CSPI (the Center for the Study of Political Islam) has produced some excellent material for the non-Muslim. Their work centers around the idea that understanding Islam need not be difficult — it can be written in plain English. And they've done an excellent job doing so.
I've read (and recommended) A Simple Koran, and was thoroughly relieved to have such an understandable rendering of the Qur'an.
One of their books, Mohammed And the Unbelievers, is along the same lines. If you're only going to read one book, this is the one to read. It is only 167 pages, and contains everything you need to know about Mohammed's stance toward non-Muslims (and therefore Islam's stance today), and what he demonstrated in his life.
One of the things I have often recommended is talking to people about Mohammed because one of the most universal bedrock principles in all sects of Islam is that Mohammed's example is supposed to be followed by all Muslims. The reason this is so vital for non-Muslims to know is because Mohammed had a policy toward non-Muslims that Muslims follow to this day, all over the world. Here are some excerpts from the book:
"The religion of Islam is important to Muslims, but the politics [of Islam] affect every non-Muslim."Why knowing about Mohammed is important:
"Islam's success comes primarily from its politics. In thirteen years as a spiritual leader, Mohammed converted 150 people to his religion. When he became a political leader and warrior, Islam exploded, and Mohammed became king of Arabia in ten years."
"The Koran repeats more than thirty times that a Muslim is to obey Mohammed in word and deed, and more than forty times it condemns those who do not."Every passage in Mohammed And the Unbelievers has references to the original Islamic mainstream source of the passage, and it gives you the chapter and verse. I have checked many of these passages with my standard Qur'an (published by and for Muslim believers), and found every quote is accurate. One more excerpt from the book:
"Mohammed was the supreme master of complete war and has had no equal to this day. His understanding of the use of force was sophisticated and subtle. Physical violence was only a small part of his understanding of war. That is why comparisons make him superior to military men such as Julius Caesar. Other military geniuses established empires, but none of them had a process for war and empire that lasted for fourteen hundred years and is still going strong.I urge you to read Mohammed And the Unbelievers, and share what you learn with all your friends. Think of the education of those around you as a long campaign. Start today.
"Mohammed's profound insight was not just the waging of physical war but of the mind, emotions, culture, politics, and religion. There is no aspect of being human that Mohammed did not use for war. Money, salvation, sex, culture, religion, destiny, family, immigration, legal codes, government, power, deceit, racial pride, tribalism, community, fear, propaganda, diplomacy, spy-craft, philosophy, ethics, and psychology were all used for jihad. Jihad was not holy war but complete and total civilizational war."