Every February shops are full of candy, flowers and gifts. It is believed by many to be the month of romance and love. People send to their loved ones Valentine messages. All this is done in the name of St. Valentine.
However, few of us might have been curious to know how Valentine’s Day, as we know it, came about and who is this mysterious saint.
Recently, a few of my colleagues in class posed a question to me that as Muslims, should we celebrate Valentine’s Day?
At that moment, I felt that I was not in position to give them an answer that would satisfy their mind. Therefore, I requested for some little time so that I could come up with a comprehensive reply to this question.
It is against this backdrop that I have written this article for the benefit of our readers especially our Muslim brothers and sisters.
To answer this question, it is very important for one to understand the history and origins of Valentine’s Day.
The origin of Valentine’s Day traces its roots back to the ancient Roman festival, Lupercalia, which was held annually on February 15. Scholars trace Lupercalia festival to the sixth century B. C.E. During this period, the Roman religion dominated Rome and influenced territories in its empire until Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the third century C.E.
The Lupercalia festival was held in honor of the She-Wolf that was believed to have mothered the twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. It is also very important to note that Ancient Roman religion was heavily influenced by the older Greek religion. Therefore, Roman festivals possessed much in common with those of the Ancient Greeks. In fact, most of their religious festivals, ritual sacrifices, and games were observed with similar activities.
During the Lupercalia festival, the Luperci (the Roman Priests) gathered at a cave called Lupercal on the Palatine Hill. This cave was believed to be the place where Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome, had been suckled by a she-wolf. The Priests then sacrificed a Goat and dog.
Blood played an important role in the observation of the Lupercalia. The blood of the animals sacrificed at the festival was smeared on the foreheads of two young priests with a knife, which was a symbol of death. The blood was then wiped away with wool dipped in Milk, which symbolized the beginning of a new life, for milk represented the source of life.
The skins of the goats sacrificed at the Lupercalia were cut into long, thin strips, from which whips were made. The two young men clad in lion skins ran down the palatine hill, striking everyone who approached them especially women, with the thongs of goatskin called FEBRUA. Women were always eager to receive these lashes, as they believed that the whipping would cure infertility and ease the pains of childbirth.
The goatskin thongs used as whips were called FEBRUA. This name and the month in which this festival was observed, February, were derived from the word FEBRUUM that was an ancient instrument of purification. Whipping of certain parts of the body with an instrument believed to possess magical powers was considered an effective way of driving away evil spirits that interfered with human fertilization. The goatskin thongs were believed to possess such powers.
The climax of the Lupercalia festival was that, the names of Roman girls were written on slips of papers and placed into jars. Each young man would draw a girl’s name from the jar and would then be partners for the duration of the festival with the girl whom he chose. Sometimes the pairing of the children lasted an entire year, and often, they would fall in love and would later marry.
Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II the cruel, Rome was involved in bloody wars. He had to maintain a strong army. He faced a difficult time in getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their attachment to their wives and families.
To get rid of the problem, he banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. St. Valentine, a Roman priest and physician, realizing the injustice of the Emperor’s decree St. Valentine defied Claudius II and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.
When St. Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius II ordered for his execution. St Valentine was dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death and have his head cut off. Before he was put to death, Valentine sent a letter to a jailer’s daughter whom he had fell in love with while in prison signed, “From Your Valentine”, the basic expression people still use every year during this holiday. Valentine was executed on February 14, 270 AD.
Over 200 years later, around 496 AD, Pope Gelasius I established the feast of St. Valentine on Feb. 14 to honor his memory, however, the Pope referred to the martyr and his acts as “being known only to God” because not much was really known about Valentine the priest. Some historians also describe Valentine as a temple priest who was beheaded near Rome by the emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples wed.
By establishing the feast of St. Valentine on February 14, Gelasius I Christianized the pagan festival of Lupercalia. Accordingly, each year on February 14, many people around the world continue to honor Saint Valentine.
From the Islamic perspective, if we closely examine the above historical background of the day, without doubt, we can adduce that Valentine’s Day has its roots in paganism. Celebrating it would imply the imitation of the pagan religion.
In a hadith by Ibn Umar May Allah, be pleased with him narrates that the Holy Quran (PBUH) said, “Whoever imitates a people is one of them.” (Sunan Abi Dawud 4031).
Muslims are allowed to imitate only those practices and cultures, which do not contravene the teachings of the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
If we also examine the manner in which this day is celebrated is not in line with the Islamic teachings. Many people on Valentine’s Day indulge in premarital relationships and lustful feelings, which resolutely leads to immorality contrary to the fundamental teachings of Islam.
Moreover, a husband and wife do not need Valentine’s Day, for they love each other throughout the year. This bond is sacred and permanent, there is no need to set aside a day specifically for it, as if the husband and wife love each other more a single day.
A husband may shower his wife with gifts throughout the year and expressions of love between the two do not require festivals.
Furthermore, love in Islam is an ideal to be shared between people in general. Romantic love specifically is not something to be celebrated before marriage, because it consistently leads to immorality as defined by Islam.