Valentine's Day in Pakistan
Though Valentine's Day in Pakistan is officially banned, and the Islamist orthodoxy has taken steps to obstruct celebrations, many Pakistanis celebrate the day's festivities. In recent years, youth and commercial establishments in Pakistan have supported Valentine's Day festivities and celebrating romantic friendship and love, as noted by journalists Asif Shahzad and Andrew Roche and Safia Bano, a philosophy lecturer. They note that youth in the country, where 60 percent of the population is below age 30 and half are under 18, are influenced more by global trends than traditions. Valentine's Day serves annually as a flash point of the culture war in Pakistan. Diaa Hadid says that it is a cause célèbre for religious hard-liners, affording conservatives a chance assert themselves as the caretakers of Islamic identity. On the other hand, with or without the moral policing, couples are finding ways to defy the ban and celebrate the event, supported by merchants who can increase their prices during the week preceding February 14th. Bano sees acceptance of the celebrations as a generational change indicating new cultural norms and a move toward love marriages.
The Socio-religio-political Islamist antagonism and judicial overreach in Pakistan towards love and Valentine's Day in Pakistan is difficult for outsiders to comprehend. Technically, love is not haram (forbidden) in Islam, but gender segregation and gender mixing prohibitions stifle the freedom of Muslim women. Access to public spaces for women is severely constrained and conservative, rigid interpretations of Islam create limits on women's behavior. In the conservative view, women are not allowed to show their faces, not allowed to talk to unrelated men unless the communication is essential, and are unable to choose their own life partner, as that is a decision made by the head of the family.
Women's freedom is scorned by conservatives and extremist institutions in Pakistani society. The focus is not simply to restrict women's free expression on a particular day, but rather to subjugate women to strengthen male dominance through their seclusion from public life. The complex rules of purdah (seclusion) which reinforce chastity and family honor, have led to socio-cultural disparities, in every aspect of women's lives. Lacking an understanding of their civil, legal, and political rights, women's opportunities for participation in society are limited and they are left vulnerable to exploitation, oppression, and abusive control by others without adequate recourse.
In theory, under Islamic law in Pakistan, the marriage parties must consent to marriage, women must be sixteen years old, and a contract must be drawn, but few women are aware of these rights unless a male relative has informed them. Lack of enforcement and non-compliance with the law are fairly widespread. Though love marriages are on the rise, arranged marriage, forced marriage, and illegal marriages, such as Haq Bakshish, a practice where a woman is married to the Quran; those where the dowry is withheld; or those where age or polygamy restrictions are ignored still occur in various regions. Theoretically out of wedlock love affairs are unsurprising to Muslims, as the Prophet Mohamed engaged in relations prior to marrying Khadija and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, and his wife Ruttie Petit's love story has been widely chronicled. Even forced religious conversion and marriage of young non-Muslim women are cast as love matches.
In practice, however, even a minor hint of a pre-marital or extra-marital relationship might result in an acid attack or honor killing upon a Muslim women. In this climate, Valentine's Day is depicted by conservatives as a celebration of loose morals and sexual promiscuity. For years, Valentine's Day has drawn protests from number of religious organizations claiming celebrations of the day violate Islamic sensibilities and traditions. As with many public spaces which are morally policed by officials and conservative Muslim youth groups, university couples are asked to produce proof of being married and administration officials have suggested that women be gifted hijabs for modesty.
Pakistani universities' role
Social sciences researchers Saira Akhtar, Rashid Menhas, Ghulam Shabbir, and Shumaila Umer, from 3 Pakistan universities, concluded that acceptance of Valentine's Day celebrations largely stem from the process of modernisation:
"....Modernisations affect the religious festivals which further leads to tendency towards valentine and individualism. Modernization is a source towards secularization which decreases religious hold, causes individualism, psychological problems and loss of faith and belief. It is extracted that modernisation affects the norms and values of Islam and is specified that it disturbs the Purdah system, female modesty and loss of respect of elders".
