Why are Muslims conflicted about Valentine’s Day?
April 18, 2023
CELEBRATING LOVE ISN'T THE PROBLEM
It’s a day single people dread (or happily ignore), a day couples revel in (or snub in favour of everyday acts of romance) or for some it’s a day that is quite problematic.
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St. Valentine’s Day is a contentious occasion to Muslim’s around the world. This centuries-old holiday is clamped down on in Malaysia, Indonesia, Iran and is outright banned in Pakistan after the country’s High Court ruled that the holiday was un-Islamic.
Meanwhile, in the West, many young Muslims feel torn about whether or not they should take part in a “seemingly harmless” day. What could be so controversial about celebrating your love for your spouse with romantic gestures, dining out or gifts? Surely Islam allows you to do these things, some might ask? While it certainly does, context is crucial here.
There’s a wide range of reasons why the 14th of February is frowned upon from an Islamic perspective. It’s not celebrating love that’s the problem, but the undisciplined values about love that V-Day promotes. Muslims do (and are encouraged to always) celebrate their significant other – but only if they’re married.
وَمِنْ آيَاتِهِ أَنْ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنْ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا لِّتَسْكُنُوا إِلَيْهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيْنَكُم مَّوَدَّةً وَرَحْمَةً ۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquillity in them, and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” (30:21)
One could argue that Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate all kinds of love – motherly, brotherly, sisterly or between friends, etc. However, V-Day is most strongly associated with acting on your sexual desires with people you admire, regardless of whether or not you’re married. This is a big no-no in Islam. Zina is obviously a major sin and should be steered clear of and this also includes anything that may lead to it – such as such as kissing, looking inappropriately at, or touching someone of the opposite sex who is a non-mahram.
وَلَا تَقْرَبُوا الزِّنَا ۖ إِنَّهُ كَانَ فَاحِشَةً وَسَاءَ سَبِيلًا
“And do not approach unlawful sexual intercourse. Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way.” (17:32)
What if a Muslim merely marks the day by giving a rose to his wife, one might ask? This seems ok, right? Well, there is also a ruling on this sort of behaviour:
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
“Whoever imitates a people is one of them.” (Narrated by Ahmad, 2/50, Abu Dawood, 4021).
Also, under the guise of celebrating love, Valentine’s Day may give you permission to do things you probably wouldn’t otherwise do, as it lowers social inhibitions, all of which are deemed unIslamic. Since V-Day is also associated with public displays of love, dressing seductively and spending excessively. Ultimately, another common reason why Muslims refuse to mark V-Day is that since it isn’t an Islamic tradition that’s reason enough to avoid it.
V-DAY’S DARK HISTORY
Religious issues aside, if you trace back the origins of Valentine’s day, it’s probably off-putting enough to make you want to stop celebrating it.
Though no one knows the exact origin of the holiday, the first clue is in the word “Saint” Valentine’s Day. There were numerous Catholic saints who were called Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. Although the true story behind these mysterious saints is murky, two legends depict him in a romantic, caring and heroic light.
There are two theories about why Valentine’s day is celebrated in the middle of February. Some believe this period marks the martyrdom anniversary of Saint Valentine or his burial–which apparently happened around 270 AD. Meanwhile, others claim that in the 5th century, the Christian church conspired to put St. Valentine’s day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, a pagan festival popular at the time, in order to appease and essentially convert the pagans.The rationale behind the merging of two different festivities is that the pagans could still practice their secular traditions but under the guise of Christianity (with some adjustments).
What is Lupercalia, you ask? This is where things get dark…
In pre-Christian times, from February 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia, which involved blood sacrifice, nudity, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and even slapping women with animal hides!
In a nutshell, the Romans would sacrifice a goat and a dog, then women would line up waiting to be whipped with the hides of the animals that were just killed (as this was believed to make the women fertile), then put all the women’s names in a jar. The men would then randomly draw a woman’s name, much like a matchmaking lottery, and become sexual partners with them.
How did Valentine’s Day go from whipping women to hearts and candy then?
It wasn’t until the 14th century that Valentine’s Day developed a romantic connotation. The famous English Poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, wrote about Valentine’s Day in a loving sense in his poem Parlement of Foules. Subsequently, William Shakespeare also romanticised the holiday in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and in Hamlet:
“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.”
Hamlet (Act 4 Scene 5)
Eventually, V-Day gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. The familiar act of giving out handmade paper cards also became a craze. After the dawn of the industrial revolution, factory-made Valentine’s Day cards were mass produced in the 19th century and February hasn’t been the same since.
Valentine’s Day is a hugely profitable industry. Many will break the bank buying flowers, jewellery and dining out for their loved one. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), despite significantly fewer Americans celebrating V-Day each year, spending for the holiday has continued to rise and is projected to reach more than $20 billion this year. While this opposing trend seems illogical, those who do celebrate V-Day are spending more because much of the increase is being driven by gifts for other loved ones – even pets!
While some may see this as a positive boost for the economy, some may see this is excessive spending for just one day. Not to mention the amount of waste that is generated on V-Day, in the form of cards, plastics and wrapping paper.
In Islam, Muslims are cautioned against extravagance (Israaf):
وَآتِ ذَا الْقُرْبَىٰ حَقَّهُ وَالْمِسْكِينَ وَابْنَ السَّبِيلِ وَلَا تُبَذِّرْ تَبْذِيرًا
“And give the relative his right, and [also] the poor and the traveler, and do not spend wastefully.” (17:26)
إِنَّ الْمُبَذِّرِينَ كَانُوا إِخْوَانَ الشَّيَاطِينِ ۖ وَكَانَ الشَّيْطَانُ لِرَبِّهِ كَفُورًا
“Indeed, the wasteful are brothers of the devils, and ever has Satan been to his Lord ungrateful.” (17:27).
While the topic of “extravagance” can be a subjective experience, the Quran also urges Muslims to practice moderation in giving:
وَلَا تَجْعَلْ يَدَكَ مَغْلُولَةً إِلَىٰ عُنُقِكَ وَلَا تَبْسُطْهَا كُلَّ الْبَسْطِ فَتَقْعُدَ مَلُومًا مَّحْسُورًا
“And do not make your hand as chained to your neck or extend it completely and thereby become blamed and insolvent.” (17:29)
وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا أَنفَقُوا لَمْ يُسْرِفُوا وَلَمْ يَقْتُرُوا وَكَانَ بَيْنَ ذَٰلِكَ قَوَامًا
“And [they are] those who, when they spend, do so not excessively or sparingly but are ever, between that, justly moderate” (25:67)
In essence, this annual lover’s day is associated with a set of problematic expressions which go in direct conflict with Islamic teachings. Therefore, it would be unsettling and paradoxical for the soul to cherry pick the “halal” aspects of Valentine’s Day while disregarding the bulk of what it represents. However, despite many of the religious, historical or materialistic arguments put forward against Valentine’s Day, as outlined in this blog, some Muslims may still choose to mark the occasion. Some argue that their intention is pure and not aligned with V-Day’s values. Some even say that celebrating the day is a way to build bridges with western countries. Whatever your opinion, the lesson that can be learned from V-Day for Muslims is that everyone has free will, one mustn’t judge and we should be compassionate to everyone. Now we heart that.
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