"Nineteen-year-old college student commits suicide because he received a C in Biology."
Although this was not an actual headline, it could have been. Over the years, we have seen suicides by students for similar reasons.
Parents often have very high academic and career expectations for their children, which some children cannot live up to. Unfortunately, in some societies, concern about disappointing one's parents is a tragedy the student cannot deal with, so he kills himself.
I remember an engineering student who lived next door to me when I was in college. He used to study all of the time, and it was rare to see him. Once I told him that he must love engineering to work so hard for it. He said that he didn't really want to be an engineer, but that's what his parents wanted him to be. He really wanted to be a photographer.
This is not an uncommon situation. A child has a field of study that he is interested in, but the parent has a totally different goal for him. The child wants to be an artist; his parents want him to go to med-school and become a doctor. The child wants to be a political scientist; his parents want him to be an engineer. This clash seems to be especially prevalent in immigrant Muslim families.
In some cases, the parents mean well. They want their children to work in a profession in which they have a good chance of succeeding economically. They feel that the social sciences and arts in general do not offer as much potential for financial success as do engineering, medicine, business, and law. And they are right. However, many young people do not place the same priority on getting a high salary as their parents do. They might be more interested in a lower paying career that matches their interests or that provides spiritual, emotional, psychological, or social rewards, rather than monetary ones.
All Halal occupations are honorable in Islam
Unfortunately, many parents may want their children to work in a highly paid and prestigious field because of social snobbery or as a form of competition with their friends and relatives whose children may be studying or working in a prestigious field. In Living With Teenagers: A Guide for Muslim Parents, Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood writes:
"Sometimes parents are rather snobbish---they only tend to think in terms of the highly paid, skilled salaried jobs for their offspring. Whereas it is true that Islam encourages every person to seek the most knowledge that they can, and to aim as high as they can, any social snobbery is totally against the spirit of Islam, which gives dignity to every honorable employment, no matter how lowly.
Parents have therefore to watch out that they do not push him or her above their capabilities. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, taught that there is no room in Islam for snobbery. The man who works as a simple porter or road-sweeper has as much right to his dignity as the manager of a great business concern (particularly in this age when the manager is deeply immersed in banking and interest transactions which are forbidden). What counts is honesty, and the attitude to the work one is doing.
Since society needs rubbish collectors just as much as brain surgeons, nobody need regard any useful employment as being beneath them---the prophet Dawud was a shepherd and a metalworker, Nuh and Isa were carpenters, and Musa was a shepherd, peace be upon them, and Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was a trader. Islam actually gave dignity to many professions which people had previously considered lowly and degrading, including, incidentally, being a housewife."
Luxury without charity is discouraged in Islam
Although many parents push their children to study medicine, law, or engineering so that they will get a financially rewarding job when they graduate, many other jobs can adequately support a family. The family might not be rich, but it can have its needs met. Moreover, in Islam, even Muslims who have excess money are not encouraged to live lives of luxury. Rather, they are encouraged to help those in need with their excess money, and Muslims who are rich have an even greater responsibility to help others.
These jobs, as long as they are halal and do not involve the person in haram activities, have as much dignity as the higher paid, more prestigious jobs. So unless parents have better reasons than higher pay and more prestige, why should they pressure their children into pursuing careers that they are not interested in?
Important for parents to consider children's interests
As previously mentioned, there is also some danger in pushing one's child into a field of study he has no interest in or which may be beyond his capabilities. Not everyone is meant to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. To pressure the child into studying something that is not really for him could merely insure his failure at it, which might also be followed by shame, depression, low self-esteem, rebellion, frustration, and even suicide.
Muslim Ummah needs people of diverse occupations
In addition, the Muslim Ummah needs people to work in a variety of other professions, such as social work, nursing, psychology, auto repair, farming, and education. Muslim leaders have long complained about the lack of Muslims pursuing careers in the media. Although in recent years, there seems to have been an increase in Muslims going into these fields, Muslims are still in no position to compete with non-Muslim media. America should be flooded with high quality Islamic publications and radio and television broadcasts. But still, only a small number of Muslims are going into media occupations.
Career: More than financial security
In the past, just having a job and being able to support oneself and one's family was essential. People often went into the same profession as their father. A farmer's son became a farmer. A carpenter's son became a carpenter. Opportunities to advance or to go into a field of one's choice were quite rare. Today, we have a totally different situation. People have a much greater choice in the career they pursue. A career is no longer just a means of financially supporting one's family; it is a major part of one's life. To be trapped in a career one hates can be very difficult. To have a job one loves and enjoys can be one of life's great joys.
Career choice has become a controversial issue in many families
Although many children may one day appreciate their parents' insistence that they study engineering or medicine, others may always wish that they had gone into the field "they" wanted rather than the field "their parents" wanted them to. But the real question is not whether the children will one day appreciate their parents' pressures to go into a certain career or whether they will resent them, the real question is whether or not the parents were right or wrong to pressure them into it in the first place.