Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentines Day

14th February is Valentines Day in much of the western world, but is a banned activity in Saudi Arabia {see wgaw blog archive: banned}.

The rest of the Gulf appears to have embraced the idea and everyone will send everyone (espcially girls to girls) enormous bunches of flowers, chocolates, teddy bears and greeting cards. Last year the office was covered in red roses and looked quite fabulous.

In Arabic there is no distinction between the English words, 'love' and, 'like' there's just the one word, 'Habb' which can and is used in the following ways; 'I love' [a-habb], I love macdonnalds [a-habb macdonnalds], I love you [a-habb-bick (m)/bitch (f)], I like you [a habb-bick (m)/bitch (f)] .

Valentines Day seems to spark quite deep emotions in people (check out the anoymous comment at the bottom of the page); some people love it and some don't.

Media Reports
Decided it was better to let the Saudi's speak for themselves than giving my thoughts on the banning. Here's two reports which explain what ~doesn't~ go on quite well.

The CNN posting (12-02-09) about Valentines Day in Saudi Arabia:

"Saudi Arabia has asked florists and gift shops to remove all red items until after Valentine's Day, calling the celebration of such a holiday a sin, local media reported Monday. With a ban on red gift items over Valentine's Day in Saudi Arabia, a black market in red roses has flowered.

"As Muslims we shouldn't celebrate a non-Muslim celebration, especially this one that encourages immoral relations between unmarried men and women, " Sheikh Khaled Al-Dossari, a scholar in Islamic studies, told the Saudi Gazette, an English-language newspaper.

Every year, officials with the conservative Muslim kingdom's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice clamp down on shops a few days before February 14, instructing them to remove red roses, red wrapping paper, gift boxes and teddy bears. On the eve of the holiday, they raid stores and seize symbols of love.

Ahmed Al-Omran, a university student in Riyadh, told CNN that the government decision will give the international media another reason to make fun of the Saudis "but I think that we got used to that by now."

"I think what they are doing is ridiculous," said Al-Omran, who maintains the blog 'Saudi Jeans.' ~link at right hand side of this blog, under the heading 'my blog list'~ "What the conservatives in this country need to learn is something called 'tolerance.' If they don't see the permissibility of celebrating such an occasion, then fine -- they should not celebrate it. But they have to know they have no right to impose their point of view on others."

Because of the ban on red roses, a black market has flowered ahead of Valentine's Day. Roses that normally go for five Saudi riyal ($1.30) fetch up to 30 riyal ($8) on February 14, the Saudi Gazette said.

"Sometimes we deliver the bouquets in the middle of the night or early morning, to avoid suspicion," one florist told the paper."

An article by Donna Abu-Nasr which can be found at:

"Just days before Valentine's Day, a young Saudi woman desperately searched for a red teddy bear to buy for her boyfriend. But all Nof Faisal could find were blue and white ones, minus the "I love you" she wanted hers to declare.
It's not because the store couldn't keep up with demand. It is because fear of the religious police forced the store's owner to strip the shelves of all red items, including the hottest-selling item: heart-festooned red plastic handcuffs inscribed, "Take me, I'm yours."

As Feb. 14 approaches, the police begin inspecting gift shops for items that are red or are intended as gifts to mark the holiday — a celebration of St. Valentine, a 3rd century Christian martyr — which is banned in Saudi Arabia. Such items are legal at other times of the year, but as Valentine's Day nears they become contraband.

At best, shops caught selling Valentine's gifts are ordered to get rid of them. Some salesmen have been detained for days.
The Valentine's Day prohibition is in line with the ascetic Wahhabi school of Islam that the kingdom follows. Celebrating any holidays but the two most important for Muslims — Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr_ is taboo because they are considered "religious innovations" that Islam does not sanction. Even birthdays and Mother's Day are frowned on by the religious establishment.

As Feb. 14 approaches, newspapers reprint a fatwa or religious edict issued by scholars a few years ago, declaring "eid al-hob," Arabic for the feast of love, a "Christian, pagan feast" that Muslims should not celebrate. Teachers remind students they must not mark the festival, and girls are warned against wearing anything red.

