In the wake of the conclusion of the 2023 school year, the focus of all Year 12 graduates in Australia has now obviously shifted towards shaping their futures.
Statistics show that in 2022, 72 percent of Year 12 completers opted for tertiary education and training, with 52 percent embarking on a Bachelor’s degree.
For young Australian Muslims contemplating their future plans, the option of working within their own community is one which is well worth considering, and it’s a path that 29-year-old Khaled Kamalmaz (pictured above) has never regretted.
These days employed by the Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA) at Lakemba in south-western Sydney, Khaled’s unique journey, shaped by his Islamic background and professional qualifications, exemplifies the immense impact that young professionals can make by working within their own communities, and specifically in Khaled’s case, in the critical field of mental health.
Khaled’s academic journey began in Medical Science at the famous University of Sydney but it was a path that didn’t resonate with his life passions.
A pivotal conversation with a career adviser two years into his Medical Science degree led to him switching courses to Psychology, which aligned with his strengths and communication skills.
Transitioning smoothly, he obtained a Psychology Major within a Bachelor of Science degree.
Khaled’s commitment to personal growth continued with his online studies at Monash University, culminating in a Graduate Diploma of Psychology (Advanced).
He has never strayed from his Muslim roots and attributes his schooling as having a massive influence on how he lives his life.
“Being educated at the same Islamic school from kindergarten to Year 12 profoundly impacted on the choices I’ve made in my life to date,” Khaled told AMUST.
“I must say that going to Sydney University was a real eye-opener as the environment was totally different to what I was used to.”
“I was selective with regards to the friendships I formed at Uni and made sure that I maintained ties with Islamic lessons, mosques and events, ensuring a balanced integration of my religious and academic identities.”
Khaled’s journey with the LMA began almost randomly.
Dissatisfied with a corporate role which was heading along a path towards insurance work rather than Khaled’s preferred role of counselling, a fortuitous suggestion from his sister led to him successfully applying for a position at the LMA.
This transition marked a significant turning point in Khaled’s life, aligning his professional aspirations with his commitment to community service.
Employed fulltime by the LMA for the past five years in various roles including his current position as psychologist, Khaled has been instrumental in various community support initiatives.
“One noteworthy program which already had much of the infrastructure in place before I came on board with the LMA addressed the alarming smoking rates among Arabic-speaking men in Sydney’s Muslim community,” Khaled revealed.
“Collaborating with the local health district, we (the LMA) established a smoking cessation clinic, offering free services and nicotine replacement.”
Khaled recalls a number of success stories from the smoking cessation clinic, including an aging, married couple who quit after many decades of smoking, underscoring the program’s effectiveness and its tangible impact on people’s lives.
Khaled dispels any misconceptions about the professional standards maintained by high profile Islamic organisations.
“I think it is very important that I mention this….the professional standards maintained within major, non-profit Muslim organisations – and I am not just talking about the LMA here but also other organisations I have collaborated with – is second to none, from my experience.”
Volunteering, often on evenings or weekends with the LMA’s youth and other programs complements Khaled’s professional role, fostering a more fulfilling engagement with the community.
And his talents extend way beyond psychology, including frequently compering feature event nights at Lakemba Mosque and importantly, translating khutbahs (sermons) from Arabic into English at the same location for visiting imams.
This challenging responsibility demands on-the-spot translation to accurately convey the sheikh’s message to the congregation, requiring a deep understanding of Islamic teachings and cultural nuances.
Maintaining professional identity while navigating personal connections within the community poses a challenge for Khaled but is something he manages to balance with his usual professionalism.
“Striking a balance between confidentiality as a psychologist and community interactions requires clear boundaries and a commitment to professionalism,” he points out.
Khaled draws inspiration from past role models at the LMA and within the Muslim community, who exemplify humility and professionalism.
Their guidance has emphasised to him the importance of maintaining a high standard of professionalism while contributing positively to our community.
Balancing family life as a Muslim husband and father of infant son Nadim is made possible through a supportive household.
Khaled’s wife, Dr Nema Hayba (whom he met when they were both working at the LMA) understands the demands of community involvement, actively encouraging him to ‘give back’.
This kind of family support – of which his parents and parents-in-law also form an integral part – enables Khaled to navigate his responsibilities seamlessly.
Islamic values such as giving people the benefit of the doubt and showing gratitude align with Khaled’s work as a psychologist, while mindfulness and awareness, central tenets of Islam, also integrate into his professional practice.
Khaled encourages aspiring health professionals to engage with local Muslim organisations.
Volunteering offers valuable opportunities for personal and professional growth and development, fostering connections and providing a unique avenue for making a positive impact, he says.
Highlighting the importance of mental health awareness, Khaled advocates for cultural sensitivity and religious appropriateness in initiatives.
And he is adamant that youth involvement in mental health professions and community engagement by professionals can significantly contribute to breaking down barriers to mental health services.
Reflecting on his own journey, Khaled expresses “zero regrets” about dedicating this part of his career to the LMA.
His positive experience underscores the potential for personal satisfaction, career development and community impact when health professionals become actively involved on a full-time basis.
Khaled Kamalmaz’s story exemplifies the profound impact that dedicated professionals can have within their own communities.
By bridging the gap between professional expertise and community needs, committed individuals like Khaled contribute not only to the well-being of individuals but also to the fabric of society at large.