A top cleric in Saudi Arabia has approved the celebrations of Valentine's Day in a marked shift from the ultra-conservative views of the Sunni kingdom. Ahmed Qassim al-Ghamdi, formerly the chief of religious police, said celebrating the Valentine's Day does not constitute as un-Islamic since it is not a religious occasion.

This is the latest in a series of transformations, in which the regime is liberalising itself, taking place under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who has become a powerful figure in the Saudi polity in the past several months.

"It is a positive social event and congratulating people for it is not against sharia (law)," Ghamdi told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television as he compared Valentine's Day to similar occasions such as Mother's Day. He even added that Muslims can also celebrate the occasion — an approval from ultra-conservative cleric establishment unthinkable few years ago.

"It is an act of kindness to share greetings on Western national and social holidays, including Valentine's Day, exchange red roses with others, as long as it is towards peaceful people who do not share animosity or are being at war with Muslims," he said.

Vendors were reportedly seen selling red roses and other items linked to the Valentine's Day in few Saudi cities on 14 February and the religious police, which in the past have cracked down on such events, did not disrupt.

Ghamdi went on: "All these are common social matters shared by humanity and are not religious issues that require the existence of religious proof to permit it. There are many worldly things that we deal with morally that may be of interest to non-Muslim communities and became more common among Muslim communities because of their popularity."

Such remarks would undoubtedly be linked to the kingdom's powerful crown prince, who had pledged to eradicate Islamist terror from the world pledged a series of social reforms. In November 2017, he promised he would not allow the terrorists to distort the "peaceful religion" of Islam.

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A boy sells heart-shaped balloons on Valentine's Day in Islamabad - representational image Reuters