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February 25, 2016 No.
81

Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain Stirs Valentine's Day Debate: 'No Room For Celebrating It In Islam And Pakistani Culture'

By: Tufail Ahmad*


Young people celebrate Valentine's Day in Islamabad (image: Roznama Express, February 15, 2016)

On February 13, 2016, Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain condemned Valentine's Day, stating: "Valentine's Day is part of the Western culture. There is no room for it to be celebrated in Islam and Pakistani culture."[1] Mamnoon Hussain, who holds the ceremonial post of the president and is not seen as outspoken on various issues, noted that the Valentine's Day is "not a part of Muslim tradition" and that "we must maintain our religious and national identity."[2] Speaking about the education system in Pakistan, he also stressed the "need to formulate the educational curriculum of Pakistan, according to the requirements of the modern age and ideology of the country."[3] The use of the word "ideology" here refers to Nazaria-e-Pakistan (Ideology of Pakistan), a theoretical principle that Muslims cannot live with non-Muslims, which led to the birth of Pakistan.

In the run-up to Valentine's Day, the administration in the Kohat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province "banned the sale of greeting cards and all goods associated with the day."[4] Maulana Niaz Muhammad, an elected district official, said: "Valentine's Day has no legal basis and is against shari'a."[5] However, the district government's order to ban the February 14 holiday was dismissed by the police officials, because it was perceived as a violation of human rights.[6]

Similar directives against Valentine's Day were issued by the local administration in Peshawar, and in Punjab province, in order to ensure that terrorists did not take advantage of the festivities to carry out terror attacks.[7] Osama Naseer, a Lahore-based leader of Islami Jamiat Tulaba, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, said: "Valentine's Day is not a tenet of Muslims."[8]

Despite President Mamnoon Hussain's calls, some Urdu dailies published images of Pakistani men and women buying Valentine greeting cards and flowers in Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi, and other cities.[9] Maryam Aurangzeb, a leader of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party, said that Hussain's statement does not represent the government's view.[10]

President Mamnoon Hussain Criticized By Liberal Writers


President Mamnoon Hussain

Roznama Express, an Urdu daily printed from six cities, published a report based on the views of shopkeepers and different sections of people. Its report, "Valentine's Day - a Day of Expressing Love, Banned in Some Cities; People's Excitement Worth Seeing," observed:

"Despite opposition, the Valentine's Day is being celebrated in Pakistan with much excitement, like in the rest of the world. The religious organizations have been campaigning against observing Valentine's Day."[11] The report added: "There is ban on Valentine's Day in different areas of Punjab, including Islamabad, but people's fervor doesn't know how to stop; Valentine's Day is being marked in every home. Valentine's Day has become a day of the rich and wealthy."[12] The Roznama Express reporter spoke to shopkeepers, who reported that "more flowers are sold on Valentine's Day than in the rest of the year put together. There is a flower shortage, leading to the import of flowers from abroad."[13]

However, the president's statement did stir a national debate regarding Valentine's Day. Umar Cheema, a senior journalist, wrote a piece questioning President Hussain's statement as well as other such viewpoints. In an article titled "Valentine's Day - What Is the Meaning of a Good Muslim and Pakistani?" he noted: "Does being a good Muslim mean that he prays five times and simultaneously engages in bribery? Is tax evasion permitted in Islam? There are many advocates for 'our culture,' but has anyone tried to clarify this for others? Consequently, a munafiq [hypocritical] culture full of contradictions has been birthed by confusion."[14]

A key concern of the liberal Pakistani intelligentsia has been that Islamists have disallowed local practices in the name of Nazaria-e-Pakistan, and the people's space for individual freedom has shrunk.

