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Valentine’s Day around the Muslim world

A holiday sometimes welcomed, sometimes banned

Published:

As Rome police seized 2,000 heart-shaped Ecstasy tablets designed for Valentine's Day lovers and Nigerian churches announced that they could connect would-be lovers for $13 dollars, the Muslim world took a more conservative approach to the holiday, sometimes embracing it and sometimes banning it.

Iraq, Lebanon and Syria

In Baghdad Valentines is a welcome respite from the city's frequent bomb attacks. On Sunday, Iraqis shopped for heart shaped gifts and cuddly toys with joy.

"I love all Iraqis," Ali Tariq told a reporter.

The holiday was also welcomed in Lebanon and Syria where couples took romantic strolls, bought roses from street vendors and gave each other teddy bears.

Iran

Love is all around in the streets of Tehran on Valentine's Day this year with young men and women openly holding hands and exchanging red roses, and shops decked with red ribbons, candles and heart-shaped red balloons.

Forget political turmoil, violent protests, the nuclear row with the West and soaring prices. Today romance rules.

"I am fed up with politics. This year I asked my girlfriend to celebrate Valentine's Day more gloriously than any year before," said 28-year-old Shahrokh Sedaghati, an architect, looking for a perfume as a gift in a central Tehran shop.

Valentine's Day is not officially banned in the Islamic state, but hardliners have repeatedly warned about a Western cultural invasion and under Iran's Islamic Shariah law, unmarried couples are banned from mingling.

Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia warnings were directed at individuals by the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice against celebrating the holiday of love. Flower and gift shops are not allowed to sell any items related to Valentine’s Day and restaurants and cafes are banned from showing any signs of celebration.

This society is haunted by the fear of anything new and untraditional, Saudi writer Yusuf al-Muhaimed told Al Arabiya.

“Now we are even afraid of love,” he said.

However, the day never goes by unnoticed. Young people still buy flowers a couple of days before the 14th. More than 50% of Saudis celebrate Valentine’s in their houses, especially in big cities like Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam.

Now we are even afraid of love

Saudi writer Yusuf al-Muhaimed

Pakistan

Hip young romantics in Pakistan's most dangerous city are splashing out on text messages and teddy bears, defying Taliban bombers and conservative parents to find love this Valentine's Day.

It's taken four years and the prospect of never seeing her again, for Mohammad Asif to pluck up the courage to approach the object of his affections, a fellow engineering student in northwest city Peshawar.

Destined to graduate and look for a job in a city where bomb attacks have closed businesses and emptied markets, Asif realises it's now or never.

"After four years of studies, my classmates are dispersing and I finally want to express my love for a girl I've liked for the past four years, but never said anything," gushes the 21-year-old.

"I've bought a card and chocolates to give her, so she knows that I love her. This is the day to disclose your hidden feelings," he said.

Peshawar is a conservative Muslim city, where many disapprove of Valentine's Day as a Western import. Women are veiled and few girls go out alone.

Valentine's Day is the preserve of the young, educated and wealthy. Secret trysts are a dream, even more difficult on Sundays, when schools are closed.

"There will be a lot of problems and difficulties for boys to take girls out as it will be a holiday... so please celebrate Valentine's Day on Monday," said the "Love Guru" in a text message pinged through Peshawar and other cities.

Indonesia

Muslim leaders in Indonesia on Friday told the faithful not to celebrate Valentine's Day because it is sinful and leads to "free sex."

"We forbid Muslims to celebrate Valentine's Day," said Abdullah Cholil, an East Java leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the mainly Muslim country's biggest Islamic organisation.

"The day is often celebrated by young, unmarried people. They celebrate Valentine's Day by holding hands or having free sex, which they are not supposed to be doing," he said.

We forbid Muslims to celebrate Valentine's Day

Abdullah Cholil, an East Java leader of Nahdlatul Ulama