Not everyone is set to celebrate love and romance on Valentine’s Day this year. In Muslim countries like Indonesia and Pakistan, observing the holiday has been banned – although public reaction is often mixed.
Indonesian public officials and religious leaders banned Valentine’s Day celebrations while high school students in several cities held rallies demonstrating against the holiday. Banda Aceh Mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal joined local Shariah officials at one of the student rallies, which also took place in Surabaya. The rallies were reported to include thousands of high school and junior high school students.
Crowds of students — many of them young women wearing hijabs — held up signs and marched in protest of Valentine’s Day. The signs featured slogans like “Say no to Valentine” and “I am Muslim. No Valentine’s Day.”
In Banda Aceh, the mayor went on to give a speech reminding the crowd that Valentine’s Day does not comply with Shariah law. Known as a staunch defender of Islamic values, she was recently quoted on MetroTV.
“Citizens and the young generation are not allowed to celebrate days that aren’t part of Islamic culture. The law says it is haram (forbidden by Allah). The city government must protect its citizens from acts that are haram.”
Indonesia comprises the world’s largest Muslim population — about 90 percent of its 265 million inhabitants — and the objection to Valentine’s Day is based on religious grounds. Aceh province — unlike the rest of the secular country — is under Islamic rule.
According to the Indonesian Council of Clerics, an influential Muslim institution, Valentine’s Day belongs to a faith other than Islam and is not part of Islamic culture. The calls to reject Valentine’s Day were echoed by Pemuda Muslimin Indonesia, a Muslim youth group. In practice, Valentine’s Day celebrations have been banned in Indonesia for several years, since a religious ruling or fatwa was issued in 2005.
The ban doesn’t consist only of words — it has teeth. The mayor has given both local police and the Wilayatul Hisbah Sharia Police the power to enforce the ban. Punishment for violations will be “re-education” in Muslim principles. In 2014, 80 Muslims were arrested for Valentine’s Day celebrations.
Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain also denounced Valentine’s Day as a non-Muslim tradition in a speech to students on Friday. The president’s words came after Kohat, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, officially banned the holiday, directing local police to visit shops and markets to stop the selling of any Valentine’s Day cards or gifts. The Kohat district is governed by a religious political party.
In the northwestern city of Peshawar, another local council passed a resolution banning the romantic holiday. Khalid Waqas Chamkani, a district councilor in Peshawar, commented in a statement to the press.
“Valentine’s Day has no place in Pakistani, Islamic, or even regional values. Promoting such events will mislead and destroy our young generation.”
However, in contrast with Indonesia, where the bans enjoy vocal public – if not universal – support, the holiday is quite popular among many Pakistanis. In practice, the bans in Kohat and Peshawar have been largely ignored. In 2014, pro-Valentine’s and anti-Valentine’s student groups clashed at Peshawar University, leaving three of them injured.
Valentine’s Day celebrations were reputedly also banned in the capital of Islamabad on the order of the Federal Minister for Interior, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, although the government has since denied the measure.
The situation is similar in Iran and Saudi Arabia, where shops stock teddy bears and chocolates despite the threat of prosecution, many resorting to the use of backroom flower shops and look outs to report on police crackdowns. In 2014, five Saudis were charged when they were found dancing with women they were not related to on Valentine’s Day, and sentenced to a total of 39 years in prison, along with 4,500 lashes between them.
[Photo by Heri Juanda/AP Images]