Valentine’s Day in Iraq: Baghdad turns red, Najaf shuns it
A passerby walking through the streets will see giant teddy bears, crimson roses, balloons and scarlet cushioned hearts
In Baghdad, red symbols of Valentine’s Day are markedly evident as the passerby walking through the streets of the Iraqi capital will see giant teddy bears, crimson roses, balloons and scarlet cushioned hearts.
“Baghdad is now red,” Hameed Qassim, director of news at the local Al-Sumaria Channel, told Al Arabiya News.
“Preparations to celebrate the occasion started two weeks ago with shops selling red teddy bears and flowers. Red became the overriding color in Baghdad,” Qassim explained.
Some people on social media criticized those who are celebrating Valentine’s Day since Iraq is a facing a ferocious battle to defeat extremist militants seizing parts of the country. However, others decided to enjoy the occasion.
“Iraqis, like any other people of any other nation, they want to live, they already have suffered enough,” Qassim said.
He added: “Iraqis sent a clear message that they want to relish life when they defied the Iraqi authorities and the curfew and stayed till the morning to celebrate New Year in Baghdad.”
Despite persistent violence plaguing the country, Iraq on Feb. 8 ended night curfews, which were in place since the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.
In southern Basra, Iraq’s third largest metropolis, celebration is on the way.
“Just like last year, a group of volunteers will give the passerby at the Al-Huriya Square and Basra Corniche flowers, Iraqi flags and will recite poetry marking the occasion,” Louay al-Khamisi, head of the Basra-based NGO “Peace and Love Association,” told Al Arabiya News.
“People even started celebrating yesterday [Thursday] till 11 p.m., reciting poetry at the square,” he said.
“A Basra individual is a loving person,” he described, adding “unfortunately there is an intentional lack of media coverage for this occasion, because people in power fight such occasions since they want to appear more religious.”
For some conservative Muslims, Valentine’s Day is seen as an unwanted Western influence contrary to their tradition.
“Religion is about humanity, loving each other,” countered al-Khamisi.
“People – despite the ill-infrastructure of the city - will still go out visit parks, and gift reach other red teddy bears and red roses,” he said.
But Iraq represents a a wide spectrum with some cities like the capital Baghdad seen as the most progressive while others do not celebrate Valentine’s Day as intensely, according to some residents.
Haidar Mohammed, who hails from Nasiriya city, 370 km southeast of Baghdad, has been married for nine years and is ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day and for one whole week.
However, Haidar, 35, said only the “progressive elites” celebrate Valentine’s Day at home while “in rural areas and villages, the hegemony of the religious clergy limits the occasion.
“The clergy denigrates celebrating the day to these people; they try to make it shameful,” he explained.
“One can see Valentine’s Day only at the shops [selling Valentine’s Day gifts] and homes,” he said.
Famous Iraqi singer Hussian Ni’ma, who is a proud Nasiriya native, wanted to entertain the city’s residents with a concert two years ago, but “he was threatened. He cancelled the concert,” Haidar claimed.
In Najaf city, the story is similar.
Najaf, which is about 160 km south of Baghdad, is home to the Imam Ali Shrine, making it especially highly revered by Shiite Muslims who come in their millions as pilgrims on an annual basis.
On Wednesday, Najaf’s provincial council ordered the police to follow up with the “negative activities” expected to spring from Valentine’s Day, dubbing the celebration as an insult to the province.
Member of the council Razaq Sharif said in a statement: “Celebrations of Valentine’s Day include wrong practices that violate the reputation of the holy city.”
He warned “not to repeat what happened on New Year’s Eve when immoral practices were practiced by some individuals in Al-Rawan Street [in Najaf].”
Ahmed Sameer, a Najaf resident, told Al Arabiya News that the city’s youth in the past two years started becoming eager to celebrate light-hearted events “to escape violence and destruction witnessed in the country.
“Young people started embracing new ideas, and shops started selling hearts, flowers to young men and women” Sameer said.
When asked what the “immoral practices were,” Sameer said the conservatives considered dancing and expressing phrases pertaining to Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve publicly as “immoral.”
However, cities like Baghdad are likely to feel the love as citizens prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day with their loved ones.
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