Valentine’s day, the Yemeni way
The mall was crowded young people, mostly boys and girls, each one carrying red gift bags containing a symbol of their love.
A security guard at the Yemen Mall said, “Most of the stores here have changed their look to red over the last two days to attract customers. It’s a good opportunity to boost sales.”
While millions celebrate Valentine’s Day across the world, in Yemen, the controversy between those who support it, and those who forbid Valentine’s Day, is renewed every February 14.
Although it is a relatively new idea in Yemeni society, only really becoming popular over the last five years, the signs of Valentine’s Day were present in markets and shops across the capital, which were crammed with red roses, teddy bears, and heart-shaped cards.
Yet in Yemen’s conservative society, very few people are familiar with “Valentine’s Day”, and the celebration of this occasion remains confined to a small percentage of young people, concentrated in the country’s major cities.
Sadeq Abdul-Salam, 27, highly criticized the religious men who try to forbid the celebration of Valentine's Day, saying that it is a good chance for all people, including married couples, to exchange gifts and flowers.
"It's a golden opportunity for me to take my wife to a romantic place, eat special food, remember the best moments in our life and buy her a small gift," he said.
Abdul-Salam called for all married and engaged people to celebrate this day and buy flowers to their lovers, adding that it was even more important after the difficult year Yemen has faced. "All people must forget their disagreements and open a new page on this day," he said.
But not all young people agree with Abdul-Salam’s romantic sentiments. Mohammed Al-Nashir and Dunia Al-Adeimi, a couple both aged 22, do not support the celebration of the Valentine’s Day.
“I will spend this day as normal because for me every day is a love day and I’m not forced to follow the Western culture,” said Al-Nashir.
Dunia agreed but added that she might still bring him a gift and a red rose “just to express my love more on Valentine’s”.
Amal Mansour, 24, added, “It’s so funny to see boys and girls wearing red and walking on the streets, in malls and markets on Valentine’s Day. When everything suddenly turns red its sort of silly, it doesn’t match the standards of our Yemeni and most of those wearing red are teenagers.”
However, 40-year-old Hagage Musaed, a music director at Shabab FM Radio, said, “I think Yemeni’s have the wrong impression of Valentine’s Day it's a day to remind those that you love that they are special.
“For me, I bought a teddy bear for my wife, perfume and candy just to let her know I love her. Unfortunately I can't afford to take her out to dinner, so maybe I’ll cook for her,” Musaed added.
“I just wish I could show her what a real Valentine’s Day is supposed to be like, maybe we could escape on a two-day trip to a romantic city,” he said.
Abdulrazaq Al-Azazi, is a 25-year-old student in his final year and a member of the “Intelaq Initiative,” which supports new youth interests, at Sana’a University. Each year the initiative celebrates Valentine’s with a small, open party at the University’s College of Press and Media.
“We distribute posters with love quotes and red roses to everyone who comes and visit us,” he said. “It’s a chance to spread peace, love and forgiveness. Valentine’s Day is a logo for love, which unites humanity.
“Personally, I celebrate Valentine’s Day with my friends, family and a special celebration with the life partner that my heart chose,” he added.
Love is good for business
Bilal Al-Sabri, the owner of Ameer Awards store for gifts and flowers in Hadda, was busy preparing gifts and flowers for customers when he spoke to the Yemen Times. “Frankly I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day; I don’t care about it because it is against Islam. My store is open every day, not only on Valentine’s but it is still a source of income,” he said.
“The price for roses increases on this day,” added Al-Sabri. “Usually we sell one red flower for around YR 400, but on Valentine’s the cost goes up to YR 1,000.
“Let [customers] buy them since it is us who gains the biggest benefits from this day.”
Omer Abdulamlik, owner of May for Gifts, enjoys Valentine’s Day. “I’m always very excited for Valentine’s Day,” he said. “I have being working here for more than three years, and it’s always good to see those who love each other express their love through my store’s gifts and roses.”
However, he added that after Yemen’s turbulent year, less people were spending money on Valentine’s Day. “This year’s demand is less compared to the past because of the revolution. It really affected our sales.”
Valentine’s Day and Islam
Dr. Ali Al-Ahdel, professor of Islamic culture at Sana’a University, explained why many Yemenis oppose Valentine’s Day. “Celebrating Valentine’s Day is not permitted in Islam because it is an imitation of the West and Christian culture.”
He cited a statement by the Prophet Mohamed, who said, “The one who imitates any non-Islamic nation is from that place.”
Al-Ahdel continued, “We are now in bad situation and our people are suffering from poverty we need help and charity for our people rather than spending thousands on flowers that will die after just a few hours.
“We can celebrate and express our love on any day. Our religion is the source of peace and love and it has no specific day to express love at any time,” he added.
“I say to those who celebrate this day, that I hope the Arab and Muslim people can imitate western countries in industry, science and development to raise our country to better situation,” Al-Ahdel concluded.