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Campaign Against Cupid Targets Malaysia's Muslims

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysian Muslims debated Sunday whether to shun Valentine's Day after the government warned that the celebration was a "trap" that could trigger indecent behavior.

Although no laws prevent Malaysia's Muslim majority from marking the occasion with dinner dates and roses, officials have mounted a campaign insisting that such romantic gestures might tempt young people into having premarital sex.

Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said late Saturday that the government was not trying to demean Valentine's Day, but stressed that it was "not suitable" for Muslims, who comprise nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's 28 million people.

His comments came after the government-run Malaysian Islamic Development Department, which handles religious policies, launched a publicity campaign Friday called "Mind the Valentine's Day Trap" and handed leaflets advising Muslim university students to avoid Monday's celebration.

Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz, the department's chief, noted that Malaysia's top panel of Islamic scholars had issued an edict in 2005 criticizing the celebration of Valentine's Day among Muslims because it had historical links to Christianity and could lead to immoral activities.

"We accept and celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day ... to commemorate our love for our parents," Wan Mohamad told the national news agency, Bernama. "At the same time, however, Islam would reject anything, even from the Eastern culture, if it contravenes the Islamic teachings."

Preachers at mosques in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city, also delivered anti-Valentine's Day sermons Friday.

Some Muslims disagreed, saying it was a harmless celebration.

"I've given my wife flowers and taken her for dinner on Valentine's Day before," Khairy Jamaluddin, a prominent ruling party politician in his mid-30s, wrote on Twitter. "I am still a Muslim. If people want to do it because they feel like it's a nice occasion, as long as they're not committing sin, why not?"

In recent years, authorities have sometimes searched hotel rooms on the night of Feb. 14 to catch Muslim couples having premarital sex. According to Malaysia's Islamic Shariah laws, unmarried Muslims who meet in private can be charged with "khalwat," or "close proximity," which carries fines and prison sentences of several months.