Ah, February. The month of love. The official colours are red and pink. The official flower is the rose. It is a month of chocolates and gifts with sappy love songs. February is the month of Saint Valentine, the patron saint of love, marriages, couples and for some odd reason, epilepsy. It is that singular day when being single will make you feel like you are the biggest loser in the universe. It is also that singular day when florists, gift shops and restaurants rake in ungodly profit from couples who feel the urge to splurge their hard-earned cash as a way to proclaim their undying love for each other.

It is also that time of the year when we will hear calls from certain quarters banning Muslims from celebrating the feast of Saint Valentine. As sure as death, taxes and tarred roads close to elections, there will be hellfire and brimstone talk from holier-than-thou overnight religious experts telling us that celebrating Valentine’s Day is haram.

There are many reasons for this non-legally binding fatwa of sorts. The most common is because of its Christian origins. It is, after all, the feast day of a saint for the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and Lutheranism. So like Christmas, a Muslim should not acknowledge these celebrations, let alone celebrate them. But Valentine’s Day has long lost its significance as a religious celebration, it has now become as secular a celebration as New Year’s Day. It may have started out as a Christian celebration, but the Valentine’s Day of today is far from religious. Today, Valentine’s Day is not Christian, it is capitalist. Socialists would not approve.

A less common (but more humorous) reason why Muslims should not celebrate Valentine’s Day is supposedly because of Saint Valentine himself. According to the word on internet forums and religious television programs, Saint Valentine was a warrior who led the Christians and caused the downfall of Muslim Spain.

But, dig deeper and you will discover that while the identity of this person known as Valentine is rather obscure, none can be attributed to a warrior that led an army against Cordoba. Despite this, one will still stumble upon this work of fiction every time Valentine’s Day comes around.

Frankly, I am sick of this Valentine’s Day polemic. Every year, there will be a huge debate with the battle lines drawn; liberals against conservatives. You would think that Valentine’s Day is the single most important thing facing this country and the Muslim world. While we debate about this frivolous issue, another bomb goes off in Iraq, another person dies in Syria and closer to home another Orang Asli will lose her home.

So I propose that in order to end the debate once and for all, we ditch Valentine’s Day. We create a completely new and Malaysian celebration of love. We call it “Love Day”, or in bahasa Melayu, Hari Chenta (the classical spelling is deliberate). No more Valentine’s Day.

Hari Chenta would be a completely secular Malaysian celebration. No saints, no Christian traditions and no purported fall of Muslim Spain. No one seems to have a problem that Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love. I would therefore think that no one would have a problem with Hari Chenta as a celebration of love. Besides, I cannot imagine anyone arguing that the act of cherishing love is forbidden.

Of course, religious authorities will argue that people will still be involved in ‘vice’ even if you changed the name and make it 1Malaysia friendly. But males and females get sexually aroused all year round, not just one day in the middle of February.

We can even get Hari Chenta officially sanctioned by the government and place it in the tourism calendar, next to things like the Rainforest Music Festival and Putrajaya Boat Race. We can have 1Malaysia programs for the day; poetry reading competitions, screening of sappy romantic comedies (approved by the Film Censorship Board, of course) and maybe a procession on Dataran Merdeka. Who knows, if we are really serious about loving each other, we might even declare it as a public holiday. After all, we already have so many holidays, what’s another one?

Let’s forget about whether Muslims can or should celebrate Valentine’s Day. Everyone should just get together and celebrate Hari Chenta and move forward to more pertinent issues. Make love, not war. Especially not over issues like Valentine’s Day.

*first published on 09 February 2012 for The Star iPad

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