Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Golden oldie from the Emirates Economist - Valentines Day

[Originally published 14 Feb 2005]

Love triumphs over fear - Yahoo! News

Celebration of the Islamic New Year or the Prophet Mohammad's birthday, common in other Muslim countries, is frowned upon in Saudi Arabia.

Valentine's Day, or the 'Feast of Love' in Arabic, is beyond the pale in a country where women must cover themselves from head to toe in public and be accompanied by a male guardian.

'For the last week, we've had no red in the shop,' said Ahmed, a flower shop manager. 'You can't even have red cards.'

Despite the prohibition, demand for the banned roses has been strong and unofficial business was booming, Ahmed said.

'Wait 10 minutes,' he told one customer as an assistant slipped into the shadows to collect a bouquet of crimson flowers. At 10 riyals ($2.70) each they were double the usual price. 'They would put us in prison for this,' he smiled.

Shortly after I first arrived in the United Arab Emirates I visited the Dubai City Centre mall. What I saw shattered my expectations. I knew that the UAE was not the UAR (United Arab Republic) and I knew the UAE was not Saudi Arabia. (Both are frighteningly common misconceptions of Westerners.) What I was not prepared for on my visit to the mall was a full blown marketing of Valentines Day, and buyers of all kinds engaging in Valentines purchases.

Nationals are a minority in the UAE, as are Arabs. Muslims are in the majority. But there are many Westerners working here as well who brought with them the tradition of Valentines, a celebration of human love, especially of the devotion between spouses. So it is easy, in hindsight to see how Valentines was introduced and transmitted from one culture to another. One has to wonder whether cultural crowding out is a good thing, although you can't condone the Saudi approach of policing Valentines either.

There is a question of where the recent Saudi local elections (for men only) will lead. But even in Saudi Arabia it seems clear that men and women are voting with their pocketbooks in favor of Valentines. And to challenge authority to do so. That's a political act.

One more thing about the marketing of Valentines Day. It is used to be Saint Valentines Day (originating like most Christmas holidays to displace a pagan holiday). Many young Americans may not know that until they've studied the Saint Valentines Day Massacre in 20th century U.S. history. Most stores in the US have found it profitable to replace "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays" in their Christmas ads. (Some Christians have used this as a pretext to pump up outrage that secular values are crowding out the sacred.) I suspect the saint was dropped from Valentines for the same reason -- it converts the celebration into a universal celebration, and broadens its market appeal.

Update: Hindu nationalists burn Valentine’s Day cards, posters in Indian capital. But perfect day for Valentine’s Day lovers in the Emirates.

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Anonymous silence said...

its a shame many muslims in the gulf dont know which hijri year it is, and know very well v.day date by heart and celebrate it... this and any other things... it breaks my heart!!

1:25 PM  

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