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Iran's Clerical Rulers Ban Valentine's Day As 'Cultural Threat'

Girl checking Valentines Day gifts at a shop in Tehran. FILE PHOTO.
Girl checking Valentines Day gifts at a shop in Tehran. FILE PHOTO.

To the great dismay of Iran's religious and political establishment, the celebration of Valentine's Day has become so popular in Iran that even in in the holy city of Qom authorities have to warn shops not to sell Valentine's gifts.

Qom with its many seminaries and the Shrine of Fatimeh Masumeh, the sister of the eighth Shiite Imam Reza, is visited by thousands of pilgrims every day. It actually has a reputation of being the religious capital of Iran.

The religious establishment sees the celebration of the Day of Love as an element of the "cultural onslaught of the West" to corrupt the Iranian youth and has tried to prevent it for many years. But each February 14 young Iranians overwhelm mobile networks with Valentine's Day text messages.

Iranian law enforcement agencies issue warnings every year and sometimes even shut down businesses selling Chinese made teddy bears with red hearts on their chests, chocolate and candies tied with red ribbons, red balloons and even red roses. The hardest to control are the peddlers who sell Valentin's items and red roses in the streets.

On February 11 this year the Center for Reduction And Control of Social Harms of the Prosecutor's Office in Qom warned businesses that promote "anti-cultural symbols such as Valentine's symbols" threatening to shut them down from one to six months if they do not comply. The statement issued by Prosecutor's Office has also provided a number for the public to call to report "transgressions".

Day of Love postcard with traditional Iranian motifs.
Day of Love postcard with traditional Iranian motifs.

Young Iranians often celebrate Valentine's Day in cafes and restaurants. The government warns these establishments in advance to stop people from making a show of celebrating the banned Day of Love. No red candles or balloons, no exchange of gift, and obviously no special offers on the occasion.

Some secular Iranians who also do not approve of celebrating a non-Iranian holiday with roots in Christian tradition, have tried to offer an Iranian alternative to Valentine's Day.

The alternative they have tried to promote is the celebration of the day of Sepandarmaz, the goddess of fertility and earth in ancient Iranian culture and in the Zoroastrian religion.

Ancient Iranians celebrated the day of Sepandarmaz by offering gifts to women. The small community of Iranian Zoroastrians still ritually honor Sepandarmaz on her day and offer gifts to women.

This day falls on February 19, only a few days after Valentine's Day. In the absence of a commercial driving force, the celebration of the Day of Sepandarmaz has really not become a big challenge to its western rival, at least for now.

Religious Iranians have proposed celebrating love on the anniversary of the marriage of the Prophet's daughter.
Religious Iranians have proposed celebrating love on the anniversary of the marriage of the Prophet's daughter.

The Iranian religious establishment is obviously opposed to celebrating the Day of Sepandarmaz with equal fervor. After all, Islam came to Iran to eradicate Zoroastrianism and any attempt to revive ancient traditions is seen as working against Islam and Islamic traditions.

The Shiite establishment has tried to offer its own alternative, the anniversary of the marriage of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet. Fatima married the Prophet's cousin Ali who then became the first Imam of Shiites and the fourth Caliph of Sunnis. On a few occasions, authorities held big celebrations at universities to promote the anniversary as the Day of Love, but that, too, has not proved a worthy rival to the celebration of the banned Valentine's Day.

Iran is not the only country where the celebration of Valentine's Day is banned. Lovers have to celebrate it behind closed doors in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Pakistan and surprisingly, in Belgorod region of Russia where officials banned it for "going against Russian cultural traditions".

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.