Saudi Arabia's religious police have banned the sale of red roses ahead of Valentine's Day, forcing couples to think of new ways to show their love.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has ordered florists and gift shop owners in the capital Riyadh to remove from their displays any red-colored items -- from roses to wrapping paper and teddy bears -- the English-language Saudi Gazette newspaper said.
"They visited us last night and gave us warnings," the paper quoted florists – who spoke on condition of anonymity – as saying. "This morning we packed up all the red items and displays."
Non-Muslims in the kingdom are allowed to celebrate the holiday behind closed doors. Most Western expatriates live in gated communities called "compounds" that are beyond the jurisdiction of the religious police.
But the Commission cautioned Muslims not to join the celebrations for Valentine's Day, which it sees as encouraging relations outside of marriage, strictly banned in Saudi Arabia and punishable by law.
"As Muslims, we shouldn't celebrate a non-Muslim celebration, especially this one that encourages immoral relations between unmarried men and women," Sheikh Khaled Al-Dossari, a scholar in Islamic Studies and the Sharia, told the Gazette.
The paper said Commission members start their raids on flower shops on the eve of Valentine's Day each year, confiscating any red items, which are seen as symbols of love.
The Gazette said the ban on red roses leads to a black market, with florists delivering bouquets in the middle of the night or early morning to avoid suspicion. A single rose sells for SR20-30 on Valentine's Day compared to SR5-7 on regular days.
The paper said "many young hearts" in the kingdom planned to travel to neighboring Dubai or Bahrain to celebrate their love in the open.