Daily we encounter examples that illustrate the hardships faced by those who are conscientious of their faith. It's true that Muslims are not the only ones with these struggles, as recently demonstrated by Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses for homosexuals, however Muslims, especially in a Western context, have much more to deal with, especially considering that Islam is widely seen as a foreign religion that is incompatible with Modern values, and often Muslims in the West are ethnic and racial minorities who automatically generate scrutiny.
At least for the "born Muslims", there exists more social support. "Born Muslims" have a backround in some Islamic culture somewhere. All of their family members are Muslims and are, even if not practicing, comfortable at home and in their professions. But what about the person who spent time investigating religion, perhaps going through a crisis of faith, and discovers Islam for themselves? Surely, such persons will have a different struggle. In many ways their struggle will be even more rough than the born Muslim in the West. The person who accepts Islam on their own has to deal with family dynamic, that will be reflected in problems both big and small.
Recently the media highlighted the case of Charee Stanley, an airline flight attendant. As a "new" Muslim, she has been learning about her faith and applying it, and upon learning about the religion's prohibitions on alcohol [which includes serving it], she stopped serving it on flights. What she would do was to have co-workers serve it. Eventually, a detractor raised an issue, and she was subsequently suspended from her job at ExpressJet.[ See Stanley's interview on The View. https://search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?p=charee+stanly+on+the+view&ei=UTF-8&hspart=mozilla&hsimp=yhs-002].
How this particular case will play out in the airline world and perhaps the courts remains to be seen, but what was interesting to this writer is the diversity of views, even surprising ones from unexpected sources, such as Sheikh Yasir Qadhi [head of the Al-Maghrib institute], who found her position "clearly unreasonable" , creating future hurdles in accommodating "reasonable issues" such as Hijaab and beard.
So, what about the worker in a business that sells alcohol? In some places in USA, most of such businesses are owned and operated by Muslims. Similarly, Muslims work in the stock market, in the banking system, restaurants, hotels and the like.
On issues relating to alcohol and drugs, this writer feels very strongly that these are categorically Haraam and that Muslims are to not enter into such activities for their livelihood. Yet, the truth is that people-including Muslims- need to earn an income. Even attaining a degree usually requires acquiring loans, in which interest will always be a component.
So what do we do? On a personal level, there may or may not be easy solutions. Some may be able to get along very well without attaining a college degree, to buy their vehicles without resorting to loans, while for others this may very well be impossible. The same can be said of those in other businesses or sources of income that are questionable or clearly Haraam.
While we have concentrated on income, the struggle can capture many other areas of life. Persons in relationships that are not marriages. Marriage with Non Muslims, family dynamics, struggling with the social life, and many other areas.
Institutional building is needed
If we are going to live in the West, we have to recognize that these situations will not simply go away. These types of problems will continuously pop up, and-in fact- will endure. On an individual level, Muslims may be able to control their diet, the moments they pray, the clothes they wear. This person may even be blessed with a magical solution to all of their issues,yet, we must say, that American Muslims of all sects, nationalities and orientations, must work together to create united efforts to minimize [if not totally eliminate] the need to find our bread and butter in questionable occupations. That means Muslims must form their own banks/credit unions, they must create funds and open up housing for New Muslims, they must cooperate, live in their own neighborhoods, form strong bonds that will have an impact both socially and politically.
Personal level- do what you can
To use an analogy, all of us look at the ingredients when shopping at a grocery store. Mainly, we search to make sure our food is not Haraam, but some mistakes may end up being committed along the way, out of ignorance or necessity. But we have to keep making effort to make sure our food is actually lawful.
If a person is in a questionable business, he or she should strive to find a better -Halaal-job. Make some effort. Allah says that he provides from sources a person cannot even imagine, if that person has Taqwaaa. [Q 65:2-3]. If he or she has a relationship that's not marriage, the solution, if love and compatibility are there, to get married. In terms of income issues and education, housing etc, a family can work together- share all the expenses, and end up avoiding Ribaa, paying off loans, paying for an education. But all of this requires patience, discipline, foresight, and intelligence. It also requires thinking as family, thinking as community, thinking and acting based upon the interests of the big picture.
Consider the story of the Barrientos sisters. These four Texas sisters were able to eliminate $180,000 in debt in just eighteen months by sharing the load[ see http://abcnews.go.com/Business/texas-sisters-erased-182k-debt-18-months/story?id=33485609]
Islam sees the spiritual and the material as connected to each other. Even our food can affect our souls. Our financial situation can color our relationship with God. That's a simple fact, regardless of whether we like it or not. So we have to have faith, use the minds given to us by Allah, take some actions and go from there.