200 Arrested in Mina for Celebrating Valentine’s Day

Mahmoud Ahmad, Arab News Staff
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2004-02-18 03:00

JEDDAH, 18 February 2004 — The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has arrested more than 200 Bangladeshi and Burmese workers as they celebrated Valentine’s Day in Mina.

Al-Madinah Arabic newspaper said yesterday the workers contravened a fatwa issued recently by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh by drinking and dancing in a tent camp they were charged with cleaning.

The commission members found that 16 of them were drunk. The men, aged 16 to 28, were employed by a cleaning company to clear the camp after the end of Haj.

The organizers of the party, who sold alcohol and food and brought in musicians for Sunday night, a day after the real Valentine’s, managed to escape the clutches of the commission, the daily said.

They charged SR5 a ticket without dinner and put a large banner outside a tent where the all-night fiesta was held, next to the Jamrat, where Muslims gather to stone the devil during the pilgrimage.

Officers also seized red flowers and napkins bearing the legend “Happy Valentine’s.”

A singer was among those held after he fell and injured a foot trying to run away.

The grand mufti condemned the partygoers.

“What these workers did in a holy place by celebrating and singing and drinking alcohol is a very grave sin,” Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh told the daily. “Committing a sin in a holy place is doubly sinful. Valentine’s is an infidel tradition that has no place in Islam,” he added.

The grand mufti had already branded Feb. 14 a “pagan Christian holiday” and local newspapers published the full text of a fatwa he first issued three years ago.

“Valentine’s Day is a pagan Christian holiday that no Muslim who believes in God or Judgment Day should celebrate,” it said. “A Muslim is forbidden from taking part in this holiday and other unholy celebrations through food, drink, commerce, shopping, gifts, greetings, advertisement or any other form.”

Locals reacted angrily to the report. Amin Mahmoud, a civil servant, said the party was an insult to Islam. “Valentine’s Day is alien to our culture. It is widely celebrated abroad and by non-Saudis in the Kingdom. But it’s not acceptable for people to dishonor our values in the holy sites. This place is holy, and they should be punished for what they did.”

Teacher Ahmad Obudah agreed. “Mina is the last place on earth for Valentine’s Day celebrations. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the picture of those caught. Most of their heads were shaved, and it looked as though they had performed Haj. How could they do such a thing? How could they drink in this place? Where did the alcohol come from?”

The commission bars shops from selling red roses, teddy bears, greeting cards or red-colored gifts to celebrate the day. They also warn shops, hotels, restaurants and public parks not to stage any special activities on the day.

Al-Madinah did not reveal if the 200 had been released or would face prosecution. Some 100 were later released for lack of evidence. Some of those arrested told the paper they had done nothing wrong.

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