While many of those in the West are celebrating Valentine’s Day with the exchange of roses, chocolate, and candlelight dinners, lovers in Muslim countries must go into hiding to express their affections.
Though Valentine’s Day has Christian roots, honoring a Christian martyr named St. Valentine, over the years its religious connection has become attenuated and it is now considered a secular holiday, celebrated by all who want to express amore to their special someone on this day. However, in much of the Islamic world, Valentine’s Day is not just frowned upon, but is illegal, sometimes coming with dire consequences for those who ignore the “unIslamic” nature of this day of love.
Pakistan, for example, outlawed Valentine’s Day in 2017, when Islamabad’s High Court ruled that the holiday goes against Islamic teachings. The ruling came in response to a petition by Abdul Waheed, a Pakistani citizen, who believes that any Valentine’s Day promotions in the mainstream or social media are un-Islamic. His petition further argued that while Valentine’s Day is advocated in the language of love, this is merely pretext for the promotion of nudity, immorality and indecency. He won his case.
Subsequently, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) was ordered to monitor all media and send out advisory notifications warning the media against reporting Valentine’s Day celebrations or promoting the holiday. Additionally, Pemra officials declared that “No [Valentine’s Day] event shall be held at the official level or at any public space.”
Over 60 percent of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 30, and many of them commemorated the holiday prior to the ban. Commercial outlets also benefitted by selling flowers, chocolate and Valentine’s Day hearts. Now, they do so at their own risk.
In recent years, the more stringent within the religious Islamic ummah have become politically active and denounce the holiday as being immoral. Specifically, the Taliban-linked group Jamiat ulema-e-Islam opposes Valentine’s Day. Surprisingly, even the women who belong to this group can be seen in full burkas burning signs that read “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
In 2012, in Indonesia, the highest Islamic clerical council announced that Valentine’s Day is contrary to Islamic teachings. In 2017, nationwide rallies were held to bring awareness to the fact that the holiday is a western concept. Protestors held signs reading “Muslims say no to Happy Valentine’s Day.” Last year, police gathered and arrested couples that were publicly affectionate. Indonesian fundamentalists believe that Valentine’s Day encourages premarital sex, which is a crime in Indonesia.
In Malaysia, Islamic authorities issued a fatwa in 2006 which banned Valentine’s Day. In 2011, the JAIS (Islamic morality police) arrested 80 couples for celebrating the holiday. Officers raided hotels in major cities during an anti-Valentine’s Day crusade. Then, in 2017, the National Muslim Youth Association issued a statement the day prior to Valentine’s Day, advising women not to wear perfume on Valentine’s Day and to refrain from using emoticons in their text messages.
In Iran, though the holiday isn’t technically illegal, much of the associated activity is banned. The morality police order shops and restaurants to remove hearts, flowers, and decorations, including pictures of couples embracing. They are prohibited from selling heart-shaped balloons, red roses, heart-shaped boxes, or Valentine’s Day cards. If they have the audacity to sell Valentine’s Day gifts, they are threatened with prosecution. Despite this, numerous restaurants in Tehran defy the law, employing lookouts to give advance notice of inspectors on Valentine’s Day patrol.
However, the country where celebrants of Valentine’s Day suffer the most, are those in Saudi Arabia. There, open celebration of this holiday can result in harsh criminal penalties. For example, in 2014, five men were caught on Valentine’s Day dancing with women who were not their wives. They were arrested and thrown in jail, and sentenced to 4500 lashings split among them.
The Commission on the Promotion of Virtue and Vice, otherwise known as the Religious Police, monitor store shelves to ensure that nothing is displayed in the verboten color of red. Red roses go on the black market, drastically increasing their price due to the risk of sale and their unavailability on the open market. The forbidden items are legal during the rest of the year, when Valentine’s Day is not in the fore. This, however, is little consolation for those who want to celebrate on this special day.
Yes, clearly the Islamic religious police are very concerned about the “immorality” that Valentine’s Day inspires. Given their concern about morals, what exactly are the religious police doing to stop the gang rape of women without hijabs, forced marriages of little girls, the jailing of those who engage in “blasphemous” speech, or the beheadings sanctioned by their own state? Oh, never mind. These activities aren’t western; they are “Islamic” so apparently they are A-OK -- so long as you don’t give your girlfriend flowers on February 14th. Islamic morals indeed.
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