Nevertheless, Valentine's Day quietly creeps into the capital, Riyadh: While gift stores don't trumpet their Valentine's wares, they acquire a deep red hue as shelves are stocked with artificial flowers, heart-shaped frames and other knickknacks.

Lingerie stores display red lacy underwear and sheer short nighties. Boxes packed with teddy bears, some inscribed with "I love you," appear on supermarket shelves. Newspapers advertise diamond and ruby heart-shaped pendants.

And salesmen urge shoppers to snap up their gifts early because no one knows when the religious police will begin their rounds.

"My colleague spent a night in jail last year because of the color red," said one salesman, who insisted on anonymity, fearing his colleague's fate.

It is a challenge for courting Saudi couples to be together at any time of the year because of strict gender segregation. Unmarried men and women cannot take a drive together, have a meal or even talk on the street unless they are close relatives. Dating consists of long phone conversations and the rare tryst. Infractions are punished by detention.

"I wish things were different," said Faisal, a 20-year-old student, who said she would like to be wined and dined by her boyfriend. She has arranged to have red roses, a red box containing perfume, chocolate and a CD of love songs delivered to him.

Abdul-Aziz al-Shammari bought his girlfriend 10 red roses — one for each month he's known her — five days before Valentine's Day and stored the bouquet in his refrigerator to keep it fresh.

"I don't consider it a day venerating (St.) Valentine," said al-Shammari, a 24-year-old student. "I see it as an international day of love."

For at least businessmen, the commercial draw of the holiday was too strong. Waleed al-Khuleiwi's store was perhaps the only one in Riyadh still brimming with Valentine's goods with just days to go. His cheeky defense:
"I'm not selling the items with the intention of celebrating Valentine's."


avagdro said...

Pretty cute roses indeed.Thank you Shirley Dockerill besides wish you n all a great joyful valentine's day.

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Katya said...

so wait.. i'm not getting it... do Arabs celebrate it or no?

wgaw said...

Everywhere celebrates, on a big scale, except Saudi

Anonymous said...

uhm white girl arab world please refrain from your comments if youd don't like us not celebrating your filthy dirty celebrations, what's the problem???why oh why are you trying to impose your "values,customs" and nonsensetical cultures to everyone else in the world, WE DON'T WANT PROMESCUITY and DISEASES is that hard to understand?WE LOVe ISLAM and following it WE LOVE BEEN PURE and WE LOVE the muttawa police protecting us against all evils and backward culture that you are trying to promote in our countries,don't try to lie and say that "everyone in muslim countries celebrate it" and nonsense SOME
people are brainwashed yes, and would say and do anything to look "western" BUT alhamdulillah a lot of MUSLIMS have their head on their shoulders and priorities right, so please keep your disbilievers stuff to yourselves and if you have the immense chance to live in Saudi, don't come here to spoil our people!

wgaw said...

... I always thought it a shame married couples aren't able to display their love for each other on this day ...

haitham said...

There was a segment on Japanese TV about Valentine's Day in Egypt--spotlight on a young couple who's never been together alone, etc. Very sweet! They were at a cafe when the guy said that he liked the girl for the first time (on camera, haha). It didn't look like they were on the run from the police, so I guess in the rest of the Arab world, like you said, there's not much of a stigma (or, not any more than any other time of year) on PDAs?

Anonymous said...

@Anon - 'filthy dirty celebrations'?!!!
since when is buying gifts for loved ones a filthy dirty celebration?
How do the gifts transmit disease?

I would buy flowers for my hubby on valentines day if he'd accept them, but he's totally against celebrating holidays so that's a no-go. ;)

I wonder who the brainwashed people really are........

Diana said...

I am in the US and felt horrible that I couldn't send something to my husband for Valentine's day this year as he is in Saudi Arabia. So, I snuck a couple of cards into his suitcase when he was home a couple of weeks ago then had 25 cupcakes delivered to his office on Valentines. As soon as I ordered the cupcakes I found out that it was illegal!

I emailed the girl and begged her to make sure they were not red, have hearts, or any valentine-ish designs.

She delivered red and white cupcakes and put two heart cookies on the box! Eek!

But, everybody enjoyed them and nobody got upset! AND my husband was happily surprised! :)

I think I am going to have to stock up on holiday cards before I move there this summer!