World Asia: South & Central First Look

Valentine's Day? Not in Islamabad. Pakistani judge bans public celebrations in capital

A Pakistani judge has ruled Valentine's Day inconsistent with Islamic teachings. But the holiday has critics all around the world who oppose it as a commercialized, Western import.

A girl buys flowers to celebrate Valentine's Day in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Monday.
B.K. Bangash/AP | Caption

Don't look for giant red heart balloons in Islamabad tomorrow, following an order from a Pakistani judge banning public celebrations of Valentine's Day in the nation’s capital.

The ruling came Monday, in response to a citizen's petition to cease public celebrations of the holiday in the city. The judge agreed with the citizen the holiday does not align with Islamic values and teachings, an idea previously argued by many conservative Muslims.

An order has been sent to Pakistan’s media regulator to black out any promotions, whether print or electronic, of the holiday.

While the most romantic day of the year often stirs mixed feelings in couples and singles as it rolls around each February, some non-Western authorities argue that the holiday is a direct contrast to their values, and Pakistan isn’t the first to take a harsh stance against celebrations.

Officials from Indonesia to Russia have raised concerns with how the holiday commercializes love or clashes with traditional cultures, viewing its spread as unfettered Westernization and the promotion of what some call scandalous views of love.

In Iran and Saudi Arabia, celebrating Valentine’s Day is prohibited, and unmarried couples who mark the occasion face punishments that could include jail time. In Malaysia, where Muslims make up more than half of the population, Islamic morality police have raided hotels and parks on February 14, looking for couples whom they consider to be too immodest. 

Several of the bans have come after nations found their shops inundated with Western-manufactured or -inspired products. 

“Valentine’s Day has become a major event in Iran over the past decade; it is basically a day for lovers. Tehran shops were full of Valentine’s Day paraphernalia until the government took it as a sign of cultural invasion from the West and banned it” in 2011, said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, reported International Business Times in 2013.

But despite official censure, some continue to celebrate. The holiday has steadily gained popularity in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but in recent years, some officials have pushed back and argued that schools and government institutions should not engage in the festivities.

"The very atmosphere of these holidays does not foster the formation of spiritual and moral values in youth, and holding them primarily benefits commercial organizations," Grigory Bolotnikov, a Russian government consultant, told Reuters in 2011, as officials in Belgorod province clamped down on Valentine's Day celebrations.

In India, a similar phenomenon has unfolded as young people, particularly in the growing middle class, warm up to Valentine's Day. For conservative Hindus and nationalists, that shift spells trouble and spurs a need to come forward and preserve the nation’s heritage and culture. Protesters have decried Valentine's Day festivities, saying that it celebrates premarital sex and glamorizes physical attraction. In recent years, ultraconservative groups have set fire to shops selling Valentine’s Day cards and attacked florists who delivered flower arrangements on the holiday.

Some in Pakistan have already met the new ban with criticism, protesting the ban of a day they say recognizes and celebrates love.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.