This past weekend, I was at an event and an uncle stopped me. He then proceeded to ask what I was studying (Social Work) and I made the mistake of mentioning that I used to be pre-med.
I’m sure he had good intentions but he immediately dismissed my current profession of choice, talking over me and telling me that I should go back to medicine, and consider my master’s degree a “break.” When I explained politely that the Muslim community needs more people in the social sciences, he said, “Oh my wife is a physician now and she does lots of social work. People call her in the middle of the night and she helps them and stuff.”
Me: “That’s not what social work is.”
Still firmly lodged in this thought that he was right about my career choice, despite not knowing anything about me other than the fact that I do spoken word and that I used to be pre-med, he proceeded to take me over to his wife and introduce us.
Stuck in that rut of not wanting to disrespect an elder but getting increasingly pissed off, I walked with him, still trying to clarify why I firmly believed that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Thankfully, I had just met his wife a few minutes ago and when she heard what he had to say, she shooed him away, telling him that I was doing the right thing and that if I was passionate about my career choice, I should go for it. She further agreed with my comment about the Muslim community lacking in resources and diversity in their career options.
My point in relaying this incident is this: Muslims, we have to step up. Why are we telling our children that their future lies only in medicine or engineering?
We complain that the media trashes the hell out of us because we have no representation and then we turn around and discourage our kids – laugh at them even – for pursuing journalism and communication. We complain that we have no one on our side when it comes to immigration but then we steer our children away from pursuing the “evil and twisted” fields of law, policy, and government.
We turn the other cheek when faced with issues such as domestic violence or mental health, but are then shocked when things like the Orlando incident happen, or when a well-known community member is beaten to death by her husband. These could have been prevented by turning to social workers, therapists, or counselors – particularly Muslim ones that understand the cultural and religious limitations.
Stop teaching our children that their value lies in how much money they make. Stop telling our fellow Muslims that their career choices are worthless. Stop policing those who refuse to comply by these ridiculous standards that our culture has imposed on us.
Stop laughing at those that are working FOR YOU to try to improve the narrative on Islam around the world.
If we claim to deserve all the rights that this country has to offer, we need to start participating in what this country has to offer. There is no reason that being involved in other careers will compromise any of our religious or moral values.
So I commend every Muslim out there who has pursued a “non-traditional” career and has dealt with harsh comments from both their community and from the other people in this country who look down on anyone in their workplace for being Muslim or non-white. Thank you for working twice as hard just to be able to do what you love and for working tirelessly to help others. You are truly special.
And despite what many think, you are a valuable asset to this ummah. Please keep doing what you’re doing and please encourage our children to do the same.
Sara Bawany is pursuing her Master’s Degree at the University of Texas at Austin, School of Social Work. With undergraduate degrees in both Biology and Islamic Studies, Sara has explored a wide variety of academia and continues to dabble in other fields. When she isn’t studying, Sara writes poetry, performs spoken word pieces, experiments with food, and spends time with her pet rabbit, Quinn.