KHWAJA OWAIS AHMAD
In Islam, there is a concept known as Ihsan, or excellence. In a spiritual sense, it means excellence in the way we worship. We are told “…to worship God as though you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, then indeed He sees you.” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Our supplications and prayers should be from the heart, and should contain our utmost effort to achieve excellence in offering them.
Likewise, in matters of day-to-day life, a Muslim is expected to behave with Ihsan by having good moral conduct, impeccable manners, and the courage to do what is right even when it is against him or herself.
In fact, there should be Ihsan in everything a Muslim does, whether it be running a clinic or a hotdog stand.
When it comes to choosing a career, the concept of striving for excellence sometimes gets confused with choosing only the career with the most excellent salary.
The problem at hand is not the fact that so many people are choosing careers like medicine, engineering, or law because these are all very necessary and noble professions.
The problem lies in the fact that people are often pressured into choosing from among the three without considering other options that highlight their true strengths and abilities.
This leads to the production of doctors, engineers, and lawyers that are not striving for excellence, but rather looking to drudge through their careers for the sake of a high salary until retirement.
This mentality is prevalent among immigrants who are trying to quickly establish themselves or their children so that they can survive in their adopted homeland. While understandable, this way of thinking only extends a community’s immigrant status, and prevents it from becoming a secure component of its adopted society’s infrastructure. The collective concept of trying to excel in every field is painfully absent. Rather, the prevailing idea is to stick to these few professions that are sure-fire ways to become successful.
This lack of a true effort to be excellent must change if Islam is to become an integral part of the American fabric.
If one looks at groups in America that came before Muslims, it becomes clear that they all came as foreign entities and after a certain amount of time and struggle, they emerged as indispensable identities in the melting pot that is America.
If Muslims expect to become essential members of American society, then this trend of choosing the same three careers must end.
There are many creative career opportunities in America, so a person’s career choice should be one that allows him or her to practice Ihsan.
That means knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses and choosing accordingly. If people do what they are best at, they can strive for excellence in that field, and in that way they only benefit themselves as well as society.
Muslims believe that on the Day of Judgement they will be asked how they used their strengths.
People will be asked if the strengths given to them were used to their utmost potential for the benefit of mankind, or if they lay stagnant where no one could benefit from them.
Choosing a career without your own strengths in mind is choosing a career where your strengths are squandered, and one in which your true potential remains untapped.
One of the biggest obstacles towards choosing the career that is best for you is the unfortunate fact that other professions are simply looked down on as not serious enough or as lacking in a certain amount of prestige.
These usually refer to fields in arts or humanities, such as careers in history, philosophy, writing, art, or social sciences. Rather than shunning these fields, parents should encourage such intellectually invigorating careers.
The myth is that only high profile professions such as lawyers, doctors, or engineers can deliver prestige and success.
It is not impossible to find success in other fields, but the problem is that they involve a greater amount of risk than medicine, engineering or law do, and to an immigrant that risk is often not worth the effort.
Nevertheless, that risk is taken time and time again by plenty of other people, who find satisfaction in their work, as well as success. Why do they find satisfaction?
Simply because they can work towards excellence by working according to their strengths and interests.
When people are looking for prestige rather than satisfaction in their career, they will most likely find just that.
One can try their hardest to become a doctor even if they don’t particularly like science, simply because the promise of a prestigious title is enough to remain driven, but prestige can only satisfy a person so long until he realizes that he may hate his job.
This is precisely the pursuit of careers such as medicine, law, or engineering should originate from a genuine interest or passio, for their own sake, and for the sake of the integrity of the profession itself.
A career is something that will, at the very least, partially define the direction of a person’s life.
It is not a choice that should be subject to other peoples’ will or be influenced by how it will appear in the eyes of others.
Still, at the end of the day, people will have their own perspectives and reasons by which to choose a career.
Even if it seems that they are being pressured into a career, we should not look down on them for giving in to that pressure. Rather, the best we can do is make sure our own “reasons” and “perspectives” are not skewed by unnecessary pressures, and are truly our own.
Perhaps through this we can live out the ideal of Ihsan, and through our own efforts achieved.
KHWAJA OWAIS AHMAD is a third year Biological Sciences major at the University of California, Irvine
Photo by EMAD KAZI