Osman Karolia: A man we can all look up to…

OSMAN KAROLIA

Thank you so much to viewers of this website and followers of my social media platforms for your warm reaction to last weekend’s article concerning Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman.

This week I wanted to continue the same theme – telling you about another man who is such an inspirational figure within the Muslim community when the world is going through such tough times due to COVID-19.

The main ‘hat’ he wears during the week is as Head of Community Engagement and Marketing at Unity Grammar, a college at Austral in Sydney’s south west, but OSMAN KAROLIA isn’t only admired by school students and parents.

I am very proud to call the brother in question a very dear friend, whose goodness and positivity is infectious.

Osman Karolia with some of Unity Grammar’s alumni

He is a well known figure throughout Sydney’s Muslim community and as well as mentoring countless young people on the path to successful careers, he has been instrumental in introducing new and successful initiatives into many schools which remain in place long after he has left them.

Osman is also a great humanitarian, and it’s this concern for his fellow man which is without a doubt the greatest quality that he has instilled into the literally thousands of young people whom he has crossed paths within the many years he has been working in our education system.

To say that he has led an interesting life is an understatement and Osman took up the story when I contacted him over the recent long weekend..

“I was born In Johannesburg, South Africa, in May 1972 so I will be 48 next month,” Osman said.

A very young Osman at home in South Africa

“My mother gave birth to me at my uncle’s house with the assistance of her GP as the Apartheid system was in force in SA back then and hospitals didn’t admit people of colour.

“Actually, my uncle is Goolam Laher, a prominent Melbourne lawyer who was (former Australian Prime Minister) Julia Gillard’s first boss at Slater & Gordon.”

The Karolias migrated to Australia in April 1980, where they initially settled in Hurstville, before relocating to Lakemba, from where Osman attended Condell Park High School.

That famous Osman Karolia smile!

He was and still is a keen sportsman.

A talented footballer in his younger days, he is a passionate fan of the Dragons (but we won’t hold that against him!!)

“The first game I watched live was at Henson Park where the Dragons played Newtown – that’s how long ago it was,” Osman recalled.

After completing the HSC, Osman commenced his studies at the University of Newcastle in 1991.

“Originally, my ambition was to follow my uncle into the legal profession but I could see greater opportunities to contribute to society through education, so I elected to study teaching.

“Teaching has introduced me to so many people and obviously my life would have been a lot different had I not made this choice.”

Osman was just like many other young tertiary students, working casual jobs like labouring and as a waiter.

And at the end of the final semester each year, he loved to travel overseas, generally staying at YMCA hostels.

“Travelling taught me to appreciate other cultures, to see that there are lots of different ways to be right, and to try to see things through other people’s eyes as their interpretation may be a lot different to our own.”

After completing University, Osman secured a number of casual teaching roles in the Greater Newcastle area in towns like Scone and Rutherford (near Maitland).

“I remember those times fondly as I met a lot of very interesting people and was always first to volunteer as a sports coach because of my love of football.

“But the elusive full time teaching ‘gig’ I was looking for up there wasn’t forthcoming so I  returned to Sydney where I had a few more casual teaching roles and also a part time job with Ansett Airlines.

“Ansett tried to entice me into becoming full time, saying that I would be a ‘natural’ as cabin crew, but while I was weighing up that opportunity in November 1995, I received a firm teaching offer from Malek Fahd Islamic School.

“I opted for the job at Malek Fahd because of the guarantee of longevity and of course, as it turns out, this was another life changing decision.”

After a memorable decade at Malek Fahd, Osman’s next role was as the Director of Studies at the International Baccalaureate (Diploma and Middle Years Program).

In 2006/07, he spent time at Noor Al Houda (now AIA) and in 2008, he was appointed principal of Arkana College at Kingsgrove, where he described his tenure as “an amazing time”.

A short stint as principal of IQRA Grammar College in Minto followed but Osman doesn’t recall those as days quite as fondly.

“I guess you could say that I ‘butted heads’ with the school board as their philosophy on how to treat the students was a lot different to my own.”

After six months at IQRA, the position as deputy principal at Unity Grammar College at Austral became available, and although technically a  ‘demotion’ of sorts, Osman has never looked at it that way.

“It has always been a pleasure to work at Unity Grammar as it’s a place which shares my values and visions of teaching.

“The school board are great….they have always been supportive, giving me the freedom to develop various programs, which I am very appreciative of, and this is why I haven’t looked go elsewhere even when some lucrative principals’ roles have arisen.

“In 2018, I became Head of Senior School and in 2019, I was appointed to my current role as Head of Community Engagement and Marketing.

“This has allowed me to focus on community issues, around the corner and around the world.

“I am always looking at opportunities to get the students involved in volunteer work and establishing other links whether it’s through sport or public speaking or volunteering itself.

