Valentine is not ‘haram’, says ex-Saudi religious police boss

Sheikh Ahmed Qasim Al-Ghamdi caused a furor in 2014 when he appeared on a television talk show with his wife, who was not wearing the full-face veil. (Courtesy MBC)
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Updated 13 February 2020

Valentine is not ‘haram’, says ex-Saudi religious police boss

DUBAI: Celebrating Valentine’s Day is no different from Mother’s Day and is therefore not un-Islamic, the former president for the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Makkah, told Arab News.
Sheikh Ahmed Qasim Al-Ghamdi said Feb. 14 was enjoyed all around the world and was not exclusively for non-Muslims and was a social event that Muslims could also mark.
“Celebrating Valentine’s Day does not contradict Islamic teachings as it is a worldly, social matter just like celebrating the National Day and Mother’s Day,” he said.
“All these are common social matters shared by humanity and are not religious issues that require the existence of religious proof to permit it,” he said.
“There are many worldly things that we deal with morally that may be of interest to non-Muslim communities and became more common among Muslim communities because of their popularity,” he said, citing the Prophet as an example. “The Prophet dealt with many worldly things that came from non-Muslims.”
“Even greeting peaceful non-Muslims in their special religious holidays is permitted without participating in a forbidden act that contradicts Islam,” he said, downplaying perception that it was an imitation of non-Muslims when Muslims also celebrate the day of love.
The history of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery like that of its patron saint, Saint Valentine.
One theory suggests Saint Valentine was a priest who served during the 3rd Century in Rome, who was executed for defying a decree from Emperor Claudius II that outlawed any remaining single men from marrying as they were better soldiers than those who had already wed.
According to the story, Valentine was sentenced to death after continued to he was found to be performing secret marriages for love-struck couples.
By the Middle Ages, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France, for his symbolism of love.
But the celebration of Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14 has many theories attached to it. Pope Gelasius declared the day as Valentine’s Day because it is claimed he wanted to ‘Christianize’ the Pagan fertility festival Lupercalia, which was commemorated the next day.
It was also in the Middle Ages, that people from France and England believed Feb. 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of February should be a day for romance.
Aside from the usual exchange of chocolates, flowers and romantic gifts an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making it the second largest card-sending holiday next to Christmas, where 2.6 billion cards are mailed.
To stress that Valentine’s Day was a universal celebration – and not anchored on a particular faith or religion – Al-Ghamdi spoke in support of fatwas that declared it permissible for Muslims to spend Feb. 14 with their loved ones.
Ahmed Mamdouh, the fatwa secretary of Dar Al-Ifta Al-Misriya (Egyptian Religious Edict House), on February issued a religious edict which stated: “There is no harm to allocate one day to show love to one another.”
Tunisian Grand Mufti Othman Battikh meanwhile rebuffed assertions that Valentine’s Day was a Christian tradition: “Anything that brings people closer together is good and desirable.”
Love is a natural human feeling, Al-Ghamdi said, and Valentine’s Day offered an opportunity to celebrate “a positive aspect of the human being.”
The Saudi cleric created uproar in 2014 when he said on a talk show hosted by renowned media personality Badria Al-Bishr that, contrary to what Muslims believed, women were not obliged to wear the niqab and were permitted use make-up and other beauty products.
The controversy was further fanned when Al-Ghamdi allowed his wife to be seen on national television without wearing the full-face veil, drawing reactions from religious conservatives.


TheFace: Fatmah Al-Rashed, Saudi architect

Updated 36 min 34 sec ago

TheFace: Fatmah Al-Rashed, Saudi architect

  • "Ithra was a wonderful opportunity and a joyful experience that added so much value to my life."

Early on in life I learned that there is no one way to happiness, no one stereotype for accomplishment or self-satisfaction. This belief has been a drive for me to achieve more. I was born and raised in Alkhobar city; my father was a businessman and my mother was a housewife.

My life is rich with love provided by my family, my siblings, nieces and nephews and I’m enjoying motherhood and my family through nonconventional means.

My parents raised us as equals, they supported us, thought very highly of us and believed that we could excel in anything that we did. Our opinions were highly respected, but there were high expectations to be upheld.

My father once told me after finishing a novel on Marie Curie, “you know you’re no less than she is, you can be the Marie Curie in your own field. You have all it takes.”

I enrolled in the Imam Abdulrahman Al-Faisal University as I’ve always wanted to become a pediatrician. My parents raised my siblings and I with one motto in mind: “It’s not about you, it’s about how you can give back to your community.” My mother was not in favor of my chosen vocation. This is not to say that she went against me; in fact, I was given the freedom to decide my life path and my parents were supportive.

In those days, you had to apply to the university by physically providing all the necessary paperwork. As I stood in line to apply for medical school, I saw another queue. Inquisitive by nature, I went to ask what it was for. The administrators told me it was for the department of architecture and planning. Upon hearing that the course was just 5 years, I remembered my mother’s words, and within a minute, I decided to enroll in the department.

Two steps is all it took, stepping into the queue to the right and that decision changed my life’s path and helped make me who I am today. After graduating, I was hunting for jobs with no luck.

As I am not the type to lay back and do nothing, I volunteered to teach English at a local charity. One day, my father surprised me and said I had a job interview in Aramco.

I was shocked since I never applied and because it’s my father, he simply said that I applied for you because it’s time for you to give back. He told me: “The country invested in you, you are smart and you can take whatever job they give you. Who’s going to build the country but you and your generation?” Doors were opened.

I worked in my field for a while and that led me to the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra.

Twenty-five years later, I’m a still proud employee at Saudi Aramco and one of the first to bring the concept of Ithra to life. My role in Ithra began as an architect and was extended to be part of the creative team responsible for managing the creative program, its concept, and established the first Fablab at the King Fahad University for Petroleum and Minerals — the first in the Eastern Province. Building the concept of Ithra, or as I prefer to call it “the land of dreams,” was a group effort.

I joined with a dream and it was fate that we, the dreamers, were able to gather and meet at the right time and place, and most importantly we were given the opportunity to build something amazing.

This was a selfless act from our end because we wanted to see it come alive, to ensure that we played our part in giving back to a community that helped us grow to who we are today.

Ithra was a wonderful opportunity and a joyful experience that added so much value to my life. What comes next is going to also be part of my journey of growth, to explore our identity.

My life has been a whirlwind of opportunities. One lesson I learned was to never underestimate an opportunity no matter how small it was. You never know what you’ll get out of it.