I’m reading through The Qur’an: The Basics by Massimo Campanini, and so far have found it quite useful as a concise introduction to Islamic belief and practice. Here’s a sample (I hope to post more):
Islam is predominantly an anti-dogmatic religion, with just two general assumptions. There is a very basic profession of faith, and an absence of an ecclesiastical judge and a central doctrinal authority. In fact, the only principle to which all Muslims can agree is the assertion of the profession of faith “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God”. This is the indispensable belief. Everything else, at least from a theoretical perspective, is supererogatory or more than what is required. The study of theology is inessential. Instead, what binds Muslims is the practice of acts of worship, the “five pillars” consisting of the profession of faith, prayer, fasting, pilgrimage and charity. In fact, Islam is really an orthopraxy. In order to be saved it is necessary to act.
The fact that there are no sacraments in Islam and that dogma is resolved in orthopraxy renders a priestly class redundant. The connection between God and the believer is direct and immediate. The function of priests is replaced in Islam by ‘ulama’, experts in law and the religious sciences who are appointed jurists and theologians rather than priests. This means that an expert jurist may express legal opinions that are not binding on everyone but only on those who adhere to the school of law of that jurist. However, Muslims say with pride that they do not have a Church, and instead have consistently accepted the widest possible scope for debate and subjective and personal opinion.
(Campanini, The Qur’an, pp. 7–8)