JERUSALEM—In the most significant Islamic ideological pronouncement since a 732 AD pledge to drive the Hebrews into the sea, the world's approximately 975,000,000 Muslims announced plans Monday to "lighten up a bit."

After centuries of strict fundamentalism, PLO leader Yasir Arafat and his fellow Muslims are finally taking things a little less seriously.

"For the past dozen centuries or so, perhaps we took things a little too seriously," Arab League president Ibn Raouf-Abdel said. "Yes, abstaining from strong drink and hiding women's faces from view and castrating blasphemers are all great. But isn't there more to life? What about flying a kite? Or swinging on a swing? Or cakes at birthday parties?"

The change of heart came as the result of an incident during a Sacred Sword of Righteousness rally Monday in Damascus, Syria. According to witnesses, as SSR leader Waleed bin Aziz mounted the steps leading to the stage, he tripped over his robe, causing him to lose his balance and fall face-first into an audience member's bowl of yogurt. At first, those in attendance held their breath and stifled their laughter for fear of execution. But then, bin Aziz stood up and, after a long pause, threw up his hands and erupted in laughter, breaking the tension and freeing up the crowd to do the same.

"You know," said Abdullah Sadiiq, who was at the rally, "we haven't all shared a good laugh like that for, oh, it must have been at least a good 1,500 years. And you know what? It felt great."

Within hours, word of the humorous episode had spread throughout the Arab world, inspiring hundreds of millions of people to adopt a more lighthearted, easygoing attitude.

Among the strict beliefs now being reconsidered as a result of the incident is the centuries-old Islamic dress code for women.

"Yes, woman was born to be servant to man," Beirut University professor Mahmoud bin-Gemayel said. "Absolutely. But do they have to wear those hot, uncomfortable black outfits with the face veils all the time? There must be some other way they could show men their subservience."

Changes were also evident in Kabul, Afghanistan, where extremist Taliban leaders have overhauled their strict penal code. For centuries, traditional law decreed that those caught stealing would have their hands cut off in the public square. In the future, however, thieves will merely be stripped nude, whipped, covered in dung and chased by dogs through the streets for several hours before being jailed.

"It never made much sense to cut off their hands, anyway," Taliban member Khalif al Tabbouk said. "After all, they can hardly be expected to earn a living through honest labor after their crime if they don't have any hands, right?"

Sultan Reza bin Yutil of Oman, said to be one of the world's richest men, showed his support for the new "lighten-up" approach by forcibly embracing a visitor, then turning to a group of his servants and clapping his hands, shouting, "Prepare a feast!"

"Everyone likes a nice feast," bin Aziz said.

Perhaps no one was more pleased by the lighten-up policy than author Salman Rushdie, whose death was called for by Islamic leaders in 1988 following the alleged blasphemy of his controversial book The Satanic Verses. Rushdie's death sentence was formally rescinded Monday by a coalition of Islamic leaders, who told him, "It was an honest mistake, just try not to do it again." To make it up to Rushdie, 16 Arab nations chipped in and bought him a pasta maker.

"Ideally, yes, we would still like to avenge history with the blood of our enemies," PLO leader Yasir Arafat said Tuesday during an appearance on Late Show With David Letterman. "But there has got to be a nicer, more reasonable way to do it."

Added Arafat: "By the way, have you read about what's been going on in China, Dave? They're executing suspected drug traffickers and banning student demonstrations. It's crazy over there."

Spokespersons for the world's fundamentalist Christians said that under no circumstances would they lighten up.