Other researchers conclude that as Valentine's Day is a cultural import and secular, it should be avoided. Researchers Syed Haseeb Gilani and Tahreem Azam Gondal from the English Department at the University of Lahore admit that Valentine's Day celebrations have been ongoing for decades, but state that the festivities are evil, as they are derived from an "...act of Lechery done by a man of noble class 'Saint Valentine'. A Saint who was caught for the crime of Lechery and was hanged for the sin he committed". Elsewhere in the same paper, they note that Saint Valentine was sentenced to death by the Roman authorities because he had been performing marriages, despite a government ban that required soldiers to remain unmarried. Gilani and Gondal conclude as the events derived from unethical behavior, Valentine's Day celebration pose a threat to Islam. Another research team from COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, concluded that the celebration of any holiday (Valentine's Day, April Fools Day, etc.) posed threats to Islamic society because of their secular nature.
College campuses have been used to radicalize students and socialize them toward conservative politics. One such group, Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) uses literature to socialize its members and ingrain specific religious and socio-political values in them. The organization views itself as a gatekeeper of Islamic values, acting to shut down unethical or un-Islamic activities and prevent universities from becoming secular and westernized. This includes preventing couples from commingling or sitting together on Valentine's Day and in 2014 erupted into rioting in Peshawar when rival student groups protested celebrating Valentine's Day. In a well-publicized case from 2015, activist Sabeen Mahmud, known for staging protests in Karachi in favor of Valentine's Day, was murdered by a student who had been radicalized while attending the Institute of Business Administration.
Governmental and judicial reaction
In 2016, Mamnoon Hussain, President of Pakistan, said : "Valentine's Day has no connection with our culture and it should be avoided." The following year, Abdul Waheed filed a case in the Islamabad High Court alleging that the celebration of Valentine's Day was spreading "immorality, nudity and indecency" in Pakistan. The court ruling, delivered by Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, who had previously been an activist in Jamaat-e-Islami as well as a political candidate, barred the media from airing promotions of the celebration on television. The following year, the court banned any promotion of Valentine's Day in public spaces and extended the media ban to include electronic and print media as well. The rulings led to moral policing of public and commercial spaces with police targeting balloon and flower vendors, cancelling planned entertainment events, and admonishments from Salafi youth groups urging women to adhere to modest behaviors. Business operators were also forced to change their marketing strategies, attempting to characterize their goods in a more "Islamic" context.
Among activist groups with political intent are the Deoband Madrassah Movement, DMM and Tableegh-e-Jamaat, which were themselves born out of reaction to western colonialism. The DMM originated in India in 1866, to protect Islamic education in the era of the British Raj. Their two-fold goals were to establish an Islamic state and to reform the religion towards a moralistic perfection, using independent madaris to train students in their value system. Tableegh-e-Jamaat was founded in 1927, as a grassroots movement and offshoot of DMM, aimed at empowering any Muslim to disseminate teaching of the faith, as opposed to learning it in a madrasa. In Punjab, the DMM gained traction among urban workers and middle class through its literalist interpretation of Islamic scriptures, as taught in its educational curricula which was then widely exported throughout the country.
In present Pakistan, these organisations attempt to control the narrative of what Pakistani culture is and is not and are resistant to change, seeing culture as static, rather than dynamically changing. Their rigid narratives for opposing western influences are attempts to shift the society back to a more pious path. Safia Bano, a philosophy lecturer, has noted that conservative backlash occurs because cultural change is happening. Traditionalists are pushing back against losing ground, to those who want to celebrate Valentine's Day. Despite claims that the holiday is imposing western values by activists from puritanical groups like Tableegh-e-Jamaat and DMM, the public has found ways to defy the bans by adopting novel alternative ways to celebrate Valentine's Day, by exchanging flowers or celebrating during the week, rather on February 14th. Urban centers, which initially spurred the growth of such organisations, have also led to the downfall of traditionalism, in large part because of socioeconomic developments and the adoption of more modern lifestyles.
