What do you mean… Valentine’s Day is coming up?
It is mid-January, well over 10 years ago and my husband of four months is looking at me with a type of perplexed surprise. I have just mentioned that in several short weeks it will be Valentine’s Day and how much I love Valentines.
Isn’t it just a completely vacuous, commercial holiday?
Rationally, I can see his point of view. Many traditional Muslim households don’t (openly) celebrate Valentine’s Day. And yes, I suppose it has become, like so many other holidays – I’m looking at you Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day – a marketers dream. A way to validate “love” if you feel you have it, or make you feel inadequate if you feel you do not, and either way there’s something you can buy to show it off or make yourself feel better.
But for me? I grew up in a middle-class Canadian suburb and in my social circle, school and even my home, Valentines was a thing. My father brought home the most beautiful flowers, the kids in my class sent candygrams and as my friends moved from giving cards to everyone in class to slipping just one into the locker down the hall, the idea of Valentines grew ever more charming and precious..
As time progressed, I had my share of Valentines requests, cards and presents. I was genuinely flattered but when they started to come my way: But one year, my Mama learned of them and that evening she sat me down.
One day, she said, you will have a Valentine. And your Valentine will give you cards and flowers and presents and will be the most amazing Valentine. Better than any you could imagine right now – better than any of those things in your bag. And it will be blessed and meaningful and so sweet because, InshAllah, it will also be halal.
In my heart, I knew what she meant: That the bounds of romantic love are sacred in our tradition – to be honoured and cherished in their proper context. From a young age, our parents had made an effort to teach us that this kind of love was a phenomenal, beautiful experience to be deeply treasured. That love itself was a cornerstone of our faith – a reflection of the perfect Divine Love from which we were created. And that our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was the ultimate romantic and his relationship with Hazret Khadija a model for the type of love which excites, soothes, illuminates and uplifts… yes, I knew what my Mama meant.
So, with all that in mind, I held onto to the idea of my Halal Valentine. Whoever he is, I would pray each February, make him the best Valentine ever.
And yet, here I was… with my actual Halal Valentine and he was questioning why we should even celebrate the day! A sinking feeling began to grow within me as I realised I might never have any sort of Valentine’s now, halal or not. And the words tumbled out fast, hurried and dramatic:
All my life I’ve waited to have a Halal Valentines. I have returned presents, rejected flowers, turned down dinner invites. I have waited to be able to say yes to dinner with candles, to cheesy cards, sugary candy hearts with random love words printed on them. I have waited for a Valentine’s where I could say yes to obnoxious stuffed animals, boxes of chocolates and long-stemmed roses. I don’t care if it’s a commercial holiday, I don’t care if it’s corny or cheesy – this is the Valentine’s I waited for!
At the time I didn’t know what he was thinking. We didn’t discuss it much further and I vaguely remember him saying something like okay and we moved on.
But when that February 14th rolled around, a gorgeous bouquet of flowers arrived for me accompanied by a box filled with every cliche Valentines goody possible: candy hearts, cinnamon hearts, chocolates, a stuffed bear, jewellery and, of course, a card with a pun on the front. For the evening, reservations had been made and, after praying maghrib with him, I stepped out with my Halal Valentine and it was, it really was, the best ever.
“And among His Signs is that He created spouses for you from amongst yourselves for you to live with in tranquility: And He has ordained love and kindness between you. Verily in this are signs for those who reflect.”
Also, this lovely article on marriage, gifts, the Giver and being gifted by Yasmin Mogahed
And ~ Is your heart shining?
Image Credit: ‘Hub’, the Arabic word for love. Illustration by Aiysha Malik