Maryum Khwaja always finds time to contribute to her New York University community, even working full time as an emergency room social worker at the Queens Hospital Center. Up to four nights per week, Khwaja volunteers her time as the director of social services at the NYU Islamic Center, where she provides counseling to students and members of the larger community at no charge. The position was created for Khwaja, who approached the Center’s chaplain in 2007 and proposed offering mental health services onsite. “I was really building on the experience of not having anyone to talk to when I was younger,” she said.
Her role at the Center includes providing individual counseling and psycho-educational workshops. She has also undertaken the nuanced task of creating a consistent and compassionate presence for the students. “We have to work with the stigma of therapy, which is still significant in the Muslim community,” said Khwaja. She stressed that mental health work must be indirect rather than regular sessions.
Rewarded by working within her Muslim community, Khwaja is inspired by the strengths she sees in Muslim youth today. “They are ambitious, active, resourceful, and very proactive in making changes in society,” she said. These are assets she did not always observe amongst her peers when she was growing up. “To see that shift and be a part of it is very exciting.”
At Queens Hospital Center Khwaja will soon transfer to an early intervention clinic where she will conduct individual, family, and group therapy for children under the age of seven. She is in the process of setting up a part-time private practice and plans to continue working with the Muslim community. Khwaja wants to be a part of what she calls “the force to address and overcome Islam-bashing” and to increase communication and harmony within the United States. Working towards this goal has already gained her the respect of city leaders. On August 17, she was honored for her work at a ceremony held by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.