It may have been meant for love and affection worldwide, but Valentine’s Day is quite the controversy in Pakistan. While the rest of the world exchanges flowers and chocolates, some Pakistanis spend the day observing Youm-e-Sharm-o-Haya.
Earlier, demonstrators from Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) protested against February 14, asking people to instead spend time celebrating a ‘day of modesty.’ They wanted the police to crack down on indecent acts, otherwise they would have to take matters into their own hands.
“We will not allow holding of any Valentine’s Day functions,” Shahzad Ahmed, the local head of the student organisation said. “The law enforcement agencies must prevent such gatherings otherwise we will stop them in our own way.”
Zain Afzal, a graduate from Beaconhouse National University, thinks people in Pakistan will celebrate just about anything without having a clue what it is. “It is a waste of time and energy, a western event that we have been following without a clue. I bet no one in this whole country knows the real essence behind Valentine’s Day, but they still participate in it like illiterates. Why can’t everyday be a celebration of love? There is no ‘date’ to loving someone,” he said.
Valentine’s Day can also be a class issue according to some people.
Humera, a housewife in Lahore and mother of three, thinks that elites in developing countries often end up adopting western traditions. “They try to imitate western cultural expressions. The celebration of Valentine’s Day shows that we are still slaves of the West, no matter how hard we try to ignore it or hide it. It is also an event against Islam,” she said.
Of course, it’s not all bad news. Some people are more open to the idea of celebrating Valentine’s Day. “Valentine’s day is not just a day to tell your significant other how much you love them, but generally a day to celebrate love, and just be loved in return,” said Bilal, a student from the University of South Asia.
“The more you think about love between unmarried couples, more we are reminded of our folklore, where we read about the sacrifices given by two lovers just to be together. Sahiban was in love with Mirza against her brothers’ wishes, Ranjha gave up pleasures of the world and became a jogi, and Sohni would meet Mahiwal secretly even after her marriage. These tales are still being celebrated and adapted in our dramas and theatres,’ said Hussain, a government employee.
Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about couples either. “I took my father for a Valentine’s day lunch last year,” said Hajrah, a local housewife. “We loved every moment of it since he lives out of city and we barely get a chance to catch up with each other. There was nothing unIslamic about how it made him feel. He was happy, and if that is considered haram, then I guess happiness has different meanings in Islam,” she added.
However, the issue might go beyond haram or halal at the end of the day. Rawal, a socialite, offers a comical observation of the trend, “I think that the more money you have, the more you can go out of the way to show your loved one what they mean to me. Then again, for those people who don’t have the money to be put to waste and cannot even afford the basic necessities of life, are left feeling like they didn’t do enough for their spouse on Valentine’s.”
The only thing that we know for certain right now is that the debate over the good, bad and ugly pertaining to Valentine’s Day is not going to die down anytime soon!