Valentine’s Day, named after a 3rd C. Christian saint, but now (almost) universally understood as a secular holiday on which people pay a little more attention to their personal relationships, bothers the bejeebers out of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. They cannot separate the fact that human relationships—particularly emotional relationships—are universal and perhaps worthy of acknowledging from the fact that there’s some Christian dude in the background, that the idea wasn’t invented in the Muslim world, and the whole thing about love and maybe even sex is not something we should be talking about in public. So, every year as February 14 roles along, the Commission does what it always does: try to suppress the observation of the holiday in Saudi Arabia. Cultural imperialism, inappropriate behavior, sentiments dangerous to religious purity… all reasons to shun St. Valentine. At least they’re not alone in this as the Hindutva elements in India share the outrage against the expanding globalization that shrinks our world.

So, for your annual edification and amusement, here’s this year’s story about the Haya’s efforts in getting upset over the trivial and people’s efforts to go around them. The story casts Saudi society into such good light that the Saudi-bashers can hardly wait for the opportunity to pick up their cudgels. Good job, Haya!

Red rose ‘price index’ shows Valentine’s spike
Sultan Altamimi & Omar Mohamed | Arab News

JEDDAH: The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice intensified its vigilance over flower, chocolate and gift shops to confiscate items related to Valentine’s Day, a perennial crackdown on a holiday perceived by many to be both Western and immoral.

Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, head of the commission’s branch in Makkah province, said the agency has instructions to eliminate any activities aimed at celebrating this event or sell products related to it.

“This is based on the teachings of Shariah. God ordained Muslims to celebrate their own festivals in place of un-Islamic ones,” he said. “So Muslims are not allowed to celebrate any festivals other than Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.”

Arab News toured a number of shops selling flowers, chocolates and assorted gifts. All but one of the stores avoided any hint in their displays of merchandise that Valetine’s Day is tomorrow.

But money talks even if most shopkeepers don’t: The price of red roses have gone up as much as 10 times the regular price, indicating a demand.

For an example of how this story goes out to global media, here’s Donna Abu-Nasr’s report for the Associated Press: Religious police break hearts in Saudi Arabia

February:13:2009 - 08:45 | Comments & Trackbacks (14) | Permalink
14 Responses to “Yearly Suppression of Valentine’s Day Stories”
  1. 1
    USpace Said:
    February:14:2009 - 00:07 

    It’s good to see that love and the market are stronger than unreasonableness. Well, since many Islamic clerics condemn it as a non-Muslim Holiday, and say that Muslims may not celebrate a Christian (or Pagan) holiday; and since their ‘Religious Police’ enforce this, it’s pretty safe to say that Sharia Law is against this. Not all Muslims of course, just the Law governing them in Saudi Arabia and other countries.

    India’s radical Hindus are rabidly against V-Day too.

    How very enlightened and civilized.
    here’s an absurd thought -
    your Supreme God says
    outlaw Valentine’s Day

    confiscate ALL red roses
    keep men and women apart

    absurd thought -
    God of the Universe says
    Valentine’s Day is evil

    it just reminds the people
    about Christianity

    absurd thought -
    God of the Universe says
    destroy ALL Valentine’s cards

    remove items colored red
    from all the store’s shelves

    absurd thought -
    God of the Universe fears
    a Christian minority

    even though they may not build
    or repair their churches
    All real freedom starts with freedom of speech. Without freedom of speech there can be no real freedom.



  2. 2
    Grace Said:
    February:14:2009 - 01:05 

    New Years Eve/Day is another one that really bugs them. Seems they should have better things to do with their time, like making sure all the ladies in swimsuits pictured on swimming pool toys are properly blacked out with a marker- so when you go to Toys R Us you aren’t corrupted by the pictures on the merchandise- oh wait! They’ve already done that….there must be something else…

  3. 3
    DW Said:
    February:14:2009 - 02:22 

    From time to time when I used to buy Electronic Gaming Monthly I avoided buying it from Jarrir Book Stores or supermarkets. I always bought them from an import gaming store that managed to ship some from the U.S without them getting markers.

    I hope one day they realize that all this suppression doesn’t really create faith followers.. only creatures of habit.

  4. 4
    chucho Said:
    February:14:2009 - 04:52 

    Ya’ll should keep in mind that these guy have a lot of support among Saudi men and women. To most, I think it’s not so much whether the religious police should exist or not, but rather the boundaries that should be set up. In a country where it’s common knowledge that the cops are likely to take bribes, the locals prefer to inform the religious police when they discover, say, an illegal liquor distillery in the ‘hood. As one Saudi told me, “the cops are scrawny, and they might end up taking the liquor home or going into business with the crooks. These guys are big and they come in and smash the liquor bottles saying ‘Allah Akhabar.’ They’re not gonna take bribes or steal the liquor for themselves.”

