Valentine’s Day conquers hearts, gains acceptability in Arab world

An Iraqi woman walks past Valentine’s Day decorations in Baghdad.

Valentine’s Day, the Feast of Love marked by the exchange of heart-shaped balloons, red roses and teddy bears between couples, has gained acceptability in the mainly Muslim Arab world, with many people openly celebrating the centuries-old tradition.
Residents of conservative Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, where public manifestations of the February 14 holiday were previously considered taboo, can purchase red roses, which used to be confiscated from flower shops by the religious police.
This year’s more open celebration of Valentine’s Day was boosted by high-profile religious figures issuing statements of tolerance, a sign the Arab world is moving against the flow of Islamist pronouncements.
In Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, senior officials said they had no objections to people celebrating the occasion. Some even seemed to welcome the holiday — believed to be named after the Catholic martyr and priest Saint Valentine — and affirmed the common value of love it aims to celebrate.
Tunisia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Othman Battikh said celebrating Valentine’s Day is not forbidden under Islamic law “as long as it does not transgress morality.”
“Any (love) that brings people closer together like the love of God, love of parents, love of the nation is a good thing. Loving is part of Islamic principles and loving God is about loving all people and God’s creatures,” Battikh was quoted as saying by Tunisia’s Akher Khabar Online newspaper.
Sheikh Ahmad Mamduh of the fatwa department in Egypt’s Dar al Ifta wrote on the religious institute’s official Facebook page: “In his Hadith, the Prophet called on man if he loves his brother to tell him ‘I love you in God.’
“The notion of love is much broader than the feelings between men and women. On that day (Valentine’s) it is acceptable to express love to your children, your friends or your parents.”
Comments by Sheikh Ahmed Qassim al-Ghamdi, a prominent Saudi cleric and former head of the religious police in Mecca, in support of the holiday were perhaps the most surprising.
“It is a positive social event and congratulating people for it is not against sharia (Islamic law),” Ghamdi told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.
“It is an act of kindness to share greetings on Western, national and social holidays, including Valentine’s Day. Exchange red roses with others, as long as it is towards peaceful people who do not share animosity or are being at war with Muslims,” said Ghamdi, whose comments would have been unthinkable a year ago.
Coincidentally, February 14 has been an official holiday in Lebanon since 2005 but as a tragic milestone marking the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Although the sad occasion occurred on with the Feast of Love, couples in the country celebrated Valentine’s Day. Street vendors and florists sold heart-shaped balloons and roses in singles and dozens. Many of the shops had Valentine’s Day sales and restaurants offered special Valentine’s Day menus.
Egyptians celebrated Valentine’s Day despite a social media campaign by Salafists slamming the feast as non-Islamic. In the province of Suez, large street banners carried messages of love inscribed by couples. “I have a unique husband and I promise to make him happy forever,” said one message. “My dear wife I adore you and will always do,” said another, the website Dot Masr reported.