No Valentine’s Day in Pakistan as fanatics reign supreme
Valentine’s Day has many tales associated with it and from 13th century till date, its origin continues to be described differently by different people. However, the evolution of the day is irrelevant now. It has been a significant element of the culture – promoting love among men and women. It has now turned into a family affair too in the past few years as the celebrations are not restricted to the couples.
Each year on February 14, mostly the young couples, married or engaged, peruse the store shelves for the perfect gift or card for each other. According to world’s leading US greeting cards and gift company Hallmark, more than 163 million cards — not including packaged kids’ valentines — are exchanged. And it’s not just an American phenomenon. Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Italy, Denmark and many other countries with all romantic fervour.
But in Pakistan, religious groups oppose the idea of celebrating Valentine’s Day and term it an un-Islamic practice. The government, unfortunately, caves in to their absurd demands and Valentine’s Day celebrations in the country have been ‘banned’ through a court order.
There was also a conventional belief in Europe during the middle ages that birds choose their partners in the middle of February. Thus the day was dedicated to love, and people observed it by writing love letters and sending small gifts to their beloved
A huge economic activity is also attached with this day like many other international and global days including Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and several other social and environment days. The importance of such days is imperative in pledging our commitment to pursuing the objectivity related to the day. Celebration and feast is also significantly attached to these days just to enjoy the fun filled moments with the loved ones, and to make them memorable.
The human culture is enriched with such festivity where communities or families or groups of individuals come together for collective celebration of seasons and successes, even superstitious beliefs.
But why and how did this holiday of love and romance originate and, more importantly, how did Saint Valentine become involved? The answers to those questions are not easy ones. Valentine’s Day is a holiday shrouded in mystery and legend.
One tale states that the ancient Roman Emperor Claudius-II executed two men — both named Valentine — on February 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honoured by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. The emperor believed the single men were the best warriors than the married ones while Valentine facilitated weddings secretly. He was beheaded once come to known to the Emperor. In the later years, the people started celebrating the day in his memory.
One Google search states, the origins of Saint Valentine’s Day lie in the ancient Roman fertility festival Lupercalia, which was celebrated on February 15. During the festival, young women would place their names in a large urn. The young men would draw a name from the urn and then be romantically linked with that young woman. The best match ended with weddings. Still other legends cite the fact that February 14 marked the date when birds began mating.
Another concept is, “The first Valentine’s Day was in the year 496. Having a particular Valentine’s Day is a very old tradition, thought to have originated from a Roman festival. The Romans had a festival called Lupercalia in the middle of February – officially the start of their springtime.”
Later, Pope Gelasius-I muddled things in the 5thcentury by combining St. Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals. But the festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been. The social researcher Lenski adds, “It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn’t stop it from being a day of fertility and love.”
Religious fanatics — who have a habit of declaring just about everything ‘un-Islamic’ — believe that Valentine’s Day is a western concept and ‘spoils the morals of our youth’. It is very strange that conflicting concepts of jihad can be imported from extremist organisations for vested interests, but the festivals and feats of spring are frowned upon
Although the mid-February holiday celebrating love and lovers remains wildly popular, the confusion over its origins led the Catholic Church, in 1969, to drop St. Valentine’s Day from the Roman calendar of official, worldwide Catholic feasts. (Those highly sought-after days are reserved for saints with more clear historical record. After all, the saints are real individuals for us to imitate.) Some parishes, however, observe the feast of St. Valentine.
There was also a conventional belief in Europe during the middle ages that birds chose their partners in the middle of February. Thus the day was dedicated to love, and people observed it by writing love letters and sending small gifts to their beloved. Legend has it that Charles, duke of Orleans, sent the first real Valentine card to his wife in 1415, when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He, however, was not beheaded, and died a half-century later of old age.
Whatever the exact origin of the Valentine’s Day and the myths associated with it, the day has become an attractive feast to celebrate and spread love. The best part of the day is that it is spreading like a family fest too. At least, there shall be one day in the year to revive our pledge to keep on loving our dear ones and the people around us. Humane values are also based on love and affection for every living creature that is beyond the romantic love. Let the Valentine’s Day be a day of universal love from a family affair and love between the couples.
In Pakistan, the day has become more controversial because of the myths associated with it. Religious fanatics – who have a habit of declaring just about everything ‘un-Islamic’ – believe that it is a western culture and ‘spoils the morals of our youth’. It is very strange that conflicting concepts of jihad can be imported from extremists organisations for vested interests, but the festivals and feats of spring cannot. Cultures, being the living phenomenon, consistently keep on attracting new additions. The local norms and values edit the parts of a fest not relevant to the society. So, the festivity goes on in the localised formats.
While the fanatics roaring on the streets with their crafted notions and extreme behaviours, the Islamabad High Court has asked the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) to remind the media about the ban on airing of the Valentine’s Day celebrations on the TV channels and promoting the day in print media.
The Islamabad High Court in a ruling last year, a day before the Valentine’s Day, had ordered to ban airing its celebrations across the country. In pursuance of the order to stop the promotion of Valentine’s Day on media, the PEMRA has reminded again the TV and radio channels to comply with the court orders.
The notification says, “In the meanwhile, respondents are directed to ensure that nothing about the celebrations of Valentine’s Day and its promotion is spread on the electronic and print media. No event shall be held at official level and at any public place.”
Valentine’s Day is also misinterpreted out of its context. Just in the last three years, it has been gradually denoted to ‘illicit relationship of unmarried couples’ though the actual concept of the day is differently narrated. A Google search leads to different statements about the day. None of them describe the concept that we have attached to the day.
Two years back, speaking on a TV channel, well-known Islamic scholar Javed Ahmed Ghamdi also spoke on the positive aspect of the Valentine’s Day saying, if I exactly recall, “even if it is western tradition, we can benefit from the positive approach of the day that is only meant to promote and celebrate love. And, the love can be among the siblings, spouses and parents. There shall be no harm if this day brings an opportunity for a family or spouses and those who are engaged to each other for matrimony to exchange cakes, chocolates, flowers and greeting cards expressing heart-felt sentiments, or dine out at the public places without indulging into anything contrary to social and moral values.”
By Munir Ahmed
The writer is an Islamabad-based art and cultural, policy advocacy, strategic communication and outreach expert. He can be reached at email@example.com. He tweets @EmmayeSyed