    I don’t like these guys, personally, but I can also see the perspective of many Saudis regarding the Haya. They might be a “clique” and kind of obnoxious, but they are widely perceived to be immune from the kind of corruption that is seem in the regular police.

    Re: Valentine’s Day: the Haya are kinda silly. What they’ve done is spotlighted the holiday each year. It’s become more popular to do Valentine’s Day precisely because of the “subversive” element created by the Haya themselves. It’s actually more romantic to get your sweetheart a Valentine’s Day present in a country where it’s banned than in a country where it isn’t banned — the whole “forbidden fruit” element goes into play. If the Haya were smart they would pick their battles more carefully. Too bad they spend most of their time just reading Quran, there’s a lot to be learned in other books that would make them a bit more sophisticated. Their loss.

  5. 5
    John Burgess Said:
    February:14:2009 - 10:10 

    You are, of course, right and it’s a point I try to keep making in talking about Saudi Arabia. Saudi society is deeply conservative and religious. While the Haya may be seen as extreme, it is generally not seen as a bunch of out of control thugs, out to spoil everyone’s fun.

    Because its mission can be traced back to Quranic verses, most people are not likely to challenge its existence or its goals. The criticism comes from just how the religious police are interpreting Islam, not that they are doing it.

  6. 6
    John Burgess Said:
    February:14:2009 - 10:14 

    Yes, by focusing on the trivial, the Commission lends itself to mockery. Mockery leads to contempt. Contempt leads to ignoring what it preaches or, more actively, doing the opposite. That is simple human nature.

    I’ve always had this vision in my head of vast warehouses packed with third-world workers armed with felt-tip pens, assiduously covering bare flesh with their black ink, all to spare the sensibilities of adult Saudi men and women, most of whom–I’m willing to bet–have seen a totally naked body once or twice in their lives. Shock at the sight of a bare arm or leg is something that the West feigned during the Victorian period, which also holds pretty high marks for moral depravity!

  7. 7
    Grace Said:
    February:14:2009 - 10:48 

    There is nothing in the Quran or Hadith that indicates a need for, or gives birth to a “mission” for religious police- at least nothing I’m aware of. This whole concept is a “innovation” to use a religiously loaded word.

    I am probably in the minority, but it would not suprise me at all if they took bribes etc. And I really do wonder what they do with all the porn and alcohol they “confiscate”. It is a common belief that they are recruiting from the prisons and many people DO percieve them as thugs. This is part of why they now have to have a police escort. Because people (at least Jeddah people) started attacking them.

  8. 8
    Tom Carter Said:
    February:14:2009 - 19:14 

    I’ve read a couple of stories about suppression of Valentine’s Day in a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt. I wonder how many couples in those countries observe Valentine’s Day in some way in private. Probably a lot. It’s just too nice a day, with nice sentiment, for many people to ignore, no matter what official and religious policy may be.

  9. 9
    John Burgess Said:
    February:14:2009 - 23:23 

    That’s true. When officials of any stripe try to enforce judgments or laws that are intrinsically dumb, people lose respect for the authorities and the law. And, of course, they find ways around the barriers, just like the Internet is supposed to do.

  10. 10
    DW Said:
    February:15:2009 - 02:37 

    I fear that I should like a conspiracy nut, but its a fact that they (governments) even try to control the Internet.

    I cross my fingers for the day we lose all the proxy and the censorship in Saudi internet access.. it only increases the cost of operating it, leaves it open for flagging abuses (some users make blocking requests for any sight they might disagree with) and also it provides sup par network at high end user cost.

  11. 11
    Islam And The West Trackbacked With:
    February:15:2009 - 10:12 

    Islam And The West Accelerated Links…

    Crossroads Arabia with news from Saudi on the banning of Valentine’s Day….

  12. 12
    Love in distress, Saudi religious police comes to the rescue! « Clouddragon Pinged With:
    February:15:2009 - 19:31 

    [...] origin of Valentine’s day. Hmmm, it has changed a lot! And John Burgess has a nice bit on the yearly Valentine crack-down which must make the whole Valentine experience so much more exciting and fun for those in Saudi [...]

  13. 13
    Aafke Said:
    February:15:2009 - 19:38 

    John, the blacking out of offensive body-parts is done by the ”Black Hand” I’ve researched the hidden history of this ancient, little known secret branch of the haya.

    I am not at all keen on Valentine, until I heard about the yearly Saudi Crackdown, and the whole thing became so much more exciting!
    I’m sure in those circumstances, any bloke who would bring down a red rose for me would be far more admired as the losers here who only have to go to a shop and get a really nice velvety one for $1,50 and perfectely legal!!!!!

  14. 14
    Michel Said:
    February:16:2009 - 12:05 

    Aafke thank you for that funny (but how realistic) story !
    That reminds me of the Sultanate of Oman where they have their own section of the Black Hand but sometimes, that’s true, they missed one square inch of skin, can you believe it ?
    As for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan they do not seem to have one; all those shameful magazines were available without any censorship…
    A strange world indeed.

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