February 14 has long been celebrated as a day of romantic love. It is that special day when couples exchange gifts, chocolates, cards and perhaps a nice candlelit dinner. To most of the modern Western culture, it is a harmless holiday that businesses capitalize on but that is fun nonetheless. However, in other parts of the world, it is deemed inappropriate. Some Eastern countries have begun to ban any form of its celebration, and some are even imposing punishment to those who participate.
Iran, for example, has just announced banning Valentine’s Day because it promotes the corrupt Western culture. In fact, officials told coffee and ice cream shops in Tehran to prevent couples from the ability to get together for a romantic gathering or gift exchange that would promote “decadent Western culture through Valentine’s Day rituals.” Store owners could be fined or found guilty of a crime if they allow any type of the celebration on their property.
Indonesia is also fighting against the Western holiday. They argue that observing it is against the Islamic teachings. The Muslim province of Aceh, in Banda Aceh, had thousands of high school students holding rallies to rebuff the lover’s celebrations. It’s mayor, Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal, joined the rallies and said, “The Valentine’s Day celebration has become a culture” and that it was not part of the Islamic culture. Junior high school students also held rallies against the holiday in Surabaya, which is Indonesia’s second-largest city.
The Indonesian Council of Clerics has warned that Valentine’s Day celebrations originate from a different belief and that those who choose to celebrate it would be promoting other faiths other than Islam.
The Legends of St. Valentine
So who was Saint Valentine and why is he causing such a fuss? No one is certain as there are at least three different saints recognized by the Catholic Church with the name Valentine or Valentinus, and all of them were martyred. One theory is that the legends are not three separate individuals, but a combination of stories regarding one person.
Legend one: Valentine was a priest in Rome in the third century. The emperor, Claudius II, outlawed marriage for younger men because he felt that when they were single they made better soldiers. The priest disagreed with the decree and married young couples in secret. However, the emperor discovered his actions and had him put to death.
Legend two: Very similar to the first except that this Valentine is from Terni, Italy. He was also beheaded by the emperor for marrying young couples in love.
Legend three: Valentine, also a priest, helped Christians escape Roman prisons and was killed for his aid. He supposedly fell in love with a young girl who is thought to be the daughter of his jailer and who visited him while he was imprisoned. Before dying, he wrote a letter to his love, signing it “From your Valentine.”
Valentine was sentenced to death and died on Feb. 14, 273.
Today, we think of the holiday as just a fun and romantic time of the year to show someone they are loved. It has morphed from a celebration of spring planting from the pagan days to the commercial industry it is today. At least in Western culture. But for Muslims and those who practice the Islamic faith, the seemingly innocent holiday has a much more important implication.