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September 9, 2017

For good living: There are more than the 10 commandments

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Recommendations for enhancing our quality of life and achieving personal happiness are found not only in the teaching of world religions; they are also intrinsic to disciplines such as philosophy, sociology and psychology.

Regardless of which tradition we may turn to for moral guidance, only a very few familiar recommendations can be transformed into formal laws and statutes, with requisite definitions and retribution for violators.

Murder, bribery and theft (as common examples) have made it into the criminal codes; but how do we deal with failing to honor one’s parents, or being selfish in our treatment of the poor and needy?

The Old Testament’s iconic Ten Commandments, given to Moses on Mount Sinai (a holy place I have actually visited), are well known and accepted throughout the world by adherents of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

But the Divine directives didn’t stop there: for 40 more days and nights Moses continued to receive the Lord’s commandments. (Exodus 24:18)

The Ten Commandments are also recorded in the Qur’an (6:151-153), but even many Muslims are unaware of them and that numerous other commandments for good living are found throughout the text of Islam’s holy book.

While the commandment to know, love and serve the Almighty applies to people of faith (whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or other traditions), those who do not believe in a supreme Creator nevertheless tend to agree that the numerous moral directives given in religious scriptures apply universally to humankind. Following them is the key to achieving individual and collective happiness, while ignoring them has grave consequences for all.

Among its more general commandments, the Qur’an advises people against the over-consumption of food and over-spending of money. Imagine how different our society would be if we all ate in moderation and lived within our financial means!

The Qur’an also includes a distinctive take on the universal “golden rule” – rather than treating others exactly as we would wish to be treated, Islam’s scripture exhorts believers to treat others better than they would wish to be treated.

Like Jewish and Christian scripture, the Qur’an also teaches that: if you don’t have something positive to say, it’s better to say nothing at all; don’t look down at people and denigrate them as your inferiors; don’t address them in disparaging terms, but greet even those you dislike with a smile; strive at all times to manage your anger; and always be humble.

But in today’s profit-driven culture, many familiar commandments have fallen by the wayside. We often ignore the teachings that warn us not to place the accumulation of material wealth above that of spiritual capital.

Many religions share various interpretations of a universal natural law that says when you do good, even to a far-away stranger, you will one day be abundantly rewarded. But today, few believe in this law, or assume it applies only to saints.

When these laws and commandments are forgotten, questions and misconceptions flow into the void of uncertainty left behind. For example:

Why must we conclude that a woman who smiles at a male stranger has ulterior motives? Why do we promote the sale of things people don’t need, just to make money? Why do we often use our education exclusively for money-making? Why don’t we take the time to appreciate beauty? Why do we still perpetrate the cruelty of war and violence on our fellow humans?

All of these examples are included in the scriptural commandments of world’s religions.

One of the great encompassing commandments is to be on guard against your own ego – the sin of egoism is often the cause of misery and sickness for both body and soul.

The first commandment in the Qur’an is to worship the Lord sincerely, immediately followed by the second, to treat your parents kindly.

Thus, in a very short passage, we encounter a law dealing with divine obligations and another dealing with human ones. Special emphasis is given to mothers, as they are the ones who took care of us all, even before birth.

Sadly, I find that today’s society is greatly lacking in the care given to parents. I use this as a parameter to measure a person’s character. If someone is kind to his/her parents, especially in their old age, I can conclude that they are of good character.

And this applies even if you believe your parents did a lousy job of bringing you up. The Qur’an clearly states that you should still treat them kindly – a commandment I find Muslims (and others) today often ignore.

Fortunately, there are no copyright laws on any of the commandments our various faiths share. You can feel free to apply one, ten, or tens-of-tens to your life; whether many or few, you will be happy with the results.

Perhaps now in my old age I should embark on compiling as many of these tens-of-tens of commandments as I can find. It could be a bestseller – who knows?

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