Is it Valentine’s day that is being prohibited or… love?
Various Muslim ‘authorities’ round the world have issued declarations that it is prohibited to celebrate Valentine’s Day, including some in our own beloved United Kingdom. The Saudis predictably have gone the whole hog and sent the Vice Police round all the shops to make sure nothing red-coloured is sold for the whole week. They’ve even issued a fatwa against it. (surely this opens the way for a bit of cheeky subversiveness with another colour… how about the Saudi green… ?) Indonesia, Hyderabad and Kashmir amongst others seemed unhappy about the celebration too. The Kuwaitis are not pleased either, but they have captured one of the reasons that the day of luurve has got under their skin – a number of Kuwaiti MPs described Valentine’s Day as a Western tradition that is not compatible with Kuwaiti values.
Whilst the neo-con-we-have-Islam-it’s-medaeival-brigade may be reading the above and shouting “see! see! we told you!”, it seems that there are two things at play here.
The Kuwaiti statement captures the first of these – what is the need to pick up celebrations from round the world, particularly the post-colonial-west, particularly when even the countries of origin recognise the shallow commercial nature of that celebration? Whilst in the UK we may smile at the day, most people actually make a concerted effort NOT to make a big deal about it.
If these countries want to reject the day on the count that it is consumerist, shallow, reductive of love to a one-off day, lacking in merit or just simply tacky, or reminding them of imperialist days gone by, then who are we to tut-tut? The western reportage seems to be taking the line that the rejection of this day is an affront to civiliation. But what business is it of ours whether other countries like or dislike our idiosyncratic cultural celebrations?
The second thread that seems to be running through some of the ‘Islamic’ edicts, I find much more perplexing, and that is the idea that Valentine’s Day is ‘unIslamic’ and perhaps even ‘haram’ to celebrate it.
IslamOnline’s Q and A says that the day is bid’ah, an innovation, and since it emanates from pagan sources, we should not participate. There are warnings that celebrating the day can lead to various kinds of immodest behaviour (!). Surely the correct and much more sensible approach is to advise people on the boundaries of modesty (dress and behaviour), rather than focusing on one specific event?
What I find perplexing is that the day now is simply an excuse to remember love. My husband surprised me with a rose at work (despite the fact that he calls it a hallmark holiday), I left him a surprise chocolate heart. I sent my female friends declarations of my love and friendship. Everyone felt a bit happier, no? What could be wrong with that?
As part of the information I received about why I shouldn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, I found these quotes: “Love is a psychological sickness”, and “If a man is in love with a woman… his heart remains enslaved to her, and she can control him as she wishes… In that case, she will control him like a harsh and oppressive master controls his abject slave”
I worry about this – that love is considered a negative and corrosive thing by the ‘authorities’. It seems to be a ‘top-down’ thing. Popular discourse – including in Saudi – uses as much more common-sense approach as this cartoon from Saudi Arabia shows.
Now, I’m no scholar, but this negativity is not my understanding of love in Islam. It just doesn’t seem to make sense at all with the basic foundations of Islam. A good example of love being rooted at the very birth of Islam is illuminated in the story of Muhammed and his wife Khadija, described as a true love story, a relationship built on mutual respect, trust and truth through adversity. The Qur’an also talks about how a married couple are blessed with love, as part of their marriage. Love, is a blessing for human beings, a wonderful thing to give and be given.
What could be better than love? Islam is, after all, the state of loving the Creator and loving Creation…