ISLAMABAD - The lovebirds have been planning dates for months but there are many hurdles to scale on the Valentine’s Day – challenging the government being one of them.The extremists had always opposed the Valentine’s Day celebrations terming it against Islam but the government has gone one step further – announcing ‘strict action’ against the merrymakers.Under Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s orders, the district administration banned all sorts of celebrations to mark the day in Islamabad warning of possible arrests.

There were similar orders in various districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the militants also threatened to hit such parties.These developments disappointed the enthusiasts who had planned a full-day of celebrations and chill out.The day’s celebration on February 14 had often been criticised by extremists as ‘insult’ to Islamic values.The Valentine’s Day activities have often been disrupted in the past by the supporters of hard-line Jamaat-e-Islami and the like-minded parties, but it is for the first time that the State has intervened to ban the festivities of the day.Maulana Muhammad Aamir, an Islamabad based cleric, said in the past few years, many new days or events had been ‘imported’.

He said in Pakistan and it has become fashion to celebrate and talk about these events which neither belonged to “our culture nor to our values and religion.” He added, “Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day etc are some of the examples. However Valentine’s Day got more popularity due to one or the other reasons. The role of the media to promote it is also negative.” Maulana Aamir said Pakistan was an Islamic Republic and Islam was the religion of more than 97 pc population and such celebrations were strictly prohibited in Islam. “Islam teaches us to respect women. There is no place for Valentine’s Day in Islam. The sensual form of love is only allowed between husband and wife,” he added.

On February 14 people of different countries and regions celebrate Valentine’s Day. It was a Roman festival and part of Western culture but became globally popular. St Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. Several martyrdom stories were invented for the various Valentines that belonged to February 14 and added to later metrologies. A popular hagiographical account of Saint Valentine of Rome states he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.

According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed ‘Your Valentine’ as a farewell. Saint Valentine’s Day is an official feast day in the Anglican Communion, as well as in the Lutheran Church. Some part, but not all of the Eastern Orthodox Church also celebrates Saint Valentine’s Day, albeit on July 6 and July 30, the former date in honour of the Roman presbyter Saint Valentine, and the latter date in honour of Hieromartyr Valentine, the Bishop of Interamna (modern Terni). In Greek Orthodox Church and other Churches of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, no Saint Valentine exists, nor venerated.

The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished.

In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards - known as valentines. In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers ‘as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart’ as well as to children, in order to ward off epilepsy called Saint Valentine’s Malady.

Valentine’s Day symbols used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. In the recent years, the Valentine’s Day parties have been attacked by the extremists across Pakistan and anti-Valentine’s Day protests have also been common. Islamic activists have attacked flowers shops to discourage people from buying bouquets for their loved ones.

A government official said the decision to discourage celebration was not a policy against the Valentine’s Day but the risks associated with the celebrations. “The government does not believe denying rights to the people but the risks involved are too grave to ignore,” he added. The official said the terrorists take advantage of such gatherings and could disrupt law and order in the name of religion. “There is a real threat of terrorism and we cannot overlook this aspect. Those who believe it is not against Islam can celebrate it inside their homes and spend time with their loved ones,” he remarked.

Shazia Hussain, a 22 year-old girl, said she wanted to spend time out with her fiancé on the Valentine’s Day but her family had asked her to change the plan due to insecurity. “We will now be having a dinner at his place to mark the day. We will get married before the next Valentine’s Day,” she shared. Other youngsters showed dismay at the growing intolerance in the country claiming extremist were dictating the terms.