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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Serve Allah, Serve Humanity

Become a Social Worker
By Altaf Husain, MSW**

What do you want to be when you leave school? That question must be the most universally asked question of all time. How have you answered it? How different is your answer today than it was when you were 5 or 10 years old?

Now that you are a teenager, are you any more certain about what you would like to be? Or do you prefer just having fun trying to grow up rather than worrying about what you will actually do in your life? If you have older siblings, especially those who are in college or are working, you might look at their busy lives and think twice about it all.

No matter when you finally decide, you will have to make some choices about your field of study and its application — your career. The purpose of this brief essay is to help you to explore the possibility of becoming a social worker, a career among so many others, through which you can serve Allah by serving humanity, in sha' Allah. Sound interesting?


During your teenage years it is important that you take some time to reflect upon your interests in life. In the coming weeks, spend some time engaging in the process of self-analysis. Begin by asking questions of yourself such as "who am I? what am I doing with my life? how is my relationship with Allah?" and, of course, "what do I want to be when I grow up?" Write down your responses to these questions.

Think about your upbringing. What was your childhood like? Do you have mostly positive memories? In sha' Allah, you had a healthy relationship with your parents and your siblings. What about your extended family and friends? What do you remember about them? What about your life now? Are you generally a happy person? Are you able to talk about your feelings and thoughts with your parents and siblings?

Do you enjoy helping your own friends with challenges they are facing at school, with their families, or with other friends? Do your friends feel comfortable sharing their feelings and thoughts with you? Are you generally a patient person? Are you easily inclined towards thinking about and helping others, or do you find yourself consumed with your own life?

Think about how you spend your spare time. Do you read for fun? What do you enjoy reading — fiction, non-fiction, or science fiction? How inclined are you toward volunteering your time, energy, and talents to help others? Very inclined? Not at all inclined? How enjoyable is the volunteering experience for you?

Consider as well, other broader questions such as when you are reading the newspaper or surfing the Internet for news, what types of stories stimulate your interest? Do you find yourself excited about politics? What about international or domestic affairs? Are you interested in stories about hunger, poverty, and accessibility to healthcare? What about stories about the homeless, refugees, or immigrants? Are you inclined to read human interest stories?

Choosing a Career

No matter which career you finally choose, remember that your main goal is to please Allah through all your actions. Allah Most High reminds us [Say: "Truly, my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Cherisher of the worlds; No partner has He: this am I commanded, and I am the first of those who bow to His will"] (Al-An`am 6:162-163). A career choice should not be taken lightly. Remember that ultimately the career you choose will come to define you, your thoughts, and your outlook on life.

Let's say you start working after you earn your bachelor's degree when you are 22, after your master's degree when you are 24, or your doctorate when you are 30. If you work continuously after you graduate and retire at age 65, conservatively speaking, you will spend approximately 8,400 or 9,840, or 10,320 days of your life working. Give those numbers some thought because the last thing you want is to spend all those days of your life in a career that you do not enjoy.

Your career should excite you. It should make you want to get up every morning to go to work and it should allow you to come home in the evening without a mountain of work-related complaints and a whole lot of job dissatisfaction. The key is to choose a career that reflects a combination of your education, skills, talents, and passion.

Helping People

Throughout history, people have been endowed by Allah with an inner desire to help others, to improve the quality of life for themselves and those around them. Although much of these efforts have been informal, there have also been organized efforts to help the poor, the needy, orphans, widows, and wayfarers. For Muslims, there are clear injunctions in the Qur'an and in the Prophetic teachings that encourage Muslims to engage in charitable actions.

While it might sound catchy and modern to say the best of social workers was the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), in general, we should refrain from such labeling because in reality, our beloved Prophet lived a comprehensive life that transcended all professions; his life encompassed all professions. The key point is that while we do engage in charitable actions, helping those in need cannot be left to chance and each individual's inclinations alone.

There must be some people who focus their energies, time, and talents solely on helping others. One career choice most suitable for such efforts is social work.

Social work ranks among the noblest professions. It is known as one of the "helping" professions and was only formally developed as a profession in the late 1800s. Although the term social worker is commonly used, what exactly social workers do is not always clear. People often assume that social workers only engage in counseling, listening for hours on end about other people's problems. The answer is yes and no.

Social workers do work as counselors, but that's not all they do. Unlike other helping professionals, social workers are trained to work with individuals, families, small groups, communities, and organizations. With each of these target populations, there are additional sub-categories to be considered. For example, a social worker might wish to focus on individuals of a particular age group, such as adolescents, adults, or senior citizens.

Furthermore, social workers must choose what kind of setting they want to work in. For example, one could train as a counselor to work with children at school or with teenagers in a group home setting. One could train to work with senior citizens in their homes, in nursing homes, or in hospice care settings. One could train to work with women who are victims of domestic violence and who are living in shelters, safely out of reach of their husbands or other perpetrators of violence.

Social workers can choose to receive specialized training to work with a target population in a specific setting such as schools, hospitals, and other healthcare settings, as well as private and public agencies.

Some social workers enjoy working with families and small groups while others enjoy working with communities and organizations. For a social worker, helping a family in which there is physical or sexual abuse is challenging but not impossible. Social workers might also mobilize and organize residents of a neighborhood to petition the local government officials to improve the schools and law enforcement, for example. Social workers can also receive training in the management of non-profit organizations.

No matter which target population or setting stimulates you, ultimately, your choice of a career in social work will be rewarding. Social workers strive to help individuals, families, communities, and organizations to get rid of dysfunction and to increase healthy functioning, healthy relationships, and healthy outlooks. Are you up to the challenge?

** Altaf Husain, MSW is a social worker in the United States and has been a contributing writer to IslamOnline since its inception. He can be contacted atat youth_campaign@iolteam.com.



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