Priorities: Imagine if they were as zealous about rooting out “extremism” as they are about saving souls from the horrors of red roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Of course, if that were really the case, the muttaween would have to arrest themselves. “Saudi Arabia’s religious police out in force in run-up to Valentine’s Day,” by Hugh Tomlinson for the Times Online, February 12:
If you can’t stand shops filled with roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, teddy bears, cards and novelty gifts, Saudi Arabia is the place to be this Valentine’s Day.
The country’s feared muttawa — religious police — have launched a campaign to banish from the shelves anything that could be construed as a romantic gift. As Sunday approaches, they have been patrolling the shops and posting warnings in local newspapers to remind traders that anyone caught violating the ban will be punished.
Saudi Arabia adheres to a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam and bans the celebration of Western holidays — and Valentine’s Day is a particular target because of its nominal connection to the life of a Christian saint. The kingdom, the birthplace of Islam, also bans birthday celebrations and Mother’s Day, and even several Muslim holidays, because it considers them “religious innovations” that Islam does not sanction.
But roses and romantic gifts are legal for the rest of the year — so amorous Saudis and expatriates have been buying their gifts well in advance of the Valentine’s Day crackdown.
The interpretation of what constitutes a romantic gift can be a little arbitrary:one Western resident in the capital, Riyadh, said that the shelves in his local store had been stripped of almost all red items, with nervous storeowners taking no chances.
More liberal Arab countries in the region have no such reservations. In Cairo, the Egyptian capital, and Dubai, for example, shops and restaurants mark Valentine’s Day with an abundance of red ribbon and heart decorations, in a manner as garish as any Western capital.
In Riyadh, dating in the Western sense is not socially acceptable, though unmarried couples do meet in restaurants and cafÃ©s that have partitions to hide them. However, the arrival of mobile phones, e-mail and internet chatrooms has radically altered the dating scene, allowing couples to communicate in private….