| Sajjad Malik |
Islamabad (dpa) – Eimaan moves from one shop to another in search of a gift for a friend on Valentine’s Day, but finding the right present is far from the only problem she will face.
“I am sure to buy the gift but not sure if we’ll get to meet and celebrate the day,” she said wistfully.
The couple had to cancel their exchange of gifts last year when the park in Islamabad where they were to meet was occupied by religious activists promoting a Day of Modesty, to counter the “vulgarity” of Valentine’s Day.
The youth wing of hardline Jamaat-e-Islami party has been leading the effort for years to disrupt Valentine’s Day celebrations across the country. Its cudgel-carrying activists prowl the parks and markets and often forcibly disperse the revellers.
This year promises more of the same, as the group vows to stop the “Western conspiracy to spoil Muslim boys and girls.”
“It is totally forbidden and against Islam. The West wants to destroy our values of modesty through promotion of its vulgar activities,” said Shahid Imran Gondal, chief of the Shahbab-e-Milli youth wing in the capital.
Gondal said his group will go around and preach modesty by promoting use of the hijab veil among girls and women.
“The Day of Modesty gives us an opportunity to promote our culture among the youth and tell them that Islam has nothing to do with open expressions of love,” he said.
Gondal regrets that he cannot stop house parties or raid big hotels that he said were “organising dance and music and spreading evil” in society.
The movement demonstrates Pakistan’s liberal-conservative divide, with a minority of urban youth promoting the imported custom while religious activists oppose them, sometimes by force.
“I don’t care about the mullahs and will celebrate it with friends. We will arrange a party and dance,” university student Imran Ali said.
Right activist Rakhshinda Perveen said the right to celebrate and express happiness is a mark of civilised societies.
“It is wrong to stop people by force if they are out to enjoy Valentine’s Day. Similarly, religious parties can observe their day of modesty but should not use force,” she said.
Cleric Ibtisam Elahi Zaheer said elites in developing countries like Pakistan often follow the developed world by blindly copying them and adopting their cultural expressions.
“The celebration of Valentine’s Day shows that we are still a slave of the West. It is only organised and enjoyed by a small, rich class and is also against Islam,” he said.
Zaheer blames the Internet for greater exposure to Western liberal ideas, and he urged Muslim academia to highlight more local values.
Meanwhile, Pakistani shopkeepers and businessman welcome the day as a boon to sales. Muhammad Azam runs a floral shop in an upscale market of Islamabad where he is stocking up on flowers because sales go up as much as “30 to 40 times” on Valentine’s Day. Special bouquets can bring in as much as 100 dollars.
“I will especially stock up on lilies, imported roses and chrysanthemums. They are in high demand from people of all ages,” he said.