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Valentine’s Day and Western Traditions

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 19

Each year, we hear the same words repeated over and over, warning people not to imitate the Western tradition of celebrating Valentine’s Day because it commemorates the Christian St. Valentine. And each year, people ignore these warnings and celebrate the holiday anyway. To all of those who preach against the so-called imitation of Western traditions, I have one question: Do you not realize that almost all of our traditions originate in the West? When you, as journalists, write against the Valentine’s Day traditions, do you not realize that the entire tradition of press and free speech is a Western tradition? When you use Twitter to spread your messages of hate, do you not recognize that Twitter is a Western-made technology platform? And when you get on your planes and travel the world, do you fail to see that passports, ID cards and even the notion of the Westphalian state are all Western-made inventions? Indeed, the very force driving modern civilization is the idea that an invention can be made by one nation yet become the property of all peoples. Not every celebration is religious. Similarly, not every adoption of a Western custom is contradictory to Islam. Many people in the Muslim world choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day not as a religious holiday, but as a cultural event. They focus on what is beautiful on this day – things like celebrating loved ones and appreciating those around us. Ninety percent of youth in the West do not know that Valentine’s Day had religious origins. No one there celebrates the holiday in the religious sense. This is also true of the Muslim world. The Egyptians celebrate Sham Ennessim, a national holiday marking the beginning of spring. The festival was a pharaonic ritual that was linked to Christianity, much like Easter, yet this doesn’t mean that the Egyptian people, some of whom are devout Muslims, turn to paganism. Therefore, these calls to boycott Valentine’s Day must end. The people of Saudi Arabia are, above all, human beings: They share the same humanity with the rest of the world, including opportunities to celebrate joyous traditions without being challenged about their commitment to Islam. – Abdullah Bin Bakhit (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)