Valentine's Day gets Egyptian seal of approval

Valentine's Day, Cairo, 2016 Image copyright Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Image caption Valentine's Day is very popular in Egypt

The Muslim clerics who issue religious rulings in Egypt have said that their co-religionists can celebrate Valentine's Day with a clear conscience.

The Dar al-Ifta says couples who express their love by exchanging "gifts and kind words" on a special day aren't breaking any rules, the Youm7 news site reports.

This comes as a relief to many people, as the holiday is very popular - Egypt even has its own version of Valentine's Day dating back to the 1970s, marked on 4 November - but the 14 February celebration is by far the more popular.

The Dar al-Ifta originally handed down its ruling in a video in 2017, in response to a question about the November date, but the Egyptian and wider Arab media have highlighted it in the run-up to this year's Valentine's Day.

'Expressing emotions'

In the video, Sheikh Ahmed Mamdouh explains that there is "no problem with dedicating certain days to celebrating certain events... as long as nothing against Islamic law or religion takes place. We are talking about expressing emotions within the Islamic legal framework, such as by exchanging gifts and kind words".Valentine's Day has been a lightning rod for religious controversy in the Muslim Middle East for decades, given its Christian origins, with senior Saudi clerics like Sheikh Muhammad ibn al Uthaymeen condemning it as a "bad innovation that ... stokes passion and desire and occupies the mind with shallow thoughts".

And hardliners of the Salafi school of Islam in Egypt are still quoting the Sheikh this week, insisting that it is "heresy", the Dostour daily reports.You may also be interested in:

But Valentine's Day has also come out of the cold in Saudi Arabia, to some degree.

Image copyright @arabnews/Twitter
Image caption Arab News promotes love poetry on Twitter

Leading cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamdi had a change of heart two years ago, and declared that the holiday is a "positive social event" and not something for clerics to worry about.

This year the Saudi English-language newspaper Arab News has even recommended pre-Islamic Arabic love poetry and visiting romantic archaeological sites on Valentine's Day, although the rest of the Saudi media has made little mention of it.

Reporting by Dina Aboughazala and Samia Hosny

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