Since so many people believe the words of the Qur'an to be the exact words of a supernatural power which must be obeyed, I thought I'd read the book myself. It's not for the faint-hearted.
It's not chronological so you don't get a sense of a passage, or history, or even a progression. There are 114 books (Suras) each of which repeats a substantial part of what has already been presented so there is a huge amount of repetition. That's important for regions of low literacy where much of the teaching takes the form of chanting - by learning to chant selected suras, it's possible to cover the essentials of the religion.
In each sura there are passages which repeat tales of previous prophets from Abraham onwards but these are interspersed with vitriolic attacks on non-believers and supporters of other faiths, and passionate inducements to follow the words of the one and only God. There are sections which explain the punishments for disbelievers - as an atheist I qualify for amputation of an alternate hand and foot if I spread my disbelief.
There is a huge quantity of medieval social advice such as what to do with slaves, wives of slaves, cattle, and other property including who can legitimately inherit women and children, what to do with orphans and how to inherit their property. There are strong messages to treat people fairly including ensuring that orphans end up with their inherited wealth - except that it will eventually go to the husbands of any females.
What comes over more than anything else though is that there is an almighty contest between those "chosen" by God to believe and worship, and those "chosen" by God to disbelieve (or believe something slightly different), the latter being condemned to eternal fire. Fire features very strongly in the pain and suffering to be meted out in bucketloads to those who have heard but choose not to believe. This god is all-forgiving but very violent and aggressive - proud of mass murder of entire populations who didn't believe, but supremely forgiving of those who accede to the threats and convert. Once having converted, it is not possible to change your mind without incurring death as the inevitable punishment for so-called "apostates".
In this way, critical thinking, hesitation in front of preaching, searching for evidence, in fact any expression of doubt, incurs the wrath of a jealous god. The book is assembled from oral testimony collected over 23 years but is nonetheless accepted as being the literal word of Allah, deviation from which guarantees eternal damnation - despite the ubiquitous declarations of Allah being the most forgiving and peaceful god, etc.
The treatment of Judaism is curious. There is collective guilt allotted to those who have killed a prophet with all manner of warnings about how devious, dishonest, scheming, and untrustworthy followers of Judaism will always be. Guilt allotted collectively, redemption impossible except by unquestioning adherence to the words of the book. Muslims are urged never to trust jews or christians and reference is made often to ancient battles as justification. This extends even to those who convert.
Of course, the tales told in the religious books based on the followers of Abraham all share a common lineage and Islam repeats the myths found in earlier books, such as the Adam and Eve story, Isaac, Noah, Lot, and so on. And the Torah, similar to the first five books of the christian old testament, is revered as the word of god by jews, and this book contains similar stories. Islam claims also to revere those old texts but with subtle differences. Islam regards Jesus as just another prophet with god, the supernatural power, as being indivisible so you can't have Jesus and the holy spirit sharing the table. Three is obviously a crowd, but so is two - we have here a very very jealous god.
So on the one hand, you have a message saying Islam respects all those religions, but then there is the hectoring message that belief in any of the others will send people to eternal hell. The symbolism of the religion is very similar to the others too: there is hell, angels, souls, sin, redemption, forgiveness, plenty of guilt, prophets of course, a final judgement day, and so on. And like all the others, it's wrapped up in a carrot and stick approach: pray and believe or sin and burn in hell forever.
Like the other faiths of the "Book", they all are all designed to exploit social psychology, to encourage or enforce obedience to principles that may have had a social purpose in medieval and primitive societies but the morality expressed in these books is in many cases offensive today. Amputations are not an acceptable, or even effective, way of addressing those who disagree with elements of a religious faith. This is recognised by the translator (you can't have an editor of the Qur'an because you can't change the word of God...) who apologises in the introduction for the direct nature of the threats of violence against non-believers urging readers to concentrate on other passages. Not convincing I'm afraid!
The Qur'an is an interesting historical document, no doubt, just like the Torah, the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and so on. They tell us a lot about the societies that produced them and tried to live by the ethical rules contained in them but all ethics are historically determined and if we miss that point, we end up with the crude dogmatism we see from the Pope, the Imams, the Archbishops, and the other religious authorities.
I'd recommend people to read these books but be aware that you're in for a hectoring, abusive and bullying experience - you are to be damned unless you do what you are told. Put in the context of a primitive, often nomadic and agrarian society, you have the oral tradition designed to coerce and enforce adherence to socially useful practices mixed with peculiar dietary restrictions and denials. Viewed as a source for anthropology, these books can tell us a lot about those societies and an excellent companion is Albert Hourani's The History of the Arab Peoples which illustrates how well these ancient books helped enforce the social customs.
But let's be aware that these are books from one or two millenia ago - we are dealing with history here. Reading these books puts in stark relief what happens when entire populations are nowadays encouraged to enforce medieval or ancient practices based on suspicion and aggression with blind adherence to an oral tradition reporting the supposed words of a supernatural being. The books of course are riddled with contradictions and spawn parallel academic traditions of textual dissection designed to reinforce the political authority of religious rulers.
Reading these religious source books helps make sense of the blind irrationality of Bush, Rasmullah, Abedinejad, the Pope, and others. It explains better the aggression of militarist Israel with its apartheid policy towards Palestinians, and also some of the psychological triggers for suicide bombings.