In a recent notification, PIA administration has announced to have reviewed its policy regarding beards, and said now male cabin crew could not grow beards and they could only have French-cut beards.
Not surprisingly, religious scholars and ulema condemned PIA for this, calling the ban a violation of constitutional and fundamental human rights. Whether this is or is not the most important constitutional violation of our age, the ulema are, in fact, right.
Unless there is a sound technical reason for it (and there seems not to be), forcing someone to take off their beard is deserving of condemnation as much as forcing someone to grow a beard. Especially if either of the act is ideologically motivated; no matter what the ideology. Of course, forcing someone to grow a beard on threat of death or violence is particularly disturbing. But, frankly, a threat to one’s livelihood is also reprehensible.
Right now, I myself do not have a beard. And that is not an ideological statement one way or the other. But my own position remains unchanged from October 2006 when I had commented on facial hair for cricketers:
By way of disclosure I should add that I occasionally sprout facial hair of my own but am mostly clean-shaven. But as a deep and committed adherent of peopleâ€™s right of expression (how can a blogger not be that!) I stand committed to defend peopleâ€™s right to facial hair, whether they are grown for stylistic elegance or religious expression.
More pertinent was the June 2006 decision by Habib Bank to ban shalwar kameez and facial hair (by the way, can someone please confirm if that policy was ever implemented). In that case the issue had focused more on the wearing of shalwar kameez to work and the argument that this somehow made the person look less “trustworthy” and less “presentable.” Facial hair were also targeted for the same reason. On the issue of beards, trustworthiness and presentability, my argument was rather simple:
As a rather frequent traveler on PIA – in fact, I read this news item on a PIA plane retruning from Karachi to Islamabad, and one of the cabin staff was supporting a huge beard – I too have noticed that the number of crew members with facial hair, especially large beards, has increased dramatically over the years. But that is a factor of what has been happening in society. PIA has plenty of big problems to deal with, and this seems to be the least of them.
At least in my experience, the quality of service one gets is not at all dependent on the amount of facial hair. Maybe the management should focus on that before it starts following the example of the Swat Taliban in judging people by the length of their facial hair (or not)!