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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Religion, Business and Work ethics

It wasn't easy for myself to resist the temptation, eventually temptation got the better of mine. I was trying very hard to hold myself back from sitting in front of my laptop and writing about this, a moment came where I could no longer hold back. This is an issue that is near and dear to me, and one that affects all fellow Pakistanis, it is an often over looked issue with only the odd blink of an eye coming from the very minute liberal minority. Even as I write this, I am indeed taking a huge risk as it is, there will be those that will take personal offence to what I am about to write, there will be those that will accuse me of blasphemy and there will be some who will dismiss me as just some western educated young brat who is ignorant to things that really do matter.

Religion is a very very personal affair, yet there has been an abundance of the religious spill over into every day life in Pakistan. This spill over has spread into our daily lives, our working lives and even day to day business, and things are getting from bad to worse by the day. Just recently the Lahore Bar Association in Pakistan's second largest city of Lahore banned the availability of a particular brand of fruit juice from shops and vendors that cater to the legal community in their compounds within the city. Their reason for pushing for such a ban is that the brand in question 'Shezan' fruit juice is owned by a member of the minority religious group the 'Ahmedi's who based on Pakistani law are regarded as not only non Muslims but infidels. Shezan is a brand of yesteryear and has been a part of Pakistani life for several decades, be it their fruit juices, their bottled pickles, their table sauces or desert mixes, millions of Pakistani's have grown up using Shezan's various products. Their presence extends beyond consumer food products, their also a chain of well established bakeries in the city of Lahore and they also own a high end Pakistani restaurant in London's upmarket neighborhood of Knightsbridge.

It was an unfortunate decision and initiative to have a brand of a fruit juice banned from legal institutions, especially using the religious argument to demonize a harmless product. Just food for thought, that the right wing radical Sunni groups are advocating hatred for Ahmedi's because of their relative socio-economic prosperity in Pakistan. Kind of sounds like the German attitude towards their Jewish citizens during the third Reich. For the average Pakistani who did not get that reference, Pre World War II Germany when Hitler was in power, just Google it. Anyways what is even more tragic is the shape and direction that Pakistani society is heading towards as far as their religious sensitivity is concerned, this sensitivity has gone ahead and extended matters of business practices and workplace ethics. It seems that right wing Sunni radical groups are bent on instilling and fostering hatred towards everyone who does not commit to their school of thought or the opinions of their followers. Today, a brand of fruit juice has been banned due to Ahmadi ownership, tomorrow these right wing radicalized Sunni groups will call for ban on products and services, where the owners are Shia, and after that they will call for a ban on products and services where owners are not religious. In the case of the latter, a possible argument one can expect in the future is that these business people are not true Muslims, hence their not worthy of being business.

Internal business and work practices among Pakistani and Pakistani owned companies are already changing significantly to cater to the religious sentiments of their very religious owners. In other words, business and work practices are being shaped and determined by religious sentiments of their owners, some of whom are pro active followers of such right wing Sunni groups. Coming from a human resources background I was able to gain some access into some disturbing insights into business, particularly work place practices among both SME's and large Pakistani companies where owners happened to be very religious. These companies ranging in sizes, had policies in place which included the ban on recruitment of female staff members because according to their owners personal religious beliefs it is wrong for women to work and interact with men that they are not married to or related by blood. Also what was a widespread practice was discrimination and harassment of their staff that was not religious, and in some cases I have heard stories of termination of employment contracts because such organizations kept an attendance check during prayer times and penalized staff members for not showing up. I had managed to make contact with some of these business men and asked them about the fairness of such practices. None of them denied such practices, in fact in a very shameful manner they proudly bragged about how their employees need to keep up with company code or ship out.

All this might sound very hard to digest or believe, but the tragedy behind all this is truly hard to ignore. Where is that voice inside people's heart that communicates compassion. Where is the common sense of people, do these people not realize that they are demonizing a religion that teaches compassion, empathy, love, equality and community. These ignorant people may lack the foresight and the common sense, but those who understand the value and worth of common sense must be mentally strong enough to use it and resist the external pressures of a radicalized Pakistani society. For now, we can just hope and pray that after the storm has come and gone, there is calmness over the horizon.

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