Mass Valentine wedding in Malaysia despite Muslim anger
A newly-wed ethnic Malaysian-Chinese couple walks out during their mass wedding ceremony on Valentine's Day at the Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur on February 14, 2014 - by Manan Vatsyayana
In its official Friday sermon text distributed to mosques in the Muslim-majority country, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department blamed Valentine's Day for everything from alcoholism to abortion.
"Social ceremonies such as this are a stepping-stone towards greater social ills such as fraud, mental disorder caused by alcohol, abortion and baby-dumping, and other negative ills that can invite disaster and moral decay among youths," it said.
Known by its Malay-language acronym JAKIM, the department is an official watchdog of Muslim values. It regularly denounces Valentine's Day as encouraging vice and promiscuity.
More than 60 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people are Muslim ethnic Malays.
However, members of the large Chinese minority celebrated the day with a mass wedding of 138 couples.
The lovers tied the knot at the Thean Hou temple in the capital Kuala Lumpur, releasing scores of red, heart-shaped balloons after the ceremony.
Another 70 couples were to wed in the afternoon in individual ceremonies, an official at the Confucian temple said.
"We're doing it specially for this year as only once in 19 years does Valentine's Day coincide with Chap Goh Mei," the official said.
Chap Goh Mei is the term used in Malaysia for the annual Chinese Lantern Festival.
The temple has staged mass weddings before on dates deemed auspicious.
More than 500 couples wed at the temple on September 9, 2009.
The number 9 in Chinese is a homophone for a word meaning "forever". The date was seen to signify long-lasting unions.
Muslim conservatives in multi-faith Malaysia have become increasingly outspoken in recent years against perceived threats to Islamic values, challenging the country's moderate Muslim image.
In 2011, authorities arrested nearly 100 Muslims in a crackdown on Valentine's Day.
They were detained for "khalwat", or "close proximity", the crime of being alone with a member of the opposite sex other than one's spouse or close relative.
It can bring up to two years in jail upon conviction in Islamic sharia courts that handle religious and moral offences by Muslims.
Concerts by a number of major Western musical artists have also been scrapped over the years after Muslims complained they could encourage immoral behaviour.
Muslim authorities in the central state of Selangor this week launched a campaign to distribute thousands of leaflets to youths warning against celebrating Valentine's Day, reports said.