Trim your facial hair, please

Posted on June 20, 2006
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Religion, Society
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Adil Najam

I have no idea what to make of this one, so let me just quote from a news-item titled “Habib Bank revises dress code notification at one branch” in The Daily Times (20 June, 2006). According to the report, Habib Bank Limited (HBL) sent a notification to all its Branches declaring a Western dress code (suit and necktie) and trimmed beards ‘mandatory’ for all bank employees, but then rescinded in the case of only one branch (as of yet).

Sources said the notification declaring formal dress ‘mandatory’ had [now] been reworded as ‘optional’ for the bank’s Lawrence Road branch.

HBL Senior Vice Presidents Zafar Aziz Usmani and Jamila A Khan on June 13 notified (by circular number STF 24/2006) bank employees to strictly follow a Western dress code and trim their beards. “The bank’s performance is poor because clients are put off by the unkempt look given by wearing shalwar kameez and having long beards,” they said.

The story then goes on to report the case of Khalid, a Grade-II officer at the branch, who had resigned to protest the bank’s decision to enforce the dress code but later took back his resignation letter “after senior bank officials assured him the dress code was optional.”

He called the HBL’s order against the spirit of Islam. “I have been working at the bank for the past 30 years and submitted my resignation to protest against the Western dress code being made mandatory,” he said. His religious beliefs stopped him from following the dress code, and he couldn’t sacrifice his beliefs for man-made laws, he added.

In what was quite clearly a ‘damage control’ measure, the dress code mandate was made ‘optional’ for this branch. It is not clear whether this will be followed in other branches, but…

Khalid Pervaiz Malik, the branch manager of HBL Regional Head Office, said the first notification was correct because staff members wearing suits and neckties looked more professional than those wearing shalwar kameez. “Authorities should take strict action in this regard because HBL wants to meet international banking standards, and clients notice such things,” he said.

So, dear readers, do help me make sense of this one. Is the implication that one cannot be presentable in a beard and wearing shalwar kameez? I hope not.

I can understand a bank wanting its employees to be presentable and look trustworthy. I have seen Pakistanis go to work with unkempt shalwar kameez. But I have seen even more looking not just unpresentable but silly and uncomfortable in misfitting, unkempt trousers, shirts and ties. If you want your employees to be presentable; ask them to be presentable. But, to think that one can look presentable only in western clothes is plain wrong and shows a sense of kalla saab cultural insecurity.

As for facial-hair-discrimination… do we even want to go there?

Dr. Abdus Salam? Abdul Sattar Edhi? Sir Syed Ahmed Khan? Presentable? You bet. Trustworthy? More than any banker I ever met.

P.S. If you are wondering, the picture on the right Sir Syed Ahmed Khan; on the left it is Dr. Abdus Salam receiving his Nobel Award; yes, wearing both a shalwar and a beard!

27 Comments on “Trim your facial hair, please”

  1. Suleman says:
    June 20th, 2006 5:18 pm

    I totally agree !!! I mean what are we resorting to if we need to send out such messages and moreover emphasize “Western” dress as if we are still only able to look presentable in Western attire, our national dress holds no value and beards are only for terrorists or fundos. Come on, Is this G.W.B. sending memos or what? As indicated, if we just remind ourselves that when you get up in the morning and goto work be presentable even if you choose to wear shalwar kamiz make sure it is clean, ironed and starched ideally and you’ll make an equally positive impression as wearing so called shirt tie. As for beards, keep them if you wish, but trimmed up doesn’t hurt anyones eyes.
    :) In the midst of trying to be so called moderate nation let’s not comprise on our culture and national pride.

  2. Pakistani says:
    June 20th, 2006 8:42 pm

    Hey. Wait. There is something to it. Bankers all over the world have a dress code. And many Pakistanis do have unruly beards and unimpressive shalwar kamizs. Most of them do not look impressive and elegant like a Dr. Salam.

    Look at that guy with the bike in today’s picture of the day. Would you want to trust your money to him?

  3. June 20th, 2006 9:23 pm

    On the ‘guy with the bike’ in today’s Picture of the Day, I would not only trust him with my money, but if I were a venture capitalist, I would invest in him and his idea of the motorized bicycle… that’s the point of the picture ;-)

  4. sepoy says:
    June 20th, 2006 9:52 pm

    To be fair, your examples _are_ a bit, um, longer in the beard, than the average-aged bank employee :)

    A sherwani-based dress code would rock, I might add.

    Great site!

  5. nuzhat aziz says:
    June 20th, 2006 10:51 pm

    Hmmmm………….. so a shalwar kameez is Islamic, and western dress is Un-Islamic. As Iqbal said “yeh ummat kiss khurafat mein kho gayee”

  6. daktar daktar says:
    June 21st, 2006 12:18 am

    Great post. Good discussion.
    Having a untrimmed beard does not make you a better muslim and wearing a shalwar qameez does not make you a better Pakistani. But then, wearing a suit and tie does not make you more MODERN either.
    If we are quibbling about which clothes are more appropriate for the pious and the patriotic, then there is something seriously wrong here.

