Islam is one of the world's great monotheistic religions. Islamic culture, spanning 1,500 years, has produced some of the finest achievements of humanity. Yet the religion followed by a fifth of humankind, including millions from diverse ethnic backgrounds in the US and Europe, is largely seen in the West in terms of fundamentalism, bigotry and violence, a perception reinforced by the terrorist atrocities in New York and Washington in 2001 and subsequent outrages. But the real message of Islam is very far indeed from this picture, making it perhaps the least understood religion in the world. This informative guide recounts the history of Islam from the birth of Phophet Muhammad in the 6th century to its status as a global culture and political force today. Charting the achievements of Muslim civilization, it explains the nature and message of the Qur'an, outlines the basic features of Islamic law, and assesses the impact of colonialism on Muslim societies.