Love (or lust?) is in the air in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as the country prepares for Valentine's Day tomorrow following decades of the practice of marking the day being forbidden.
The preparations – which include the selling and buying of gifts, flowers and chocolates in shops and stores – was not thought possible until a few years ago due to the strict laws against Valentine's Day throughout the kingdom, which deemed it un-Islamic.
The once-feared religious police used to ensure that the laws forbidding the celebration were strongly enforced, but that was before they were disbanded and their powers of arrest were stripped from them. Store owners were previously obligated to hide red roses and chocolates on the day, and restaurant owners were pressured to ban birthday and anniversary celebrations on 14 February.
The main turning point in the kingdom's decision came in 2018, when the former President of Makkah's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) Sheikh Ahmed Qasim Al-Ghamdi declared that the celebration of Valentine's Day did not actually contradict Islamic teachings. According to him, the celebration of love was a universal phenomenon and not limited to the non-Muslim world.
The legalisation of the public celebration of Valentine's Day – rooted in the Roman pagan festival celebrating and honouring fertility – comes amid the recent liberalisation of traditional social conventions within the kingdom and the reforms being carried out by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in order to "modernise" the country.