In his article in the Urdu daily Roznama Jang, Umar Cheema noted that the prevailing confusions about what constitutes Pakistani identity and culture have led to concerns: "[As a result,] questions are being raised on the Ideology of Pakistan even today. Instead of enlightened discussion, time is spent proving who loves the country and who does not." He argued that such confusion has damaged the promotion of arts and theater in Pakistan, noting: "The film industry exists no more. Theatre is breathing its last. To escape threats [from Islamists], artists and singers are going to India to perform. In their spare time, people prefer to watch Bollywood and Hollywood movies."[15] Yasir Pirzada, another columnist, noted: "It is not about Valentine's Day, it is about the mindset."[16] He added: "It's about the mindset that wants to impose its version of a [social] system on us by force."[17]

In a column in Roznama Jang, Hassan Nisar, an acerbic commentator and writer whose sentences are, due to their construction, generally untranslatable for foreign audiences, narrated how Islamic orthodoxies strike at the root of progress.[18] "We are a strange people who do not unite in neighbor[liness] but [at the same time] do not desist from dreaming of a 'Muslim Ummah' at the global level," he wrote, criticizing attempts by the likes of President Mamnoon Hussain and Islamic clerics to "divide" the people of Pakistan to the point where they do not offer Eid prayers on the same day because of sectarian doctrinal differences among the clergy.[19] Speaking of how innovation was rejected by Islamic clerics, Hassan Nisar noted that when the tractor was introduced in Muslim societies, some thought it a "conspiracy to make our lands infertile."[20]

Hassan Nisar also noted that Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, the 16th century Mughal ruler otherwise known otherwise for introducing religious neutrality in the Indian state, did not permit the introduction of printing presses, because kaatibs (scribes) would be out of work, and that Islamic religious leaders in Turkey had ordered medical schools closed because they were deemed "satanic and un-Islamic."[21] He explained that Hindus, Jews, Sikhs and Christians in Europe, the U.S., and Canada wish Muslim neighbors a happy holiday on Islamic occasions such as Eid, which does not cause a "threat to Islam," but that now in 2016 intellectual energies are being expended arguing that Valentine's Day is a threat to Islam.

Images And Cartoons On Valentine's Day

The Islami Jamiat Tulaba (IJT), the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan which marks Valentine's Day as Haya (Modesty) Day, tweeted (see below) that it does so "because Haya is part of our faith." The tweet included a hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammad): "Haya is part of the faith [of Islam]."[22]

In advance of Valentine's Day, the IJT also released the following poster in towns across Pakistan urging Pakistani youth not to celebrate the holiday (below). The top four lines on the poster's right side read: "Demolish all idols; Love only Allah; Keep the Prophet [Muhammad] in Front; Decorate [Your] Character."[23]

On February 14, Salman Sikandar, a Pakistani information technology professional based abroad, tweeted the following old news story, which shows how Pakistanis gave flowers to prison officials to be handed over to Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin who in January 2011 shot dead liberal Punjab governor Salman Taseer for advocating reforms in Pakistan's blasphemy laws.[24]

On February 14, a Twitter account associated with Islami Jamiat Talibat (the female student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan) tweeted the following image in which the Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying: "Whoever imitates a people [other than Muslims] is one of them."[25] The source for the hadith is cited as Tirmizi, an authentic collection of the traditions of the Prophet.

 

On February 14, senior Pakistani journalist Naila Inayat (@ nailainayat) tweeted the following cartoon by the well-known Pakistani cartoonist Sabir Nazar, showing how the Pakistani woman is caught between harassment by young Islamist men and Islamic clerics' lust.[26]

 

* Tufail Ahmad is Director of the MEMRI South Asia Studies Project.

 

Endnotes:

[1] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[2] Tribune.com.pk (Pakistan), February 13, 2016.

[3] Tribune.com.pk (Pakistan), February 13, 2016.

[4] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[5] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[6] The Express Tribune (Pakistan), February 13, 2016.

[7] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[8] Roznama Express (Pakistan), February 15, 2016.

[9] Roznama Express (Pakistan), February 14 & 15, 2016.

[10] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 15, 2016.

[11] Roznama Express (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[12] Roznama Express (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[13] Roznama Express (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[14] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[15] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[16] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[17] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[18] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[19] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[20] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[21] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), February 14, 2016.

[22] Twitter.com/JamiatPK/status/698826965378273280, February 12, 2016.

[23] Twitter.com/JamiatPK/status/698175059979014145, February 12, 2016.

[24] T witter.com/SALSIKandar/status/698743715439968257, February 14, 2016.

[25] Twitter.com/Mujahidarani/status/698892208896917508, February 14, 2016.

[26] Twitter.com/nailainayat/status/698796085284831232, February 14, 2016.