The most recent of the three great monotheistic religions (but by no means the most recent monotheistic religion as such!), Islam was founded by the Prophet Mohammad early in the seventh century of the common era. in western Arabia, and quickly spread in the following few centuries as far north-west as Spain, south into Africa, and east into Asia and India.
The word "Islam" means "submission" Muslims are those who submit themselves to the will of Allah (God). Hence "Muslim" literally means in Arabic: "surrendered to God." The sacred scripture is the Qu'ran (also transliterated as "Koran"), a "channelled" text dictated to Muhammad through the medium of the angel Gabriel over some 22 years (610 to 632 c.e.). The Qu'ran is considered the exact words of Allah, copied from a celestial tablet or heavenly (archetypal) Qu'ran.
Islam has a strong ecumenical emphasis. Earlier prophets such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, are recognised. Also, in the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, when the Jew and Arab find the common ground of "surrender to God," they are both "Muslim." Ironically in view of the tensions in the Middle East the last 50-plus years, Judaism and Islam are actually very similar. Both trace their ancestry back to Abraham (hence the term "Abrahamic religion"), both have highly developed legalistic and esoteric aspects, and both are opposed to representing God in visual form ("idolatry"). I have been told that a Muslim can enter a Jewish Synagogue, and a Jew can enter a Muslim mosque, but neither is allowed into a Christian church (because of the crucifix as an image of deity)
Islam and Christianity are however allied in that both are "religions" of the book - i.e. of monotheism through a revealed scripture.
Islam's attitude to non-theistic or non-monotheistic religions (e.g. Buddhism) or to newer monotheistic religions like Bahai'ism has been marked by cruel persecution both in the past (against the Buddhists in mogul India) and the present (against the Baha'is in Iran today). With Hinduism and Buddhism there is opposition to the latter's use of "idols". Islam's bad attitude to Bahai'sm is due to the fact that Bahu'llah claimed to be a prophet of God, but according to Islam that is impossible because Mohammad was the last of the prophets (the "seal of the prophets" - like a wax seal that closes a letter). The Bahai's get around this by saying that Mohammad was the last prophet of the old cycle, and Baha'ullah is the first of the new cycle. In any case, Baha'ism is so similar to Islam it can practically be considered a liberal reform version of it (despite differing in almost every minor detail).
Islam: Aesthetics of a Mystic Religion
90% of Muslims are Sunni - a name deriving from their claim to follow the sunan or trodden path (the words and actions of Mohammad and his first four successors)
The Shi'ite sects instead follow Ali, who was the prophet Mohammad's cousin and son-in-law. The name is derived from Shiat Ali - "Party of Ali". Esotericism is more developed in Shi'ism. Most Sufis or muslim mystics come from a Shi'ite tradition, although there are also Sunni Sufi lineages.
The Zaidi subsect of Shi'ites are basically like the Sunnis except that they recognize a line of non-supernatural imams. Zaidi imams ruled Yemen until being overthrown in 1962
The Twelvers or Imamis represent the bulk of Shi'ism. They recognise twelve imams, perfect sinless teachers partaking of the Divine Light (equivalent perhaps to avatars and buddhas of eastern traditions). The last imam dissapeared in 878 c.e. and is expected to return as the Mahdi, a messianic figure who will usher in a age of justice before the end of the world The term Imam is also used in a secular sense, e.g. Imam Khomeini, the religious dictator of Iran who overthrew the Shah.
The Ismailis recognise a continuing line of descent from Ismail, the eldest son of the sixth Twelver" Imam. They acknowledge seven (the sixth plus Ismail) divine teachers as earthly representatives of seven transcendent divine Powers. Their teachings are strongly influenced by Neoplatonic and Indian thought, and they give an esoteric interpretation to the Qur'an. The great scholar Henry Corbin has written extensively on the esoteric aspects of Ismailism.
The Holy Quran - Index of Topics - a hypertexted version of The English Translation Of The Holy Qur'an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
Islam - very good sympathetic non-biased introduction
Islam - Wikipedia page
Muslim Wiki - open encyclopedia on Islamic Subjects and the MuslimWorld from the Muslim perspective. This is a new open source project that anyone can join. The history behind it is as follows: a few years ago several Wikipedia editors encountered the same problems I have had on Wikipedia, namely delitionism and notability. They found that many entries for islam related subjects where deleted or rejected on the basis of claimed insufficent notability (read western sources). Muslimwiki was founded as a depository for articles and sections that were being vandalised or deleted for these reasons. Many of their editors are very passionate about the principles of openess and allowing a different (eastern) view of Islam to be presented.
Understanding Islam - Answers the questions of its readers and visitors regarding religion in general and Islam in particular.
About Islam and Muslims - a large collection of Islamic resources.
Islam Guide for non-Muslims A very well-presented, simple to read, informative illustrated guide written for non-Muslims who would like to understand Islam, Muslims, and the Holy Quran.
Muslim Text - the worlds first website sending Islamic SMS text messages, daily, to the Muslim Community worldwide.
The World of Islam
Islam-USA - a lot of resources, including on-line books and some links. Basically exoteric
Islamic Esotericism | Levels of Meaning in the Holy Qur'an by Dr. Ali Duran | An Interpretation of the meaning of Prophet, Messenger, and Messiah, in Islam, with reference to the Jewish holy apostate Sabbatai Zevi by Dr. Ali Duran | passages on the Mystical and Numinous experience from Andrew Wilson - Readings from World Scriptures : The Unitative State | The Transcendent, All-Pervasive Reality | The Formless