  7. June 21st, 2006 3:40 am

    i dunno…dress code is a dress code..just the other day, I was going to fire an employee of mine because of the fact that she didnt come to work wearing scrubs for the third time in a row. Every employer has the right to dictate to its employee as far as the dress code is concerned because of the image of the company reflects how the employees look.

  8. Pakistani says:
    June 21st, 2006 10:36 am

    Exactly. Its dress code. You want bankers to look like bankers. And its difficult to do that in a shalwar kamiz.

  9. daktar daktar says:
    June 21st, 2006 10:39 am

    Altamash, but there is a reason for the scrubs. There is a rationale. Looking ‘Western’ is not a sufficient rationale to me. Looking neat is, and that can be done both in Shalwar Kamiz or in Trouser-shirt. So, why the fuss. I do think part of this is what Adil calls the ‘Kalla Sahib’ mentality.

  10. June 21st, 2006 12:51 pm

    Sure dakta, I agree. It absolutely is Kala sahab mentality (inferiority Complex), but I can tell you on behalf of my Marketing team, which I personally supervise, “Image is everything”. These days Pakistan is getting a lot of International exposure and the case might be that the bankers are dealing with Investors from Abroad. I have seen Bankers in Pakistan wear Loose Shalwar Kameezes and the attitude that comes with it. A relaxed and comfortable environment is absolutely not suitable for an institution that deals with peoples money. You have to be Alert and cautious at all times.

  11. Bilal Z says:
    June 22nd, 2006 1:13 am

    Dress codes are enforced all over the world to maintain a certain image. This becomes extremely important in a service based industry – such as doctors, nurses, bankers etc. Have we ever considered why is it that doctors and nurses continue to wear ugly scrubs, and bankers wear ties even in 90degree weather? Customers want to focus on the overall service provided by the bank, and not be distracted (or disturbed) by the appearance of the employee providing them the service. If Pakistani banks were to institute a Shalwar Kameez (with or without Kulla) uniform, it would be fine – and equally disciminating as the enforcement of a western dress code.

    As a side-note: This discussion does remind me of my experience at a mosque in Kaachi when I was asked to leave the mosque because I refused to wear a cap while praying.

  12. June 22nd, 2006 4:05 pm

    Folks, I just posted this on Bilal’s blog (see above)… thought I would do it here too:

    On the dress code, to me there is no debate at all that employers can have dress codes and employees should look professional. The questions is WHY we choose one dress as the ‘code’ rather than another… and what is the ‘coded’ message being sent. I am all for looking ‘neat’ and ‘professional’. But I find disturbing the idea, of some, that to wear a trouser is to be ‘modern’ or to have a beard is to be ‘unprofessional’. There is too much evidence to the contrary.

    Each of our rules â€

  13. FS says:
    June 22nd, 2006 11:50 pm

    It comes back to orientalism, doesn’t it? Throw in a tablespoon of globalization to boot. The corporate world, on a global scale, continues to be a white, Western construct, and hence to be “good” at the part one assumes he/she must dress the part. Virtually every comment in response to this article seems to suggest this as well. No one wants to trust the fellow with the unruly beard with their money (except Adil, who seems keen to invest with him, and perhaps cash out after the IPO).

  14. Altamash Mir says:
    June 23rd, 2006 3:02 am

    well…there are times when we should make things like Language, music & clothing a thing to debate upon and certain times when they are insignificant. Its as if someone says that the Internet is bad because it promotes Western Culture … If Pakistani Banks are losing international business because their Investment bankers are wearing Shalwars with decorative “Narhas” then heck YES, they better trade those Narhas with Black Belts with silver buckles. Better believe that in order to get business from anyone (be it national or International) you HAVE TO connect with your client on a personal level and kiss their ass…When it comes to sales, their is nation, their is no right or wrong , the only thing to be considered is the recommendation gien to you by your Marketing Department…and if you are not ready to trim off that beard and take off that Shalwar Kameez….well hello Thailand !!! where theres a lot more to banking than Patayya beach…

  15. Abid says:
    July 14th, 2006 12:45 pm

    1. A private employer has every right to enforce a dress code.
    2. Since a bank uses the ‘Western’ banking system — financial transactions operate under and conform to the Basel Accords, not the Chichawatni or even the Jakarta Accords — why cannot it not impose an Occidental dress code?
    3. Q: In which direction do Muslims in Pakistan prostate themselves? A: toward the West.

