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What Would You Wish For? Saudi Arabia Debates Birthdays

Though it's a lightning rod in its own right, My Super Sweet Sixteen pales in comparison to the birthday controversy blowing its way through Saudi Arabia. The country's most senior Muslim cleric has recently denounced birthday parties as an unwanted foreign influence, going head-to-head with another cleric who's said pony rides and cake are just dandy.

Under the strict interpretation, even modest birthday celebrations are "haram," or banned. The Saudi ban on birthdays is observed by the conservative Wahhabi sect that is dominant in the kingdom. Their belief is that all Christian celebrations, plus most Muslim feasts celebrated elsewhere in the Islamic world, are nixed as alien customs.

The cupcake controversy started when the more lenient cleric announced on TV that it's OK to celebrate milestones like birthdays as long as the word "eid" (feast) isn't used to describe them. The blowback was swift and pointed (especially if you've been to a Hallmark store lately) from the cleric: "Christians have Mother's Day, an eid for trees, and an eid for every occasion. And on every birthday, candles are lit and food is given out." Between no birthdays for Muslims and no voting for Jehovah's Witnesses, what would you give up for religion?


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