A man and his wife were not allowed to sit beside each other at a McDonald's outlet in Pakistan by managers, who told the couple that such behavior would have a negative impact on the "Islamic family atmosphere" of the outlet.
Noman Ansari, an exporter, said the incident occurred at a McDonalds outlet in Karachi on Sunday when he and his wife decided to stop for a drink while returning from a friend's birthday party.
As Ansari sat down next to his wife and put his arm on the seat behind her shoulder, a McDonald's employee asked him to move to the chair opposite to her. When Ansari asked the employee why he couldn't sit next to his wife, the employee replied: "Sir, this is a family restaurant. Couples sitting together is against the policy of McDonald's Pakistan, as it goes against the family atmosphere of the restaurant."
Even when Ansari pointed out that they were married, the employee said: "I am sorry sir, but you can't sit side by side."
According to Ansari's account of the incident in a blog posted on the website of The Express Tribune, he decided to take up the matter with two managers, who told him "this was a policy from upper management because couples, even married ones, sitting with each other, were a negative impact on the Islamic family atmosphere of McDonalds".
Ansari, who pointed out that he had seen couples sitting together while growing up in Saudi Arabia, said he was "amused yet also saddened" by the incident. "Amused, because it was all very silly, and saddened because of the state of affairs this brewing incident was pointing to," he wrote in the blog.
"The question is; who are they to judge us?" he wrote. All three McDonalds employees involved in the incident, he said, did not have the "aura of extreme minded Muslims". The employees were only following orders and if "anyone is at fault here, it is McDonalds Pakistan", he said.
The incident has sparked a fresh debate on the attempts being made by Islamic hardliners to mould public behaviour and thinking in line with their own puritanical beliefs. Public displays of affection are frowned upon in Pakistan but Ansari pointed out that Islamic law "doesn't suggest something as ridiculous as forbidding couples to sit together".
Of the 1,352 people who participated till last night in a poll on Ansari's blog on whether men and women should be allowed to sit together at restaurants, an overwhelming 87 per cent responded positively.
There was no word from McDonalds on the incident.