  16. Asma says:
    July 16th, 2006 3:59 pm

    Well, I feel really proud to have had people like dr. abdus salam … If shalwar kameez is worn in its true nature … it makes yo look really good and elgant … but as per the dress code I guess in banks people wear loose shalwar qameez and as a result they feel like working loosely … if yoy got what i mean … ut this bear and clean shave thin’s not good .. beard’s in Islam so Islamic orders should not be over-written … plus idont know if you’ve noted … that lion sort of thing though his face loooks so much like nawaz sharif … even that lion have a beard :D

    So HBL … see your logo and then implement rulez!

  17. Ramla A. says:
    July 19th, 2006 5:29 pm

    Ah, thank you! Why, really, is the idea of “professional” in our heads equated with Western attire?

    Localization, community, local culture, and own values are the key concepts of the modern world. Not only is a large population of the world freeing itself of the shackles of “global” images, but even people in the dominating world cultures realizing how imperialistic the whole idea of enforcing one uniform all over the world is!

    At a subconscious level, there is simply no connection.

    Having said that, we might also want to address the other image: shalwar kameez is lazy. Apparantly, many people live down to that image. Shalwar kameez and other local dresses must get more respect in our minds, and just as much reverence as a “pant suit.” An example is of Arab nations, where local men and women are in impeccably clean and well-tailored local dresses.

  18. Aziz Akhmad says:
    August 1st, 2006 12:40 pm

    Stumbled on this discussion only this morning.

    Dress and grooming does make a difference in not only how you look but also how you perform at work. That is why the armed forces of every non-Western country adopted the Western military uniform because it was better suited to military operations.

    Then there is the question of perceptions. Dress and grooming does affect the perceptions of people you come across at work. A particular survey carried out in the US some years ago asked patients whether or not they preferred that male doctors wear ties. Overwhelming respondents preferred doctors in ties because, they said, it made them look professional and credible!

    I am inclined to believe that, all things being equal, clients in banks or any business organization would instinctively prefer to deal with a smartly dressed employee rather than with a hirsute person dressed in kurta-shalwar. And when all things are not equal clients would still like to approach a smartly dressed person — man or woman. (Adil, you might like to conduct an ATP poll on this!)

    By the way, any loose and flowing dress is considered a safety hazard in an industrial environment.

    And, since a variety of local dresses are worn in Pakistan, where would you draw the line?

    Salam’s example is not appropriate because it was a ceremonial occasion. He wore not only a shirwani, shalwar and a Punjabi pugree but also a pair of pointed khussas at the Nobel ceremony. (Try wearing a pair of pointed khussas on an 8 to 5 job!)

  19. AwryDude says:
    August 15th, 2006 5:15 pm

    My proposal,as it would follow is based on the philosophy of localiasation and presenting local culture the neat way to the world.
    Have the roof covered with a red sindhi ajrak,and so have the walls painted the real sindhi carvings and u knoe that fine work.Throw some Hala pottery her in there,have a person blowing a balmy baansri and adjust all these things into a really comfortable and nice atmosphere,combining it with good lighting,
    Now you tell your employees to follow a dress code of pajamas and white kurta,nicely ironed and dtarched and give them red embroided collar and pocket top patti.Coddle it with 24/7 airconditioner and a really professional cleaning.
    Here you have a really Paki bank,both professional and superbly local!

  20. Dushmane Kuffar says:
    November 21st, 2006 1:53 am

    are u muslim,,,,,,,,,,oh…i see,,,you r muslim by name,,,,please change it to John or Tony or else…but it is requested that please dont say the above words with a muslim name….ok,,,,,,,,

  21. Akif Nizam says:
    December 4th, 2006 3:11 pm

    A bank is a private institution; they can decide whichever dress code they want to impose. If I have a choice of going to a bank where people look like Osama and one where people look like Bush, I would go to the later one (even though I hate them both equally).

  22. ayesha sajid says:
    September 30th, 2007 11:15 am

    Every institution has a dress code, wether its a suit or a shalwar qameez in not the question here. we are just making it an issue where there is none.
    If employees browbeat the organization into giving in on this issue by demanding to wear what they want and then justifying it by making it into a west/east, muslim/non-muslim issue then that is exactly the mind set that does not let the third world countries (specifically muslims) develop.
    For arguments sake , if the employers and companies keep giving in to these kind of demands , if banks keep giving in to the demand of facial hair and shalwar qameezes , then where does it stop and more importantly who gets to make a parameter on where to stop.
    The next thing we know , employees will be demanding to wear dhotees and sleeveless vessts, keeping long hair tied/untied in a pony tail, wearing shorts because its so hot or jewellery because its so trendy…. ladies and gentlemen the list goes on.
    The army personell will want to wear pajams/shalwar qameez to war, the police man will come in his night clothes on duty , children will want to wear coloured clothes to class.
    If the debate is on what to wear where (justification being ours or thiers?) then it would be all right to wear whatever you want where ever you want.
    The world does not run like this …. wether we like it or not , we have to conform to things or a small issue makes way for chaos !

