My Saudi Valentine

st-valentineI wondered whether we’d end up looking at any Valentine’s Day stories here at GetReligion. While rooted in Christian history, the day is not featured on the actual liturgical calendar. But the most interesting mention of Valentine’s Day came in a story about how the king of Saudi Arabia shook up the religious establishment there.

The Associated Press had a remarkably informative take on the news that the king dismissed the chief of the religious police and a cleric who had condoned killing owners of television networks that broadcast immoral content. The king also appointed a female deputy minister and changed the makeup of a body of religious scholars — who issue fatwas — to give more moderate Sunnis representation. Here’s the first bit of helpful analysis:

Saudi Arabia’s king does not have unlimited power. He has to take into account the sentiments of the sprawling ruling family as well as that of the powerful religious establishment, which helped found the state nearly a century ago.

Abdullah’s changes indicate that he has built the necessary support and consensus in the religious elite and in the ruling family.

While the article does use descriptors such as “hard-line” and “moderate” though, thankfully, not “fundamentalist,” the reporter does a good job of showing rather than telling:

The religious establishment has come under persistent criticism, in particular because of the actions of the judiciary and the religious police. Agents of the moral police are responsible for ensuring women are covered and men go to mosques for prayer, among other things, but many Saudis say they exploit their broad mandate to interfere in people’s lives.

The changes help to dilute the influence that hard-liners have had for decades. The king, who has promoted moderation and interfaith dialogue, has brought in a group of relatively young officials and scholars.

“This is the true start of the promises of reform,” said Jamal Khashoggi, editor of Al-Watan newspaper and an experienced observer of the kingdom’s politics. “They bring not only new blood, but also new ideas,”

There are layers of context and although not many people are quoted for the story, the quotes are helpful for seeing the importance and history of the changes.

And here’s the bit about Valentine’s Day:

The changes came on Valentine’s Day, a busy time for the religious police, who are entrusted with ensuring that no one marks the banned holiday. Agents target shops selling gifts for the occasion, and items that are red or suggest the holiday are removed from the shelves. Some salesmen have been detained for days for infractions.

Valentine’s Day is banned because of its origins as a celebration of the 3rd century Christian martyr. The day is also targeted because unmarried men and women cannot be alone together.

It’s just a nice and straightforward description that adds understanding to the reader. The thorough article ends with plenty of examples and details about the remaining changes.

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  • Marc

    Just a reminder (ahem) that the commemoration of St Valentine was in fact celebrated in the “actual liturgical calendar” of the usus antiquior of the Roman Church.

    Fascinating, agreeably well-written article, though. Thanks!

  • Jerry

    The level of ferment in the Islamic world is, I think, being woefully under reported in the Western media. Another story that can be associated with this Saudi story by the tie of Women and Islam is one of Muslim women’s struggles in Malaysia: I think the second paragraph below hits the proverbial nail on the head:

    Muslim women activists say they will no longer accept the use of Islam to discriminate against women.

    “We believe a solution can be found within the Islamic framework and within the Constitution. There is a problem out there because men are being left behind and men feel threatened about women in the public sphere and holding positions of power,”

  • Jeff

    That was a refreshingly ghost free article — all the inhabitants were fleshed out and in direct sunlight . . . well, as much sunlight as you get in Saudi Arabia, anyhow.

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