Let’s suppose a barber is constrained by certain factors, or his own beliefs for that matter, to refuse certain services to his clientele.
However unusual this situation may be, the barber can simply convey his decision to the client at the salon. It is simple.
But under what compelling circumstances would hairdressers — in fact a whole barbers’ organisation — purportedly numbering in the thousands, hold a news conference to announce such a decision? Just as the practitioners in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa declare that, from now on, they will not trim beards or hair in the French or English style, the question is raised about the kind of social pressure they must face for matters to come to this point.
The pressure had been building up — without any intervention from anyone, least of all the government.
It has indeed been a sustained campaign peppered along the way with incidents in which a district in one province expresses its disapproval of haircuts seen as ‘unIslamic’, only to have its views echoed in another province.
In what is not a surprise, quite often the ban is supported by a senior, local official who is not just content with backing it morally, but who actually signs the letter asking barbers to behave, making it a governmental decree, as happened in a Balochistan district.
It is these small victories that embolden those wanting to impose a strict ‘religious’ code.
Those who oppose them can face dire consequences, especially in the absence of a state that is unwilling to, or incapable of, playing its due role.
While announcing the restrictions, the association of KP hairdressers made an exception for foreigners — mainly Chinese nationals — working in the province, but obviously the fears that more and more stringent rules may follow a successful implementation of the hair and beard ban are based on genuine concerns.
The question is, who can stop the juggernaut once it is set in motion and is fed on something as emotive as faith?
Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2018