The following is from a work-in-progress called The Qur'an: a Book Report, in which I read each surah of the Qur'an and write about what I learn.
This surah takes its title from a reference in verse 38 to the practice of consultation (or, shura). This means, simply, the practice of deciding your affairs in consultation with those who will be affected by that decision. It is a type of democracy, and is meant to be an important characteristic of the Muslim community. Believers are encouraged to "conduct their affairs by mutual consultation." This way of being, of having a mutual concern for others, is a good antidote to selfishness and ego-centrism.
This surah also contains a number of verses which go against western stereotypes of Islam as an inherently aggressive, violent, or repressive religion. Regarding treatment of Christians and Jews, the surah says, "God is our Lord and your Lord--to us our deeds and to you yours, so let there be no argument between us and you--God will gather us together, and to Him we shall return." This is actually a lovely picture of religious tolerance.
Regarding when it is appropriate to fight, the surah says, "There is no cause to act against anyone who defends himself after being wronged, but there is cause to act against those who oppress people and transgress in the land against all justice." In other words, it is only okay to fight against oppression and injustice. Finally, regarding how to treat "unbelievers," a Muslim's only duty is to deliver God's message. There can be no compulsion in matters of faith. In this surah, God says to Muhammad, "Your only duty is to deliver the message."
The more I read the Qur'an, the more I realize that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are not so different from one another. We are all more connected than we realize.