Durban - Members of Durban’s Muslim community have slammed the Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani hotel management for refusing to allow two Muslim student chefs to continue their internships if they did not remove their beards.
Durban-born Mohammed Yusuf, 17, and Huzaifah Mohideen, 23, who were both ecstatic when they landed a four-month-long internship at the prestigious beachfront hotel, said on Thursday that they had been disgusted by the hotel’s attitude towards their religious beliefs.
They are students of the Capsicum Culinary School. After Radio Islam broke the story, it went viral on social media, with some Muslims calling for a boycott of the hotel. Some vowed never to go to the hotel and said they would cancel reservations.
In a written response to The Mercury, the Tsogo Sun group said the act was purely an adherence to hygiene policies to ensure the safety of guests.
“We cannot alter our policies to favour one particular religion or belief system. At the hotel, we have a hygiene policy in the kitchens that includes restrictions on facial hair,” the statement said.
Tsogo Sun was asked why it did not provide beard nets for those who wanted to keep their beards, but it did not respond.
Yusufsaid when he started working at the hotel he was shown around the kitchen but was never told he had to shave off his facial hair.
But when he went to the cold food kitchen, a sous chef told him he had to shave off his beard or leave the hotel.
“I told him the beard was kept for religious purposes and I could not take it off. He told me he was giving me a day to decide,” he said.
The next day, the sous chef asked him again if he agreed to remove the beard and Yusuf refused and asked to speak to the head chef.
“The head chef told me it was part of Southern Sun hotels' rules, that I could not have a beard. But when I checked the rules on the contract I signed, it simply says hair must be neat and tidy.
“I even asked to keep it short, but he refused. When I got home, my mom phoned him and he told my mother he did not care about our religion, if I wanted to work there I had to take it off or leave,” he said.
Yusuf’s mother, Raadiah Yusuf, took the matter to the executive management, but the complaints, they said, were futile. Yusuf did not return to the hotel the next day and the school placed him at another hotel.
The mother said her family and relatives who frequented the hotel were shocked when he told them of the matter.
Mohideen said he felt strongly that their religion was being discriminated against.
He said during the initial interview he was asked to shave and when he said he could not, they said he had to cover his beard.
“The hotel did not have a proper beard net, so I used the one for hair to cover the beard, and only recently they pressured me to shave it off,” he said.
At first he had worked at the hotel for six weeks with the beard, without any problems.
Mohideen was also now working at another hotel.
The Mercury contacted the school, but it had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.
The hotel group said the policy was included in the Capsicum Culinary Studio’s course notes, which were signed by all students before taking their placements.
“We are aware that the two kitchen trainees needed to be relocated to an alternative kitchen for their training due to their religious beliefs.
“We contacted Capsicum and arranged for them to be placed in a halaal kitchen, where facial hair is acceptable,” it said.
Tsogo Sun said Capsicum provided each student with a handbook which included kitchen etiquette about the need to be clean shaven. It said both the students signed that they had received the book. However, Yusuf and Mohideen said they were only required to keep hair neat, and not remove it.
The statement from Tsogo Sun also said: “At no stage did the executive chef, Shaun Munroe, state that he does not care about Muslim beliefs or disrespected Muslims or their faith. The hotel respects and values the Muslim community.”@sphengubane