. A Simple Koran makes this important task much easier to accomplish.
The first three-fourths of the book is difficult to read because it is uninteresting. But then the book completely changes its tune. So when you're reading, just keep plowing away at it.
The reason it becomes interesting for non-Muslims is because the nature of Mohammad's revelations totally changed once he gained military power. When he first started out, when Islam was a small minority, Mohammad preached peace and tolerance. But once he gained enough followers and started raiding caravans and gained military and financial power (from the booty he stole from the caravans), he stopped trying to curry favor with the Jews and Christians — once he was no longer afraid of them — and his revelations became intolerant and then downright hateful. Don't take my word for it. Don't take anybody's word for it! Find out for yourself.
UPDATE: I have found an even better version of the Koran called An Abridged Koran. It's exactly the same as A Simple Koran and published by the same people (CSPI Publishing), except it consolidates all the repetition. The Koran is very repetitive. For example, the story of Moses and the Pharaoh is told in the original Qur'an 39 times! In An Abridged Koran, that story is only told once. The Koran is not a very big book once you take out all the repetition. Only 203 pages.
Take the pledge: Read the Quran.
Learn the basic teachings of Islam right now in one article (written simply and clearly): Why is Islam so Successful?
Find out where to get a free (mainstream) Koran, and learn more about An Abridged Koran here: Chronological Order of the Qur'an (make sure you read the comments).