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    Despite religious restrictions, Saudis mark Valentine s Day By DONNA ABU-NASR Associated Press Feb. 13, 2005
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 14, 2005
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      Despite religious restrictions, Saudis mark Valentine's Day
      Associated Press
      Feb. 13, 2005

      RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- In gift and flower shops across Saudi
      Arabia, the flush of red has started to fade.

      Each year shortly before Feb. 14, the country's religious police
      mobilize, heading out to hunt for -- and confiscate -- red roses,
      red teddy bears and any signs of a heart. In a country where
      Valentine's Day is banned, ordinary Saudis find they must skirt the
      law to spoil their sweetheart.

      The Valentine's Day holiday celebrating love and lovers is banned in
      Saudi Arabia, where religious authorities call it a Christian
      celebration true Muslims should shun.

      The kingdom's attitude toward Valentine's Day is in line with the
      strict school of Islam followed here for a century. 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.

      Beyond the ban, it is a challenge for unmarried couples to be
      together on Valentine's Day or any other day because of strict
      segregation of the sexes. Dating consists of long phone
      conversations and the rare tryst. Men and women cannot go for a
      drive together, have a meal or talk on the street unless they are
      close relatives. Infractions are punished by detentions.

      Valentine's items descend underground, to the black market, where
      their price triples and quadruples. Salesmen and waiters avoid
      wearing red. Though taboo, Valentine's Day still gets a fair amount
      of attention in Saudi society.

      "Female voices demand the release of the red rose," read a headline
      in Sunday's Asharq al-Awsat. Women complained to the paper no one
      had the right to ban flower sales.

      Sheik Abdullah al-Dakhil, head of the religious police, known as the
      muttawa, in Thumama, a town outside Riyadh, told Al-Eqtisadiah
      newspaper that "despite awareness campaigns and the confiscation of
      flowers, chocolate and other items, there were 15 infractions" for
      Valentine's Day indiscretions last year.

      In religious lectures at schools, teachers and administrators warn
      students against marking the occasion, noting Saint Valentine was a
      Christian priest, according to an educational supervisor speaking on
      condition of anonymity.

      Saint Valentine is believed to have been a 3rd-century martyred
      Roman priest or bishop. Why the holiday became a celebration of
      lovers is unclear, but some theories say it stemmed from his Feb. 14
      feast date falling close to a pagan love festival or that it was
      because mid-February was seen in Europe as the time of year when
      birds start mating.

      The supervisor said that on Valentine's Day last year, girls lining
      up for daily morning prayer were inspected head to toe by teachers
      looking for violations of rules that ban wearing or carrying any red
      item on the day.

      Ribbons, boots, jackets, bags and pen holders with a hint, stripe or
      pattern in red, burgundy and hot pink were thrown into a heap, and
      the school called the girls' mothers to pick up the offensive items,
      the supervisor said.

      Badr al-Buraidi, assistant to the head of the religious awareness
      department at a hospital, told Al-Eqtisadiah that people have to
      be "persuaded that foreigners do not mark (Muslim feasts)."

      "Why should we celebrate their feasts?" he was quoted as saying.

      Despite the restrictions, Valentine's Day has caught on, partly due
      to satellite TV, where the occasion, like other holidays, is worked
      into the programming fare.

      Shoppers who know where to look can find plenty of Valentine gifts:
      hearts that make kissing sounds and say "I love you" when squeezed,
      white teddy bears sitting on a red heart, lips touching, elaborate
      gift arrangements with "beating" hearts fitted with blinking lights
      and baskets of plastic red fruits.

      Lingerie stores have rows of red, lacy lingerie, with one shop
      displaying a sheer negligee and the picture of a heart next to it.

      In most cases, the gifts are not presented on Valentine's Day. A
      woman may not get permission from her parents to go out that night,
      and stores do not want to be saddled with the incriminating items
      when the muttawa begin making their rounds. Shops either deliver the
      gifts or call recipients a few days early and ask them to pick up
      their presents.

      Asked how long he planned to keep the gift items on display, one
      salesman said: "Until there's a change in the situation," referring
      to a possible muttawa raid.

      Restaurants also are warned against creating a Valentine's
      atmosphere. One waiter, looking at his red apron and red placement
      mats, said he worried what the muttawa's reaction would be if they
      dropped by on Feb. 14.

      As the holiday neared, a Saudi woman, swathed in black with only her
      eyes showing, circled a huge, red teddy bear at a shop, wondering if
      the plastic flowers stuck in the crook of its arm were too tacky.

      She wanted this Valentine's Day to be perfect. She had ordered 100
      red roses to be delivered to her husband of a few weeks, bought him
      the largest-size bar of his favorite chocolate and planned to
      surprise him with a dinner party at her parents' house.

      But there was one hitch: She had made her plans for Feb. 12,
      mistakenly thinking that was Valentine's Day. Asked if she still
      wanted to mark the occasion then, she said in an excited
      voice: "Yes. I can't wait two more days."

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