Muslim Group Rebrands Valentine’s Day ‘Indonesia Without Dating Day’

A group of young Muslims wearing hijabs make their way along a street in Jakarta on September 19, 2019. - Indonesia is set to vote on a plan to outlaw gay and pre-marital sex while beefing up its blasphemy laws in a shakeup fuelled by religious conservatism and slammed by …
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An Indonesian Muslim group named Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran (“Indonesia without dating”) has declared February 14 “Indonesia Without Dating Day,” organizing rallies, talks, popular events to stamp out both the holiday and the practice of dating before marriage.

The Asian outlet Coconuts reported on Monday that the group organized a rally over the weekend to promote their new Sharia-compliant replacement for Valentine’s Day and will continue to organize promotional events throughout the week in anticipation of the holiday.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country. Hardline Muslims in the country have spent years campaigning against Valentine’s Day, accusing it of being a depraved foreign ritual, a violation of Sharia, the Islamic law, both for being the feast day of a Catholic saint and a holiday associated with romance and sexuality. Multiple towns in the country ban celebrating the event locally, often to the detriment of local businesses accustomed to profits from couples’ gifts. Other Muslim countries in the region, like Malaysia and Pakistan, have birthed similar movements against the gifting of flowers and chocolates for Valentine’s Day.

The Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran campaign against the holiday is unique in that the group advocates against any romantic dating all year round. Instead, the group’s leaders urge young people to remain single and immediately marry someone if they are interested in a relationship, with no period of dating prior to marriage in which the two would get to know each other. A profile published by PRI last year described the group as “a movement to eliminate premarital dating, derided as a sinful, Western ritual that will ruin your life. These young Muslims instead want to push their island nation, long branded as religiously moderate, toward practices that more closely resemble norms in, say, Saudi Arabia.”

The group’s February 14 campaign will aim at convincing young Muslims to never date another person, or immediately either break up with or marry the person they are currently dating. According to Coconuts, the group is organizing talks on relationships, sexual health, and religion for their “Indonesia Without Dating Day” on Friday.

The group will also reportedly use the occasion to sell books and other merchandise, which Coconuts explained encompasses a significant portion of the group’s reason for being:

In all seriousness though, Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran has been heavily criticized in the past by people accusing the movement of being a cash grab taking advantage of gullible young conservatives. There are also concerns that the movement, which has members predominantly in their teens and early 20s, would normalize young and underage marriage involving people who may not be mentally, economically, and/or physically ready for a serious life commitment.

The group, which claims 20,000 members, invests heavily in its social media presence, both to expand membership and sell branded products. Membership in the group costs a $13 fee. Its website features a subsection for buying group-related products, much of which is clothing. Specialty hijabs appear to be high on the list of marketed products; the page links to an Instagram account full of fashion images showcasing hijabs for sale.

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“The movement swirls around a profit-seeking business, Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran, which sells a variety of branded accessories: T-shirts, hijabs, keychains and trucker hats,” the PRI profile of the group published in July 2019 detailed, highlighting that its marketers are proficient in using memes and online attention to expand membership. The group also has ties to social media “influencers” who regularly post about the horrors of dating and encourage followers to lead conservative Islamic lives – also while selling sponsors’ products.

Paying for membership in the group allows for access to services, as well, such as chat rooms to meet members of the opposite sex and marry them without dating. A reporter quoted in the PRI article described the chat rooms as “militaristic.”

While Indonesia Tanpa Pacaran’s tactics may be novel, Indonesian Muslim groups’ war on Valentine’s Day has become an annual tradition. In 2013, for example, Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, urged a limit on teenagers exchanging gifts on Valentine’s Day, arguing that doing so results in teens joining special Valentine’s Day “sex parties,” which they alleged are a common occurrence in Western countries.

“We don’t want to completely ban Valentine’s Day but it’s not for teenagers,” a Nahdlatul Ulama secretary said at the time. “Teenagers see it as a time to express love and affection and they often end up in sex parties, like in the West.”

The Islamic Defenders Front went a step further, calling the entire celebration “immoral,” with or without sex parties.

In 2016, the city of Banda Aceh banned the holiday entirely.

“Our society and the Muslim youth should certainly not be celebrating non-Islamic holidays,” said Mayor Illiza Saaduddin Djamal. “The law says it is haram. The government is obliged to protect the public and younger generation from unlawful acts.”

The mayor ordered police to “re-educate” anyone caught exchanging gifts, decorating homes or businesses with hearts or other related imagery, or otherwise appearing to observe the holiday. Several other cities joined the ban in 2018.

In 2017, the National Muslim Youth Association organized an anti-Valentine’s Day protest, chanting “Say No to Valentine” and urging women to beware using too much perfume.

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