Hearts & Flowers Find Few Takers
Maha Akeel, Ghada Aboud & Lulwa Shalhoub, Arab News

JEDDAH, 14 February 2005 — Red roses, teddy bears holding red hats and red cards with soft words about love are all signs that Valentine’s Day is here. For weeks, magazines and newspapers in the Kingdom have carried advertisements for stores selling certain “gifts” packaged and presented in ways that made them appropriate for Valentine’s Day. Of course, the advertising did not actually say so.

The idea has found fertile ground among teenagers, who look for gifts and red roses to exchange with each other. Some female students in schools tend to wear red sweaters over their uniforms or even red socks.

However, the religious authorities have warned the public against celebrating Valentine’s Day or selling gifts related to the holiday.

“A Muslim is prohibited from celebrating, approving or congratulating on this occasion,” said the ruling issued by the Fatwa Committee. Supporting others in celebrating the day by buying or selling Valentine’s items, presenting gifts or making festival food falls in the category of approval and is unacceptable.

A spokesman of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, meanwhile, denied that there was a ban on the sale of red roses. He said it was illogical to seize everything that is red.

“However, the commission advises people and might take action if anything attacking our religion happened,” he added.

This is one of those stories that generally gets Americans twittering about how foolish Saudi religious authorities are. What could be more secular than Valentine’s Day, after all.

We, in the West, barely recall that there was a Saint Valentine, and surely don’t recall why he was canonized… for that matter, is he still even a saint, or did he lose his halo in the downsizing that happened in the 60s, when St. Christopher got bumped.

But, Christian saint, or a purely “pagan” holiday, either is sufficient to get it banned in a country that has no secular holidays whatsoever, and only two religious holidays at that.

The article suggests, though, that Saudis know how to deal with the day and its sentiments. It also appears that the religious police know that there’s no thumb sufficient to hold back this leak in the dike.

February:13:2005 - 21:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink
2 Responses to “Dealing with Valentine’s Day”
  1. 1
    Alan Said:
    February:15:2005 - 12:56 

    If they know people will exchange Valentine’s Day gifts or sentiments despite the warnings and fatwa, why do they bother? What do they fear? Is Islam really under attack if a husband gives his wife a card saying “I love you”?

    There is a reason why Americans see this type of behavior by the Saudis as absurd…because, by any objective measure, it is. How happy are the citizens of the Kingdom with a religious establishment which seeks to control even the most mundane or trivial aspects of their lives?

  2. 2
    John Said:
    February:22:2005 - 10:17 

    Alan: Saudis have mixed feelings about it.

    One of the main precepts of Islam as practiced in Saudi Arabia is that people should not only avoid “occasions of sin” (to use a Catholic term), but have a duty to prevent others from straying into sin. They believe in a much more active role in being one’s brother’s keeper than any other group I can think of.

    Of course, this is unacceptable in the West. It’s also unacceptable for many Saudis, particularly when there’s no really effective way of dealing with individual abuses. Nobody is going to win a religious court case by claiming that the offender was “too religious”.

    The role of the religious police has been being wound down since March, 2002, but there’s a long way to go.

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