Reclaiming Valentine’s Day
Belatedly posting my February column for EMEL magazine.
Love has a more defined place in our faith, than mere present-giving.
Every year Valentine’s Day brings a discussion about whether Muslims should participate in this increasingly consumerist celebration. I’m one of those that believes that it should be reclaimed from its current tacky representation of love as red roses, staged meals for two, and mandatory present-giving.
The roots of Valentine’s Day should give us pause to rethink our approach to love and its celebration. First, let me say this: love should be celebrated. It is one of the greatest gifts we have been given from God. It is what brings joy to life, binds parents to children, holds families together, creates the threads which unite Muslims; and love is what gives us compassion and connection with all other human beings. Being lost in pure love for God is our ultimate goal as human beings. So why do we look so sour-faced when it comes to talking about love? Let us rejoice in love! Let our love for those around us be an expression of our love for the Divine.
In the early Christian era it seems that there were some Christians called Valentine who were persecuted by pagan rulers for their belief in God. We can empathise with that, right? Another Valentine performed secret marriages for Roman soldiers who were forced to remain single by an Emperor who believed unmarried men made better soldiers. We support marriage too, right? We could reclaim Valentine’s Day as a celebration of marriage, or of love for the Creator.
It’s possible that the date for the feast of St Valentine was chosen to coincide with some Roman celebrations linked to fertility in a bid to ‘Christianise’ the pagan celebrations. In a similar way, there was talk a few years ago by Muslims in Egypt to rename February 14th as Prophet Muhammad’s Day. This year, their wish may come to be realised. Due to the lunar nature of the Islamic calendar, the birthday of the Prophet will also fall in February, not too far awa from Valentine’s Day. These are two wildly different events that carry huge signifi cance, albeit in different ways, across the world.
Yet they have more in common than we might think, the key point being a recognition that love for other than the self underpins the quest to be human. In Valentine’s Day this quest meets its destination in romance. For the Prophet, and in Islam, this journey reaches its home in God. In fact, God often refers in the Qur’an to the fact that “to God is the final destination.” In colloquial parlance when we fi nd a partner to love, people may describe the feeling as finally feeling ‘at home.’
This feeling of rushing towards God out of pure love needs more emphasis. The feelings of joy, contentment, peace and wisdom are born from tasting this love.
And so I’m using this talk of reclaiming Valentine’s Day for love, marriage or belief in God to fl ag up a much bigger, more significant discussion. It’s not really Valentine’s Day I’m interested in or even care about. What we need to flag up in the Muslim community is a need to talk more about love—human, romantic, Divine, humanitarian, parent-child. Islam is not about fear, it is about love. God’s Compassion and Mercy which we talk of so often are expressions of His Love. So if God talks constantly of His Love, why are we so loathe to do the same?
Whilst formality, duty and ritual are important in Islam, they only take on real meaning when we talk of the love that inspires them, and is inspired by them. We can’t just talk about rules and regulations and expect human beings to live regimented lives. The modern trends of lists of harsh dos and don’ts totally miss the spirit of being Muslim which is to create a Divine connection. After all—that is the very purpose of the Holy Prophet being “sent as a mercy to mankind”.
So this year in February, we can of course tell those around us how much we love them. But let us also thank God and express our love for Him, and all He has given us. And let us thank Him for the Prophet who He sent as a guide and a mercy. After all, God says in the Qur’an, “indeed God and the angels send blessings on the Prophet”. If they can send their blessings, surely we can do the same.