Honor killings in Pakistan
In an article published on 14 February 2016 in Forbes, journalist Sonya Rehman wrote, "while the world celebrates Valentine's Day, a number of Pakistani women succumb to honor killings by their very own kin". An honour killing is the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief the victim has brought dishonour upon the family or community. The death of the victim is viewed as a way to restore the reputation and honour of the family. Pakistan has world's highest prevalence of honor killings. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan lists 460 cases of reported honour killings in 2017, with 194 males and 376 females as victims. Of these killings, 253 were sparked by disapproval of illicit relations and 73 by disapproval of marriage choice. Additionally, out of the known suspect relationship with victims, over 93% were family relationships. Although these are most likely only a sample of the actual honour killings that were completed during 2017, it still gives a glimpse into characteristics of honour killings in Pakistan. Sources disagree as to the exact number by year, but according to Human Rights Watch, NGOs/INGOs in the area estimate that around 1000 honour killings are carried out each year in Pakistan.
On 14 February 2016, social media icon, Qandeel Baloch, published a video berating politicians for banning celebrations of Valentine's Day. The video, along with other behaviors like appearing on news programmes and talk shows to highlight hypocrisy, posting revealing selfies with a religious cleric, and offering to strip for the national cricket team, eventually led her brother to murder. He claimed he had killed her to save the family honour because her videos had put the family in the media spotlight. Her murder was highly publicized leading to new Pakistani legislation in October 2016 to close a legal loophole which had allowed perpetrators of such murders to be freed, if their actions were forgiven by the victim's family. The legislation set the minimum penalty for perpetrators of honour killings at 25 years imprisonment.
Many clerics in Pakistan oppose celebrations of Valentine's Day, which they dub as immodest for encouraging expressions of love. Conservative clerics, like Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, who claimed in 2013 that celebrants of the day were likely to become parents within 9 months, decry the undercutting of traditional values. Outside of Pakistan, more moderate clergy see nothing wrong with celebrating Valentine's Day. Ahmed Qassem al-Ghamdi, a cleric and one-time chief of the religious police of Mecca proclaimed that Valentine's Day was not forbidden, as it was a positive celebration of a natural aspect of humans that had nothing to do with religion. Othman Battikh, Grand Mufti of Tunisia, also attached little significant harm to the day, instead noting that celebrations which bring people together are positive unless morals are violated. Ahmed Mamdouh, an Egyptian legal secretary, at the Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah, issued an edict supporting a day of love.
In spite of overarching official antagonism and overreach against celebration of Valentine's Day, people have found ways to still celebrate love and the holiday has steadily gained popularity. Pakistani couples exchange balloons, chocolates, and flowers, often photographing themselves in front of a wall of red and pink flowers. To avoid pressure from moral policing, balloon sellers have avoided heart-shaped and red balloons, opting to sell star, bird, or animal shapes. Other celebrants find alternate ways to partake of festivities, such as virtual dates, skyping with partners, or browsing on-line advertisements in search of privately available gifts or events. Some shopkeepers have taken steps to appear compliant with restrictions on selling red roses, while acknowledging that they had hidden stashes to supply regular, known customers. Other commercial establishments have shifted their promotions around the holiday to on-line and social media outlets, recommending delivery services to avoid scrutiny.
Many institutions and individuals have offered substitutes for Valentine's Day, suggesting it should be used for a day to reach out to "refugees, internally displaced people, patients of terminal illnesses, survivors of abuse and rape, victims of natural disasters and survivors of man-made wars and terrorism". Friends' Day, Modesty Day (Haya Day), Sister's Day, and Family Day, have been promoted as alternative solutions for countering observations of love on February 14th.
- Human rights in Pakistan
- Targeted killings in Pakistan
- Honour killing in Pakistan
- Sabeen Mahmud
- Valentine's Day in India
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The clergy is particularly virulent about Valentine's Day, saying it gives permission to namehram' (unmarried) youth to exchange messages of prurience. The private TV channels, by popularising the alim' in their programmes unleash a barrage of fire-and-brimstone warnings to the youth of Pakistan.…This daily Jang' prominently displayed the dudgeon of the clergy in Lahore over the celebration of Basant which they thought was linked to the memory of the Hindu god Hanuman; and Valentine's Day which they thought was obscene because it encouraged young boys and girls to express love for one another.
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