Morality set in stone

12.02.42: THE FOLLOWERS OF the world's leading faiths assembled yesterday at Istanbul's Haghia Sophia to witness the unveiling of the Ten Universal Commandments by Patriarch Haralambos, Pope Joseph, Rabbi Sharon and Imam Abdullah.

The faithful were out in force too in Jerusalem, Delhi, Tokyo, Cairo, London, Katmandu and Rome to watch other deputations unveil identical marble tablets inside the great shrines of the world's faiths.

It has long been said that all religions are in agreement on the big things. But even 40 years ago most theologians held out little hope that the faiths would ever commit themselves to a common blueprint for righteous living. Preliminary talks for a "new Constantinople" began 20 years ago. During the five summit meetings that followed, doctrinal debate was often vicious. But in the end the spirit of forgiveness carried the day. The leaders chose Haghia Sophia for this historic coming together because it was a symbol of the rifts they were intent on healing. This great edifice was the pride of Constantine's Byzantine Empire and the centre of the Eastern Church. When the Ottomans conquered the city, it became a mosque. But for more than 100 years it has been a museum. It will now be known as the Universal Heart of Saintly Wisdom, a place of all worship.

Although many theologians hailed the commandments for their generosity, others criticised them for their compromises. Reincarnation gets only a brief look-in. Although many tenets of Islam are included, some Muslim clerics are unhappy that they had to settle for prayer only three times a day and that the injunction against usury was watered down. But as its proponents are keen to point out, the commandments are meant to serve not as an instruction manual for life but as general spiritual guidelines. MF

  • Trust in the Higher Power
  • Honour the prophets of all religions
  • Do unto others as you would have others do unto you in another life
  • Pray or meditate three times a day; devote one day a week to matters spiritual
  • Do not kill or torture
  • Do not wilfully damage the environment
  • Respect your parents; treasure your children; help the poor and the infirm
  • Make only promises you can keep; forgo all credit
  • Do not steal or sacrifice your principles for profit
  • Tolerate your neighbours and forgive your enemies

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