Saudi Arabia finally embraces Valentine’s Day after years of crackdown by the Islamic religious police

  • Saudi Arabia is finally normalizing Valentine’s Day this year as the Islamic religious police chose not to enforce a years-long ban on celebrations.
  • This year no public injunctions against Valentine’s Day items were reported, Bloomberg said, after a ban on selling red items was introduced by police in 2008.
  • Signs that Saudi officials were warming to the day came in 2018, when a senior Islamic cleric said the day wasn’t religious and therefore not against the Quran.
  • Saudi Arabia, a strictly Muslim country, bans all Christian celebrations. Saint Valentine was a Roman priest who lived around the year 250, so Valentine’s Day was considered religious.
  • The overarching government ban on Valentine’s Day is still in place, but police have reportedly stopped patrolling markets to confiscate red hearts, roses, and teddy bears.

Saudi Arabia looks to have finally embraced the romance of Valentine’s Day, ending years of crackdown by the country’s Islamic religious police.

2019 was the first year ever there were no public injunctions against the sale of Valentine’s gifts, Bloomberg reported on Thursday – ending the long tradition of Saudi religious police sweeping through towns confiscating roses, bears, and heart symbols.

In 2008 Saudi Arabia’s religious police announced a fatwa – an official religious order – banning shops from selling red objects and Valentine’s Day merchandise.

Restaurants were warned against “creating a Valentine’s atmosphere,” school teachers warned students against marking the occasion, and salesmen and waiters avoided wearing red, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Roses romance bouqet bouquet
2019 is the first year there were reportedly no public injunctions against the sale of Valentine’s paraphernalia. Shutterstock

All Christian and even most Muslim feasts are banned in the kingdom, the birthplace of Islam, because they are considered unorthodox creations that Islam does not sanction, the AP said. Saint Valentine is widely believed to have been a martyred Roman priest or bishop who lived around 250 CE.

Riyadh appeared to relax on its strict rules on Valentine’s Day on February 13, 2018, when a senior Islamic figure said the day wasn’t religious after all, gave his approval, and said it didn’t contradict the Quran.

Sheikh Ahmed Qasim al-Ghamdi, cleric and former president of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, told state news site al-Arabiya: “All these are common social matters shared by humanity and are not religious issues that require the existence of a religious proof to permit it.”

He said the day celebrates “a positive aspect of the human being.”

Valentine day
A man holds a Valentine’s Day gift behind his back. Shutterstock

This year Saudi religious police stopped patrolling markets and towns across the country to confiscate red hearts, roses and teddy bears, Bloomberg reported.

People also reportedly stopped avoiding the use of candles in tablecloths in red, pink, and white.

But despite the apparent acceptance of Valentine’s Day across the kingdom, the government has not made announcement to officially lift the ban on celebrations, Bloomberg reported.

Change is slow

Since Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – widely hailed within the country as a reformer and the man to modernise Saudi Arabia – came to power in 2017, there have been small progressive changes to the conservative society.

Music concerts and cinemas are now permitted, and men and women are able to spend more time together in public. Saudi women were given the right to drive in June 2017.

However, his reforms were overshadowed by the brutal killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who died at the hands of Saudi agents in the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey last October.

Crown Prince Mohammed is widely believed to be responsible for Khashoggi’s death, despite Saudi officials’ repeated attempts to distance him from it.

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