Skilled trades, blue-collar jobs, manual labor. Whether construction or beyond. Chances are if you grew up in a Muslim household in the west particularly a south Asian household Indian or Pakistani for instance. These were all professions/career paths/keywords that were looked down upon and had a negative connotation attached to them. Even if your parents themselves were in these very same fields. The typical mindset our immigrant parents had was for us to study at a well-renowned university name be ivy league post-secondary institution. For us to obtain our undergraduate, followed by our postgraduate perhaps even a Ph.D., and get a white collar job with a major corporation or institution. The two main professions that carried the most respect and aspirations it in their eyes were doctors and lawyers. Beyond that perhaps a career in IT. as a software engineer. Fiancee as an accountant. Essentially professions in the white collar, corporate office environment. Our parents wanted the best for us and still do of course however is this really the right sentiment to have?
Islamic point of view
As with many things I feel it is important to differentiate culture or societal norms/outlooks with religion. Let’s ask ourselves what Islam says about such work. Work requiring some sort of physical exertion or labor of sorts as many of these professions fall under.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Nobody has ever eaten a better meal than that which one has earned by working with one's own hands. The Prophet (ﷺ) of Allah, David used to eat from the earnings of his manual labor."
حَدَّثَنَا إِبْرَاهِيمُ بْنُ مُوسَى، أَخْبَرَنَا عِيسَى، عَنْ ثَوْرٍ، عَنْ خَالِدِ بْنِ مَعْدَانَ، عَنِ الْمِقْدَامِ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ عَنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ " مَا أَكَلَ أَحَدٌ طَعَامًا قَطُّ خَيْرًا مِنْ أَنْ يَأْكُلَ مِنْ عَمَلِ يَدِهِ، وَإِنَّ نَبِيَّ اللَّهِ دَاوُدَ ـ عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ ـ كَانَ يَأْكُلُ مِنْ عَمَلِ يَدِهِ ".
Sahih al-Bukhari 2072
This Hadith goes to show the virtue and Barakah of such blue-collar professions.
Any profession period that requires effort and is halal in nature is something praiseworthy and if we have the correct intention can be an act of worship in itself.
Other factors to consider
The general feeling and satisfaction, the release of endorphins we get after physically exerting ourselves are not to be remised either. Supposed to just sitting on a desk in a cubicle staring at a computer all day. As men, Allah Subhanahu wa ta'ala has put in us an innate need to work and struggle both physically and mentally it is built into our very fitra. In the past we were required to go outdoors and struggle to fulfill even the most basic needs, to survive. Most if not all professions were labor intensive. Something that is lost in the modern world where we have adopted a sedentary lifestyle surrounded by the comforts of the modern world especially those of us in the west.
A change in environments and scenery is something these professions all often provide. In most skilled trade professions you are required to work at different sites or at the very least they do not involve sitting at your desk all day. For many people, this tends to be a much more fulfilling lifestyle. Though some may prefer the comforts of an air-conditioned office building workplace. Studies also show that prolonged sitting and inactivity have a direct correlation to the increased risk of developing cancer and heart disease among other ailments.
Another point to consider is the potential fitnah the opposing industries may cause you to face. Going to a client's house or office site as a plumber either alone which is the most common occurrence or as a part of a pair. Is likely to offer much less fitnah than working in a corporate office environment for instance. A typical day as a plumber involves showing up at the client's site. Going to the boiler room or where the pipping is perhaps. From there you assess the situation, apply repairs if need be, and leave. Where very little unnecessary chatter or free mixing is involved. At least the role in itself is guaranteed to not require doing something compromising to the deen. As a corporate job might be in the very job description itself i.e. someone working in finance in a corporate setting will likely be dealing with Riba/interest either directly or indirectly.
Now coming to the part where most people will be focusing on the finances. What are the financial prospects of these professions? The answer as with white collar jobs depends on the field, role, and experience. However, generally speaking, there are many jobs and fields that pay more than most jobs that require a university education and are white-collar in nature. The investment one is required is often far less than pursuing an academic degree or a diploma which requires undertaking 10s of thousands of dollars perhaps even 6 figures of Riba-based loans for most people. Whether you are learning your trade from a program at a community college, trade school, or perhaps best of all through an apprenticeship which is often free and may even offer an income while you are still learning. The financial investment will be far far less for most trades.
The average salary in Canada as of 2022 is $54,630 per year or $1050 per week (Gross income / before tax). Let's take a look at a few trades below and their financial prospects and compare them to some white-collar jobs. For consistency, we chose to look at Canadian statistics but the US is fairly comparable in numbers,
Statistics are taken from https://ca.talent.com/salary
Entry level positions - $49,372
Average salary - $58,500
High end - $74,096
Entry level positions - $50,766
Average salary - $58,538
High end - $70,722
Entry level positions - $35,100
Average salary - $42,916
High end - $67,201
Entry level positions - $46,537
Average salary - $56,562
High end - $75,602
Considering the stigma surrounding the first two roles in a lot of our communities compared to the relative goodwill the later two have (ignorantly so of course). One would assume the salaries would be far less but in all 3 categories, both skilled trades have a higher income potential than both the aforementioned white-collar ones. These trades also easily offer the potential to be self-employed or even have your own business with very low start-up costs once qualified which to be fair so does the profession of being an accountant, however, this is not the precedent that is often the case in similar trades. The income potential for these trades then shoots up considerably when being self-employed or having your own business, The benefits of being a business owner and Barakah in it will be a topic for a future article inshallah.
This article was of course from my own perspective and a lot of the arguments might be circumstantial. The point however was not to pit one field against the other or say either is better than the last. Nor was it to generalize white-collar jobs against skilled trades.
The point was to show that skilled trades and as I have mentioned many times in this article as it is a very good trade. Plumbing for instance but beyond that most skilled trades are a very valid and viable career choice. Some may even have much more benefits than the alternatives, especially for a Muslim living in the west as I highlighted above.
Goes without saying however one should explore all career paths themselves and decide what is best for them their individual circumstances and their goals.