  23. perfectlymadebirds says:
    October 6th, 2007 3:22 am

    I am going to make a simple suggestion to a solution no one seems to know about or even figured out yet. It seems people’s natural awnser is to abandon salwar kameez or other local dress in favor of western dress because they seem to think it equates trust, worthiness or professionalism but people seem to fail to look to alternatives by drawing awnsers out of one’s own culture. The solution simply is do not enforce a western only dress code in Pakistan or all nations of the world to adopt a global uniform. The awnser I have found is to simply build upon your culture for a smarter looking image drawn from your own culture. People keep saying salwar kameez or beard equates laziness or sloppy image but that in reality is not true. Salwar kameez worn in the professional place such as a bank can be dressed up to a professional level with waistcoat and neatly placed subtle embroidery and cuffed sleeves. What this bank and other businesses in Pakistan should be doing instead of trying to force the people to dress western or be western is to create pakistani based professional attire based on the salwar kameez worn in the professional work place. Think about neatly tailored salwar kameez with waistcoat or tailored sherwani and well groomed beard. This is a solution, a very good solution that could someday influence world trends in the professional setting where eastern attire will also be equally as much a norm as western attire is. Don’t destroy the culture you have, adapt it and make even better than ever. It’s every pakistanis’ heritage and a part of you. And so you know I wear the salwar kameez every day in the west which is accepted and respected in the professional work place and formal setting. I have adapted the dress for casual, professional and formal settings and it is still a salwar kameez I wear in every sense of tradition.I am going to make a simple suggestion to a solution no one seems to know about or even figured out yet. It seems people’s natural awnser is to abandon salwar kameez or other local dress in favor of western dress because they seem to think it equates trust, worthiness or professionalism but people seem to fail to look to alternatives by drawing awnsers out of one’s own culture. The solution simply is do not enforce a western only dress code in Pakistan or all nations of the world to adopt a global uniform. The awnser I have found is to simply build upon your culture for a smarter looking image drawn from your own culture. People keep saying salwar kameez or beard equates laziness or sloppy image but that in reality is not true. Salwar kameez worn in the professional place such as a bank can be dressed up to a professional level with waistcoat and neatly placed subtle embroidery and cuffed sleeves. What this bank and other businesses in Pakistan should be doing instead of trying to force the people to dress western or be western is to create pakistani based professional attire based on the salwar kameez worn in the professional work place. Think about neatly tailored salwar kameez with waistcoat or tailored sherwani and well groomed beard. This is a solution, a very good solution that could someday influence world trends in the professional setting where eastern attire will also be equally as much a norm as western attire is. Don’t destroy the culture you have, adapt it and make even better than ever. It’s every pakistanis’ heritage and a part of you. And so you know I wear the salwar kameez every day in the west which is accepted and respected in the professional work place and formal setting. I wear salwar kameez to all occasions wether it be casual, professional and formal settings and it is still a salwar kameez I wear in every sense of tradition.

  24. perfectlymadebirds says:
    October 6th, 2007 1:04 pm

    I do not know what happened in my above comment I posted yesterday but some how by error the comment got doubled up when it posted. Please excuse the error. Thankyou.

  25. Pakistani says:
    June 20th, 2008 10:30 am

    I got here through the “ATP 2 years ago” button. Fascinating post. I do not like beards myself, but I agree that no employer should have the right to decide if I shave or not.

  26. Shariq says:
    August 20th, 2008 9:46 am

    To me, looking professional from appearance is very important at work. As I m living abroad, my experience says people usually wear the dress related to culture and it reflects with the businesses serving direct clients. I have seen people with beard in almost 5-6 countries in the world doing client services.
    All banks in Pakistan should concentrate more on providing services than on implementing dress codes. They should improve their customer services than other things. I remember, once I sent email to some senior officials of HBL & NBP in Us but there is no response yet. While, I sent similar emails to TD Canada and NIB USA and I got reply with ing 24 hrs.
    We are talking about a bank where people stays in queue for 3 hours to pay there bills and comparing with the banks of US, Canada and UK. They must be kidding
    HBL is loosing clients because they are facing more competition from Standard Chartered, HSBC and CITI banks and they are not able to provide services like them, not because of employees wearing shalwar kameez and having beard.

  27. November 27th, 2008 2:44 am

    I am not sure about the useless argument here. What is the issue with someone wanting to wear a nicely pressed suit and a tie. And equally, what is the issue and the hulla gulla over an issue if someone really wants to wear Kameez Shalwar. Some people really look wonderful in this dress; others don’t.

Have Your Say (Bol, magar piyar say)