May 20, 2014 Special Dispatch No. 5749

Saudis Sentenced To Prison, Flogging For Celebrating Valentine's Day

May 20, 2014
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 5749

The Saudi religious police prevents the kingdom's citizens from celebrating Valentine's Day and bans the sale of red roses and other products associated with the holiday. Enforcing this ban, the Buraidah criminal court on May 2014 issued sentences totaling 32 years' imprisonment and 4,500 lashes to five citizens caught celebrating Valentine's Day in the company of six women.[1] Saudi cleric Sheikh Muhammad Al-'Arifi said on Valentine's Day Eve that celebrating this holiday constitutes bid'a – a forbidden innovation and deviation from religious law and custom – and mimicry of the West.[2]

Ahead of Valentine's Day, the Saudi government press published several articles that attacked the inflexible position of the religious police and other authorities on this issue, calling it petrified and rigid thinking and an attempt to suppress love, the most noble of human sentiments. The articles claimed further that the ban has transformed the marking of this holiday into an act of protest against the authorities. They pointed out that those who condemn Valentine's Day on the grounds of emulating the West do not hesitate to emulate the West in other matters.

Below are translated excerpts from these articles:


How Can Our Faith Be Undermined By A Red Rose Or A Teddy Bear?

In an article for the government daily Al-Riyadh, Saudi columnist Professor Hatoon Al-Fassi protested the religious police's war on love and wondered how celebrating this day could possibly undermine people's faith. She wrote: "...Here in Saudi Arabia, Valentine's Day is an occasion for mobilizing the nation in defense of faith and public and private morality and for persecuting young men and women and shop owners accused of trading in love and its symbols, such as teddy bears decorated with red hearts or red roses or red gift-wrap...

"We say, didn't the last 20 years of involvement in these matters suffice for the religious police, [which has been behaving this way] ever since it discovered that some people [express] love and exchange gifts and flowers on a particular day? The authorities won't stop [fighting these people] and think that they chalk up a victory for truth in the world by ambushing the most noble of human emotions – namely love. How can red roses or a teddy bear undermine our solid faith and our upbringing that is suffused with religion in every sphere...?" [3]

The Ban On Valentine's Day Has Turned It Into An Act Of Protest Against The Authorities

In an article in Al-Sharq, Saudi writer Ghanim Al-Hamar suggested to Islamicize Valentine's Day, because banning it only turns its celebration into an act of protest: "The holiday of love, or Valentine's Day, is a phenomenon that has reached us and flooded us, and it would be smart of us to recognize this fact. Whoever visits the markets on February 14 will see girls carrying red purses and wearing red shoes. He will see plenty of red roses and red dolls for sale. A visitor to social networks will see a flood of greetings and dedications. Celebrities, social figures, businessmen and media figures exchange greetings and gifts on Valentine's Day...

"Some ignore the roots of this holiday and the ongoing struggle over its acceptance or rejection, for this day has become a major 'item' in the global media, from East to West. When this media [turns its gaze] to our country on this day, [it] depicts us as a nation that hates love and is infuriated by the sight of a red rose... Could it be that [the authorities'] illogical and unconvincing opposition to this day [only] causes those celebrating it annually to become more numerous and more rebellious[?] Can we [perhaps] Islamicize this day and transform it into a [Muslim] day of love between couples... Or is the solution to impose additional restrictions and pass laws imposing punishments for giving roses and gifts and [wearing] red clothing?!..."[4]

Marking Valentine's Day Is An Attempt To Break Free Of The Patriarchal Regime

Columnist Amal Zahid went further than Al-Hamar in an article in the Saudi daily Al-Sharq by arguing that celebrating Valentine's Day is an attempt to break free of the patriarchal Saudi regime and to express individualism. She pointed out that those who condemn Valentine's Day on grounds of "mimicking the West" have no problem imitating the West in other areas when it suits then. She wrote: "...Anything prohibited is desirable, and anything concealed or banned becomes especially alluring. This transforms the act of celebrating [Valentine's Day] into an act of rebellion and protest, filled with the excitement and adventure of... shattering the ruling cultural order out of a desire to be free of it. This also involves an attempt to promote individualism in a culture governed by authoritarian patriarchalism with its various rules – from the institution of the family, which controls the individual's choices and desires, to other authoritarian institutions. In a culture [like our own] that persecutes joy and fights its expressions, an attempt to use every opportunity to express joy is logical, not bizarre..."

In response to the argument that celebrating the holiday is an act of emulating the West and the Christians, she wrote: "What grabs attention is that those who ban imitating the West on Valentine's Day see nothing amiss in imitating the West in other ways, and are completely immersed in [Western] consumer culture and in devouring new Western products..."[5]

Due To Conservative Pressure Our Society Has Become Petrified

In an article in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, Saudi researcher Turad Al-'Amri compared the ban on celebrating Valentine's Day to the prohibition that the extreme conservatives impose on attending the annual Al-Janadriyah festival in the village of Janadriyah near Riyadh.[6] Claiming that the conservatives' pressure on Saudi society is excessive and unconnected to Islam, he wrote: "Valentine's Day is banned and the [Al-Janadriyah] festival is banned. The red rose [symbolizing Valentine's Day] and the camel [the symbol of the festival] have achieved equal status in the eyes of those holding strange opinions... If you give a red rose to your girlfriend, your wife, or your beloved, this represents open heresy to those guardians of values and customs. If you act politely and delicately to a woman, this represents defective masculinity to those pretending to be men. If you do so on 'Valentine's Day, [they regard it as] an action that excludes you from the fold of Islam, [Saudi] citizenship, Arab nationality and the Islamic ummah. Any act that results in an improved relationship with a woman is sure to encounter staunch opposition from some [conservative]...

"The excuse of those guardians of values and customs is that anything imported from the Christian world is an innovation, and any innovation is an illicit innovation, and any illicit innovation is a deviation from the correct path, and any deviation from the correct path is [a sin that] condemns one to Hell... No matter. [The answer] to most of our daily needs comes from the West, from the Christian world, of [the culture] we created in previous eras only a pittance remains, as one can see in the Al-Jandariyah Festival. Despite this, there are those who ban us from going even to the Al-Jandariyah Festival for family entertainment. This is sufficient proof that the prohibition on Valentine's Day bears no relation to faith or belief, but [only] to desert thinking that lacks subtlety, targets women specifically and prevents a social encounter between men and women and normal life as in other societies. The guardians of values and customs went overboard in pressuring our society, to the extent that it has become desiccated and coarse and adopted the thinking and behavior of the desert..."[7]


[1] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), May 9, 2014.

[2], February 13, 2014.

[3] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), February 16, 2014.

[4] Al-Sharq (Saudi Arabia), February 18, 2014.

[5] Al-Sharq (Saudi Arabia), February 18, 2014.

[6] The festival, now in its 29th year , showcases the Saudi national cultural heritage from all the kingdom's regions and is held under the supervision of the Saudi National Guard.

[7] Al-Hayat (London), February 24, 2014.

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