By now you must have read the accounts of the Middle East tizzy over Valentine’s Day. Saudi Arabia particularly wants all the red things removed. Besides, Muslims consider all this romantic love celebration just another sign of Western decadence and they’re having none of it.
I don’t blame them, but there is nothing at all Islamic here. The custom has its roots planted deeply in early Christian history, and it is definitely a Western tradition kind of thing.
It wasn’t very long ago that this date was still called Saint Valentine’s Day. That’s how I grew up saying it, even as we passed out those dumb little valentines at school and ate the small pastel candies with the sayings stamped on them. Remember how they tasted like flavored chalk?
And if you don’t got nobody, you can buy the bittersweet variety and sit on your pity pot all evening, chewing flavored chalk. In fact if you go to the bittersweet site, try to think of some new sayings and pass them on here. They come in “Dejected” or “Dysfunctional” or “Dumped” flavors. Given our readers’ fine minds I’m sure they can come up with even better bons mots for despair than Despair.com does. Mere amateurs.
As I said, I think Islam intuits the haram Christian foundation of this celebration, though they get the particulars wrong:
“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.
A few years ago, I did some research for my Saint Valentine’s post for The Neighborhood of God. I found out all sorts of interesting things, including the fact that Saint Valentinus himself fell in love with his jailer’s daughter while he was awaiting execution.
Saint Valentine was canonized because he was martyred by the Roman Emperor, Claudius II. And he was martyred precisely because he performed forbidden marriages for young couples in love.
Why would anyone forbid marriage? I’ll tell you:
In what has to be one of the dumbest edicts ever devised, Claudius decided to outlaw marriage, thinking it would be more efficient to raise troops if he didn’t have to tear them away from their families.
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On paper, this decree must have looked good to Claudius, and it’s doubtful anyone was willing to tell him how sand-poundingly stupid his idea really was. After all, what happens when you outlaw normal human behavior? Of course: normal human beings sneak around the corner and do it anyway.
In this case, young people were sneaking off to Bishop Valentine’s house to have their marriage ceremonies. This annoyed Claudius no end, so he had Valentinus hauled before him to explain. He was also offering to do a deal: if Valentinus would stop this marrying business and renounce Christianity, then Claudius would generously allow him to live. Unfortunately, these were non-negotiable items for Valentinus, so the edict was issued:
Claudius ordered the Bishop to be martyred in three stages. I will spare you the details… While awaiting execution, it is said that he fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and that his love cured her blindness.
After he died, he was buried either on the road to Rome or at one of the gates leading into the city. Or maybe there were two Valentinus…Valentini? No one is sure.
Hundreds of years later, Valentinus was canonized and was dedicated not as the patron saint of lovers, but as the go-to-guy for troubled marriages. Over the eons, he became the patron of lots of other endeavors, including beekeepers. Go figure.
You can read the details at NoG, here.
Meanwhile, I agree with the various Muslim countries who are made nervous by the feast of February 14th. Saint Valentine could do with a serious cut in business.
Hat tip: Carpenter first, and others…