My undergraduate course in Arabic involved reading selections from the Koran and the Hadith (traditions of the Prophet) and studying Islamc history and thought. I later went on to read the whole of the Koran and a lot more Hadith as well as some of the books of Sharia Law. Muslims ask me how I could learn so much about Islam without becoming a Muslim. I tell them they can call me a Muslim if they will allow me to be a Mukhtazilite in theology(i.e. rationalist), an Ismaili in Law (i.e. liberal), a Kharijite in politics (i.e. devolutionist) and a Chishti in devotion (i.e. open). All these possibilites exist in Islam, but I don't think the combining of them is recognized.
I have written a book, Unfolding Islam, in which I attempt to show its diversity in time and space. Some Muslims objected to a non-Muslim writing about their religion, but plenty of non-Christians have written about Christianity - often in a more interesting way than Christians, and there have been a number of books by Muslims about Jesus, who is after all one of their prophets. A Muslim writing about Islam is likely to overemphasize his or her own branch and to underestimate the others. I hope that I have managed to show the positive aspects of all the main varieties of Islam. Writing about the modern era, I have felt a responsibility, as citizen of the country whose empire destroyed Mughal India and the Ottoman Middle East, to acknowledge the damage we did to the Islamic world.
I attach the introduction to my book.