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Saudi Arabia bans all things red ahead of Valentine's Day

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  • Saudi Arabia has banned red gift items like red roses until after Valentine's Day
  • Islamic conservatives consider the celebration of such a holiday a sin
  • Celebration seen as encouraging immoral relations between the unmarried
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(CNN) -- Saudi Arabia has asked florists and gift shops to remove all red items until after Valentine's Day, calling the celebration of such a holiday a sin, local media reported Monday.

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With a ban on red gift items over Valentine's Day in Saudi Arabia, a black market in red roses has flowered.

"As Muslims we shouldn't celebrate a non-Muslim celebration, especially this one that encourages immoral relations between unmarried men and women, " Sheikh Khaled Al-Dossari, a scholar in Islamic studies, told the Saudi Gazette, an English-language newspaper.

Every year, officials with the conservative Muslim kingdom's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice clamp down on shops a few days before February 14, instructing them to remove red roses, red wrapping paper, gift boxes and teddy bears. On the eve of the holiday, they raid stores and seize symbols of love.

The virtue and vice squad is a police force of several thousand charged with, among other things, enforcing dress codes and segregating the sexes. Saudi Arabia, which follows a strict interpretation of Islam called Wahhabism, punishes unrelated women and men who mingle in public.

Ahmed Al-Omran, a university student in Riyadh, told CNN that the government decision will give the international media another reason to make fun of the Saudis "but I think that we got used to that by now."

"I think what they are doing is ridiculous," said Al-Omran, who maintains the blog 'Saudi Jeans.' "What the conservatives in this country need to learn is something called 'tolerance.' If they don't see the permissibility of celebrating such an occasion, then fine -- they should not celebrate it. But they have to know they have no right to impose their point of view on others."

Because of the ban on red roses, a black market has flowered ahead of Valentine's Day. Roses that normally go for five Saudi riyal ($1.30) fetch up to 30 riyal ($8) on February 14, the Saudi Gazette said.

"Sometimes we deliver the bouquets in the middle of the night or early morning, to avoid suspicion," one florist told the paper.

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Saudi Arabia has often come under criticism for its treatment of women, most recently in a United Nations report that blasted the kingdom for widespread discrimination. Under Saudi law, women are subject to numerous restrictions, including a prohibition against driving and a requirement that they get a man's permission to travel or have surgery.

A businesswoman told the Times of London this month that she was detained and strip-searched by the religious police for holding a meeting in a coffee shop with male colleagues.

Two years ago, a teenager was raped by seven men who found her alone with a man unrelated to her. The government sentenced the 19-year-old woman to 200 lashes and six months in prison for being in the company of a man who wasn't a family member or her husband. She was later pardoned. The seven rapists were sentenced to two to nine years in prison. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Saeed Ahmed contributed to this report

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