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declaring a Western dress code (suit and necktie) and trimmed beards ‘mandatory’ for all bank employees, but then rescinded in the case of only one branch (as of yet).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!