After decades of marking the practice as forbidden, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is observing its first legal Valentine’s Day by selling and buying gifts, flowers and chocolates, which was not thought possible until a few years ago due to the strict laws deeming the same un-Islamic.
According to Middle East Monitor, the once-feared religious police used to ensure that the laws forbidding the celebration were strongly enforced, but that was before they were disbanded and their powers of arrest were stripped from them. Store owners were previously obligated to hide red roses and chocolates on the day, and restaurant owners were pressured to ban birthday and anniversary celebrations on February 14.
The main turning point in the kingdom’s decision came in 2018, when the former president of Makkah’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) Sheikh Ahmed Qasim Al-Ghamdi declared that the celebration of Valentine’s Day did not actually contradict Islamic teachings. According to him, the celebration of love was a universal phenomenon and not limited to the non-Muslim world.
The legalisation of the public celebration of Valentine’s Day – rooted in the Roman pagan festival celebrating and honouring fertility – comes amid the recent liberalisation of traditional social conventions within the kingdom and the reforms being carried out by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in order to “modernise” the country.
While bin Salman has made headlines across the world after promising the kingdom will return to a “moderate” form of Islam, he also guarantees a brighter future for his people as he promotes modernisation plans to wean the country off oil, attract foreign investment and diversify the economy.
2017’s royal decree allowing women to drive was an equally eye-catching element of bin Salman’s national makeover. It certainly makes sense economically, as it boosts female participation in the workforce, and women can now also go to sports stadiums.