It’s Valentine’s Day. In most countries that means love is in the air, but for folks living in Saudi Arabia it means it is time to put those emotions in check and to make sure that they don’t do anything that could be perceived as being romantic – lest they earn a visit from the religious police.
The Associated Press reported that the Saudi religious police began a nationwide crackdown on Thursday – their target: stores selling anything red or anything that any other way suggested Valentinian indulgence.
In preparation for the crackdown, shop owners removed red-colored and heart-shaped items from their stores. Such items are acceptable at other times of year, but not around February 14, because as a western holiday, its celebration is banned in the country.
A statement by the religious police issued a concise, ominous warning:
Those who don’t comply will be punished.
To be fair, it is not just western holidays that are banned in the kingdom, the religious police also frown upon the celebration of birthdays, Mother’s day and several Islamic holidays that it considers to be “religious innovations.”
Romantically-inclined Saudis are said to make their preparations early.
In case you are wondering whether religious police are anything to be feared, consider that they are charged with the enforcement of Sharia law (traditional Islamic law) and were responsible for the deaths of 15 schoolgirls (and the injuries of 50) in 2002 who they prevented from fleeing a burning school building because they were not appropriately attired in headscarves and abayas (black robes), or accompanied by a male guardian.