Banking on the abaya

An interesting hijab debate has broken out in the Emirates after Dubai Bank, apparently without consulting staff, ordered all female employees – Muslim and non-Muslim alike – to wear a headscarf and abaya.

"Our bank is Islamic and must follow sharia in all respects, which will satisfy our clients," a bank official told Gulf News. The intention, allegedly, is to “gain customers' confidence and help market the bank's products”.

Of course, many image-conscious companies insist on a dress code for their staff but if this is just a marketing strategy why did it originate with the bank’s Fatwa and Sharia Supervisory Board rather than its marketing department? Why does it apply to all female employees and not just those who deal face-to-face with customers?

The Islamic requirement is for women (and, indeed, men) is to dress modestly but the bank has adopted a rather extreme interpretation of this. Not only must the abaya be black but there must be no embroidery or decoration on it.

Most of the readers’ comments attached to the Gulf News article welcome this move. Some want it extended to other businesses and government offices, though others question why it should apply to non-Muslims.

A couple of readers suggest efficient service is more important than the way bank employees dress. “How many customers select [a] bank based on staff's appearance?” one asks.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 23 August 2009.