Parents of young Muslim teenagers tend to invest much time and effort in convincing their children that pursuing a career in medicine is to attain the pinnacle of worldly achievement. Contemplating a career other than one in medicine is deemed a futile exercise, whereas the truth of the matter is that medicine is more likely to leave students with serious debt, working anti-social hours under stressful conditions, and it being quite unlikely that they will pursue their chosen field of medicine. As is the case with most things, any such decision should only be made after both careful consideration and fostering realistic expectations. But when young Muslims question whether medicine is suited to them, the incessant indoctrination by parents and others in their community that all careers other than medicine are of no (or minimal) value lulls young people into believing that medicine is their dream career option, despite the fact that they have little insight into what a career in medicine actually entails.
So why do Muslims seem to be obsessed with the idea of practicing medicine? Reasons are various, but they are nearly always social, ranging from raising the social status of the family and affording parents something to brag about, to better marriage prospects and demonstrable wealth. Additionally, a son earning a comfortable salary will generally have the means to keep his parents comfortable in their old age.
For many Muslim teenagers, career choices are determined not by their own interests but by parental and communal pressures. A career in medicine requires a lot of sacrifice and students face many difficulties; the key factor that enables success is a sincere passion for the subject, one that gets doctors through lonely and stressful night shifts or overbooked clinic duty. In fact, an irony exists in the idea that the older generation exert pressure on Muslim youth to enter an altruistic profession primarily for worldly gains.
So what’s gone wrong? Well actually a number of things, one of which is the perception of Muslims as to what a university education is about. Traditionally, universities are seen as establishments of higher education where people learn how to develop thoughts and ideas to impact society. It is for this reason that universities have such a strong student union system where diversity and debate are actively encouraged. For the Muslim community in Britain (the majority of who come from an Asian background) university is seen as a place where you obtain a vocational qualification which allows for entry into the workforce as a skilled labourer, where you’ll be used as a pawn to benefit someone else. Future leaders very seldom emerge from such backgrounds and this may help to explain why Muslims in Britain continue to lack authoritative leadership. (Perhaps the community should be encouraged to think of doctors as skilled labourers to reduce the unnecessarily and disproportionate prestige associated with it.)
Undeniably, the greatest travesty of this attitude is the resulting lack of intellectual diversity within the Muslim community. The frequency by which intelligent and talented Muslim teenagers pursue medicine (or other maths based subjects) whilst neglecting the social sciences is something that will impair the Muslim community in years to come. It is through the study of subjects such as history, politics, economics and philosophy that ideas are developed which shape the societies we live in. Influential figures such as Karl Marx, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi all came from educational backgrounds well-established in the social sciences and liberal arts. Even Aneurin Bevin, the founder of the NHS was not a doctor but a politician who had studied economics, politics and history.
By disregarding these subjects, the Muslim community will continue to remain intellectually stagnant. Maybe this is partly the reason as to why segments of the Muslim community continue to hold outdated views rooted in Asian or African culture commonly mistaken as being Islamic, often on issues such as the role of women and the infamous, and pagan-based, caste system. Could it be possible that the very reason the arts and social sciences are discouraged is due to their being seen a threat to traditional values? If the Muslim youth were encouraged towards the arts and humanities, concepts such as forced marriages and the exaggerated significance of the extended family system would certainly be challenged and quite probably reformed, inevitably leading to the decline of Asian cultural values within the Muslim community. But by coercing gifted children towards medicine and other associated subjects, the older generations of the Muslim community allow outdated, and often regressive cultural ideas to pass down to newer generations without being challenged.
In order for the Muslim community to flourish in Britain, diversity in intellectual training must be encouraged with the individual talents of young Muslims being recognised and nurtured. Alongside having good physicians, the Muslim community is in dire need of a new breed of thinkers and leaders. It is for this reason that Muslims need to turn their back on old cultural ideals and norms and encourage their youth to attain the necessary skills to progress the cause of God.