Like most of us I knew nothing about Islam before 9/11 and although I have absorbed a lot of information about it since, I am not sure I know much more now than I did then.
Is it necessary to understand the basics of a religion in order to be able to comment on it? Maybe. Then again, maybe not.
In my experience Islam and its spokespeople make having a meaningful understanding of the religious doctrine that motivates them before commenting on it about as necessary as undertsanding the philosophy of your average mass murderer before commenting on his crime.
Like you, I have heard about the "Religion of Peace" ad nauseum; heard that only a small minority are extremists; heard that the moderates are ordinary people like you and me.
Like you I am still waiting for any meaningful condemnation of Islamonuttiness from the moderates.
The President of Iran wants nukes and plainly states his intention to use them.
Hamas plainly states its determination to destroy Israel.
Islamonuts in Iraq routinely blow up other Muslims ( I know, they are only Shia and the bloweruppers are a much better brand of Muslim) and Mosques.
Islamonuts all over the world threaten to kill anyone who dares to publish anything they don't like, and follow through on their threats. Theo Van Gogh and the Danish cartoons aftermath come immediately to mind. At least in Canada the Islamonuts have the decency to file silly law suits rather than killing the messenger.
(Update: I guess I was wrong about the Canadian Islamonuts after all)
In Britain, Muslims are overwhelmingly in favor of imposing Sharia law and, according to surveys I have read do not consider themselves British at all. Muslims in Canada are trying to make their Sharia official amongst themselves. If there was any indication that they intended to keep it among themselves and voluntary I wouldn't see it as anything more destructive than the Jewish legal system that exists wherever there are Jews. Jews who wish to use it do, those who don't, don't and there is never any assertion by anyone that whatever country the Jews happen to inhabit should come to its senses and substitute Halacha for their national legal system. This doesn't even happen in Israel.
Islam, in its current incarnation is not a religion. It is a politico- religious movement, the leaders of which have made clear countless times that it is their intention to rule the world and impose Islam on everyone. Do we really have to know the intricacies of the Koran (Qu'ran or however else it has come to be called) to recognize and reject coercion when we see it? Do we really have to know the intricacies of the Koran to know that we don't want to live like the people in the Middle East, Iran and the various 'stans? No we don't.