Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Saudi Arabia Bans Valentine's Day - and the Color Red

News from Saudi Arabia, that kingdom ruled by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, is getting to be a sort of blooper reel of 'Islamic' beliefs.

Valentine's Day - and Red - Banned

I am not making this up. The BBC and a few other news services ran articles last year, about the desert kingdom's determination to protect its citizens from un-Islamic holidays like Valentine's Day. And the color red, at least around February 14.

There's some logic to banning Valentine's Day. It is quite un-Islamic: The full name of the holiday is Saint Valentine's Day, after all.

Boys and Girls Together - Call the Religious Police!

And, what seems to trouble the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and his religious police at least as much, Valentine's Day is thought to encourage relations between men and women.

Shocking, from the Saudi point of view.

As BBC put it last year, "Saudi Arabian authorities impose a strict Islamic code that prevents men and women from mixing." (BBC) It can't be a total ban, or they'd have run out of Saudi subjects a long time ago. People die, and need to be replaced, you know.

Saudi Arabia Takes No Chances: Officials Ban Red from Shops

Saudi authorities were taking no chances in 2008, when "The Saudi Gazette quoted shop workers as saying that officials had warned them to remove all red items including flowers and wrapping paper." (BBC)

Saudi Arabia Gets Economic Stimulus: Black Market in Red Roses

It's risky, but Saudis can, I understand, get black market roses. For a price. Or, if they've got the cash, they can go out of the country around this time of year, and enjoy a breath of fresh air. And, roses.

Apparently the ban on roses and red in Saudi Arabia is seasonal - but the ban on men and women getting together seems to be year-round.

Seriously, Now

The antics of Saudi authorities are funny - to someone who doesn't live under their rule. And isn't a Muslim.

I think there's good reason to believe that the atavistic weirdness that comes out of Saudi Arabia is at least partly a reflection of an ancient, isolated culture that was ripped out of the time of Abraham and dropped into the Industrial Age.

Then, as the leaders of this desert kingdom were grappling with the alien beliefs that petroleum wealth had exposed them to, Western civilization changed again. Satellite television, the Web, and the rest of Information Age technology isn't making the job of keeping Saudi Arabia anchored in a bygone age any easier.

Maybe it's no surprise that Saudi leadership seems a little frantic now and again.

On the other hand, what got said on Saudi Arabia's National Day may be a sign that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques is aware that Saudi Arabia has to change, or become a sort of cultural museum piece.
Islam, or Ancient Practice?
I could be wrong about this, but Saudi Arabian tradition and Islam may not be quite the same thing. I think it's possible that the Saudi 'death to Mickey Mouse,' 'ban the roses,' approach to post-Magna Carta phenomena is not so much 'Islamic' as a set of cultural preferences: whose fans use their version of Islam as an authority to back them up.

Related Posts: In the news: Thanks to T Town Tommy, for providing the URL of last year's BBC article.

Related posts, on Islam, Christianity, Religion, Culture and the War on Terror.
UPDATE (February 12, 2009)

Saudi Arabia is up to it's old tricks again this year:

"Religious police break hearts in Saudi Arabia"
The Associated Press (February 12, 2009)

"RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — 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.'..."


Anonymous said...

Well, since many Islamic clerics condemn it as a non-Muslim Holday, and say that Muslims may not celebrate a Christian (or Pagan) holiday; and since their 'Religious Police' enforce this, it's pretty safe to say that Sharia Law is against this. Not all Muslims of course, just the Law governing them in Saudi Arabia and other countries.

India's radical Hindus are rabidly against V-Day too.

How very enlightened and civilized.
here’s an absurd thought -
your Supreme God says
outlaw Valentine's Day

confiscate ALL red roses
keep men and women apart

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
Valentine's Day is evil

it just reminds the people
about Christianity

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
destroy ALL Valentine's cards

remove items colored red
from all the store's shelves

absurd thought -
God of the Universe fears
a Christian minority

even though they may not build
or repair their churches
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Anonymous said...

You're welcome and you have written an interesting post. As for Muslims in the US, I am a florist state side and some of my customers on Valentine's Day are Muslim. However many of my other customers are Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and a huge spectrum of other faiths, all enjoying Valentines Day because in the states at least, not many see Valentines Day as any kind of religious holiday but more of just a day set aside for expressing love and appreciation for your life partner.

Brian H. Gill said...

T Town Tommy,


As you said, the day has it's origins in a saint's feast day: but the cultural Valentine's Day is about as religious as St. Patrick's Day.

Which is perfectly okay. That's the way things work.

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