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Saudi religious police see red on Valentine’s Day

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:43:00 02/14/2010

Filed Under: Islam, Overseas Employment, Police, Festive Events (including Carnivals)

THE RELIGIOUS police in Saudi Arabia are seeing red in the run-up to Valentine?s Day and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have been warned not to celebrate the day of lovers openly.

John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator, warned the more than 2.2 million OFWs in Saudi Arabia that the Feb. 14 celebration is banned in most, if not all, Arab Muslim countries.

OFWs, especially those in relationships, should celebrate Valentine?s Day ?with utmost care,? said Monterona.

?In Saudi Arabia alone, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtues and Prevention of Vices, also known as the religious police, strictly enforces the ban on the practice which they regard as an alien and unIslamic activity,? Monterona said.

The Saudi religious police launched Thursday a nationwide crackdown on stores selling items that are red or in any way allude to the banned celebration of Valentine?s Day.

Red roses, red gifts, etc.

Members of the feared religious police were inspecting shops for red roses, heart-shaped objects and gifts wrapped in red, and ordering storeowners to get rid of them, a Saudi official told The Associated Press.

The Valentine?s Day prohibition is in line with Saudi Arabia?s strict Wahhabi school of Islam that the kingdom has followed for more than a century. Even birthdays and Mother?s Day are frowned on by the religious establishment in the birthplace of Islam, although people almost never get punished for celebrating them.

Not so Valentine?s Day, named after a Christian saint said to have been martyred by the Romans in the third century.

Red-colored or heart-shaped items are legal at other times of the year, but as Feb. 14 nears they become contraband.

No flying kisses

Most shops in Riyadh?s upscale neighborhoods have removed all red items from their shelves. A statement by the religious police was published in Saudi newspapers warning shopowners against any violations.

Monterona advised OFWs not to wear anything red or be seen carrying anything red-colored outside their homes, like flowers or heart-shaped gift items.

?Be careful not to be seen by the police or other locals blowing kisses to your friends or workmates. Also, don?t greet other nationalities ?Happy Valentine?s Day? in public or you?ll be in big trouble,? he said.

A better idea would be to call family members or friends in the Philippines or send Valentine?s Day greetings by e-mail or text messages, he said.

There are more than 2.2 million OFWs in the Middle East. Another 400,000 OFWs are based in the United Arab Emirates, while 200,000 and 150,000 are in Qatar and Kuwait. Jerry E. Esplanada and AP

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