As a country that cherishes unity, discrimination in any form is unequivocally prohibited. In fact, Article 8 of the Federal Constitution expressly upholds the principle of equality, ensuring that all individuals are entitled to equal protection under the law.
However, a recent controversy has emerged surrounding a facial parlour’s exclusive policy catering solely to one group of people – Muslims. This practice has ignited a fierce debate, raising questions about the legality and ethics of discriminating between customers based on their religious affiliation.
Apparently for Muslims only.— Niresh Kaur (@nireshkaur) July 31, 2023
What's the difference between a Muslim person's skin and mine pulak? I am genuinely asking. 😭 pic.twitter.com/N5CsEVjvNL
In this article, we delve into the issue surrounding this parlour’s selective policy, questioning whether it is an innocent expression of preference or an insidious form of discrimination masked behind the veil of personal choice.
Can I have more context, please?
The author of the tweet, who also happens to be our founder (jeng jeng jeng), happened to be looking for a place to do her facial at.
Her friend, also the founder, happened to call Hannan Spa at Jaya One at 2.22pm on 31st July 2023 to get some information on the facial packages at the place. Upon stating that their facial is priced at RM70, the person on the phone stated:
Since this is a phone call, we do not have more proof than a screenshot of the 1-minute phone call, as below:
Note, we also did not bother to argue with the person further as we just needed to get our facials done which one of the founders ended up getting at a different spa.
On their Facebook post, it is also stated that they prioritise Muslim women for their treatments (item #5), as below:
We spoke to a lawyer, Fairuz Zafirah of Farah A. Zabir & Partners who shined some light on this matter.
Is this a practice to protect the aurat of Muslim women?
The modesty of Muslim women is regarded with great importance in Islamic teachings. Consequently, the central question in this matter revolves around whether the business’s policy aims to safeguard the “aurat” of Muslim women.
However, when it comes to a female Muslim seeing the “aurat” of a female non-Muslim, it is considered “harus,” meaning it is permissible, and the individual can choose whether to comply or not, as there will be no reward or punishment attached to this choice.
From a public perspective, however, this policy could be argued as a form of discrimination, as it singles out and treats individuals differently based on their religious beliefs.
Legally, is this allowed?
In general, private businesses have the right to set their own policies and guidelines as long as they do not violate any existing laws or regulations. This includes establishing dress codes or implementing specific rules related to their services. Businesses often create policies to ensure a particular ambience, adhere to cultural norms, or cater to the preferences of their target customers.
However, when it comes to policies that could potentially be seen as discriminatory based on race, religion, gender, or other protected characteristics, the situation becomes more complex.
Fairuz also pointed out that it’d be a stronger case if there are no other alternatives. For example, if Hannan Spa is the only place that provides the services that we needed, then this can be considered a form of discrimination that potentially violates Article 8 of the FC.
In light of this, businesses must carefully assess their policies to ensure they align with ethical standards, promoting diversity and equal access to services, regardless of one’s background or beliefs.
It is essential for private businesses to strike a balance between exercising their autonomy in setting policies and respecting the principles of fairness and inclusivity. If a policy is perceived as discriminatory, it may negatively affect the reputation and image of the business, leading to potential customer boycotts and damage to the brand.
On a separate note, Bumiputera employees only?
The company’s policy of exclusively hiring Bumiputera employees raises concerns of discrimination (as per the screenshot above), even within the Muslim community itself. Limiting hiring only to Bumiputeras creates a form of discrimination that excludes non-Bumiputera Muslims from opportunities solely based on their ethnic origins.
This policy not only undermines the principles of inclusivity and equal opportunity but also perpetuates divisions within the Muslim community. It sends a message that certain Muslim individuals are more deserving of employment solely due to their ethnicity. Again, Article 8 of the Federal Constitution comes to light here.
Related read: Racist Comments in Malaysia
From an ethical standpoint, businesses should strive to create a working environment that embraces diversity and promotes merit-based hiring practices. By considering the qualifications, skills, and experience of individuals rather than their ethnic backgrounds, businesses can ensure a fair and equitable workplace.
Embracing inclusivity within the Muslim community not only strengthens unity but also aligns with the broader societal values of promoting diversity and equal opportunities for all individuals, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.
Update: In the latest Facebook post by Hannan Spa, they have clarified that there is no such practice and stated that all races are welcome. This is great news. This also means that ‘aurat’ was not the issue here.
Therefore, we are now under the impression that there is one branch that did not adhere to this rule set by the HQ. We hope that this matter will be investigated thoroughly IF in fact this is a matter of racism.
Note: Our intention was not to bring the business down but to rather question the potential discrimination.
Fairuz Zafirah Binti Zainudin Merican is a practicing lawyer in Farah A. Zabir & Partners. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
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