In a further sign of liberalisation in Saudi Arabia, hearts and flowers are everywhere as the Kingdom prepares to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Arab News reports that Saudis are buying extravagant gifts, flowers, cheesy balloons and even teddy bears for that special person.
As recently as three years ago it would have been unthinkable to celebrate Valentine’s Day as it was considered haraam. Many Islamic scholars consider celebrating the festivals of the non-Muslims to be forbidden.
Florists and confectioners used to hide their red roses and heart-shaped chocolate in fear of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Restaurant owners even banned birthday or anniversary celebrations on Feburary 14 for fear of arrest or closure.
But in 2018 former Makkah CPVPV President Sheikh Ahmed Qasim Al-Ghamdi declared that Valentine’s Day did not contradict Islamic teaching or doctrine. Celebrating love was universal, and not limited to non-Muslims, he said.
“Celebrating Valentine’s Day does not contradict Islamic teachings as it is a worldly, social matter just like celebrating the National Day and Mother’s Day,” he told Saudi media. “All these are common social matters shared by humanity and are not religious issues that require the existence of religious proof to permit it.
“There are many worldly things that we deal with morally that may be of interest to non-Muslim communities and became more common among Muslim communities because of their popularity,” he said, citing the Prophet (pbuh) as an example. “The Prophet dealt with many worldly things that came from non-Muslims.
“Even greeting peaceful non-Muslims in their special religious holidays is permitted without participating in a forbidden act that contradicts Islam,” he said, downplaying perception that it was an imitation of non-Muslims when Muslims also celebrate the day of love.
Since Mohammed bin Salman became de facto Saudi leader he has overseen the liberalisation of the country including a burgeoning entertainment industry.
The history of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery like that of its patron saint, Saint Valentine.
One theory suggests Saint Valentine was a priest who served during the 3rd Century in Rome, who was executed for defying a decree from Emperor Claudius II that outlawed any remaining single men from marrying as they were better soldiers than those who had already wed.
According to the story, Valentine was sentenced to death after continued to he was found to be performing secret marriages for love-struck couples.
By the Middle Ages, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France, for his symbolism of love.