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Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Gifts for lovers must be bought
on black market

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia--
In gift and flower shops across Saudi Arabia,
the flush of red has started to fade.

Each year shortly before Feb. 14, the country's
religious police mobilize, heading out to hunt for
-- and confiscate -- red roses, red teddy bears and
any signs of a heart. In a country where Valentine's Day
is banned, ordinary Saudis find they must skirt the law
to spoil their sweetheart.

The Valentine's Day holiday celebrating love and lovers
is banned in Saudi Arabia, where religious authorities
call it a Christian celebration true Muslims should shun.

The kingdom's attitude toward Valentine's Day is in line
with the strict school of Islam followed here for a century.
All Christian and even most Muslim feasts are banned in the
kingdom, the birthplace of Islam, because they are considered
unorthodox creations that Islam does not sanction.

Beyond the ban, it is a challenge for unmarried couples to be
together on Valentine's Day or any other day because of strict
segregation of the sexes. Dating consists of long phone
conversations and the rare tryst.

Men and women cannot go for a drive together, have a meal or
talk on the street unless they are close relatives. Infractions
are punished by detentions.

Valentine's items descend underground, to the black market,
where their price triples and quadruples. Salesmen and waiters
avoid wearing red. Though taboo, Valentine's Day still gets
a fair amount of attention in Saudi society.

In religious lectures at schools, teachers and administrators
warn students against marking the occasion, noting Saint Valetine
was a Christian priest, said an educational supervisor speaking
on condition of anonymity.

The supervisor said that on Valentine's Day last year, girls
lining up for daily morning prayer were inspected head to toe by
teachers looking for violations of rules that ban wearing or
carrying any read item on the day.

Ribbons, boots, jackets, bags and pen holders with a hint, stripe
and hot pink were thrown into a heap, and the school called the
girls mothers to pick up the offensive items, the supervisor said.

Despite the restrictions, Valentine's Day has caught on, partly due
to satellite TV, where the occasion, like other holidays, is worked
into the programming fare.

In most cases the gifts are not presented on Valentine's Day. A woman
may not get permission from her parents to go out that night, and
stores donot want to be saddled with the incriminating items when
the muttawa begin making their rounds. Shops either deliver the gifts
or call recipients a few days early and ask them to pick up their presents.

Restaurants also are warned against creating a Valentine's atmosphere.
One waiter, looking at his red apron and read placement mats, said he
worried what the muttawa's reaction would be if they dropped by on Feb. 14

As the holiday neared, a Saudi woman, swathed in black with only her
eyes showing, circled a huge, red teddy bear at a shop, wondering if
the plastic flowers stuck in the crook of its arms were too tacky.

She wanted this Valentine's Day to be perfect. She had ordered 100 red
roses to be delieverd to her husband of a few weeks, bought him the
largest size bar of his favorite chocolate and planned to surprise
him with a dinner party at her parents house.

But there was one hitch: She had made her plans for Feb. 12, mistakenly
thinking that was Valentine's Day. ASked if she still wanted to mark the
occasion then, she said in an excited voice, "Yes, I cant' wait two more days."

(abstracted from DAILYHERALD/Associated Press)
posted by infraternam meam @ 5:30 AM  
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Name: infraternam meam
Home: Chicago, United States
About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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