“Just a few of our many worthwhile volunteer initiatives include feeding the homeless at Martin Place with Brothers In Need, helping those less fortunate through Bill Crews’ Exodus Foundation in Ashfield and joining students from other local schools to clean up the Georges River.”

Another initiative which is very close to Osman’s heart and one of which he is extremely proud is accompanying Unity Grammar school-leavers on missions with AusRelief and visiting countries like Cambodia and Vietnam to help the poor and the homeless.

“It’s a program that first came to mind in 2016 and working closely with AusRelief CEO Walid Ayad to develop the program, our first trip was to Cambodia in 2018.

“We decided to involve our alumni (past HSC graduates) in the program as what better way to leave their legacy at the school than by showing themselves to be respected global citizens rather than kids just living in a bubble.

“AusRelief are great to work with and with these trips there are no ‘gimmees’, everything is self funded so to participate in one of these missions, the alumni have to pay for their own flights and accommodation.

“On our next mission we will be looking to further help the locals by setting up micro-businesses and this is something which excites me greatly …. although with the onset of COVID-19, like everyone else we will just have to wait and see in terms of timeframe.”

Osman Karolia has been a lot more than just an educator in his 25-plus years working in the NSW education systems – all but two of those years employed by Islamic schools.

He has been a tremendous innovator, among other roles co-founding the Islamic Schools Association of Australia and he is currently relishing his role as vice chair of that organisation.

“There are now 46 Islamic Schools in Australia with around 60,000 students enrolled and we are part of a wider scheme from which all of Australia will benefit.”

Osman has also worked hard to bring people of other faiths, cultures and communities closer together and to this end, he is not surprisingly disappointed that this year’s multi-faith Iftar (hosted annually by Unity Grammar) won’t be going ahead because of the COVID-19 restrictions.

October 26, 2002, was a huge highlight in Osman’s life as it was on this date that he married the love of his life, the amazing Salima.

Osman with the love of his life, wife Salima

The couple were introduced by well known singer Billal Mourad (a friend of Salima’s brother) and the pair hit it off instantly through their mutual love of rugby league (thankfully, Salima is a Bulldogs fan!!)

In late 2003, the couple welcomed son Ibrahim (‘Ibby’) into the world.

Osman and Salima with son Ibrahim enjoying Sydney Harbour

“Salima’s main attraction to me from day one was her passionate view of the world,” Osman enthused.

“I could see that she was always helping other people, always helping women doing it tough and dropping seeds of goodness everywhere, without ever making a fuss about it.

“The projects I’ve been involved with over the years have taken me away from home a lot but Salima has never complained and has always encouraged and supported me.

“But believe me, I would never describe Salima as just a “supportive wife” as those words could never do her justice….as her partner I have benefitted greatly from her expertise….she is much more clever than I am and whatever I do, I would say at least 55 percent of the input is hers.

“Salima is a hugely compassionate, extremely positive person so she doesn’t just support me, she inspires me.

“Salima and I both feel that we are a great example to others that “second marriages do work”….for both of us, this is our ‘second time’ and my wife is the best part of me!!

What a beautiful shot of one of most amazing couples I am privileged to know!

“She isn’t working at the moment so, over recent weeks, I am very grateful that Salima has been able to accompany me to the various functions, fundraisers and charity initiatives I have attended and to this end, I do wish that more Muslim men would involve their wives in such exercises.

“It’s time to put our wives to the forefront, to share our public space with them and basically change the entire narrative as these great women can play a huge role and make a crucial difference to the lives of others through their vision and inspiration among other things.”

In spite of his busy life, Osman still likes to find time to indulge in his various sporting interests, which include cycling, long distance running and triathlons.

“I encourage people to lead a healthy lifestyle and in my case, I can sometimes kill two birds with one stone as I’ve also been able to use events like the Sydney half-marathon, City-to-Surf fun run and various cycle rides to raise money for charity.”

Still, on the subject of charities, Osman has some food for thought for some of our bigger charitable organisations.

“I think it is really important that our major charities be more collaborative,” he said.

“They should be sharing their resources so they can all remain commercially sustainable; my message to them is simple: ‘more collaboration, less competition’.

“I’ve been saying this since a community forum, way back in 1996.

“We cannot always rely on the same individuals and companies to donate as many charities are currently doing.

“I would love to see the bigger charities invest in real estate, for example; that way there is a guaranteed financial return to fund future growth.”

Another issue that Osman remains passionate about is workers’ rights.

“The move to casual employment in Australia over recent years is very disappointing….we seem to have lost our way.

“Social equity is social justice and we are just not looking out for our young people.

“We should also be driven towards giving to those who need it most….that’s why we give our food parcels to the likes of Bill Crews’ Exodus Foundation and why we concentrate much of what we do overseas with AusRelief in Cambodia as even though it’s not necessarily considered a ‘Muslim country’, it is a needy country.

“This ties in with our Islamic ideology to help others, regardless of their beliefs.

“As Muhammad (PBUH) said, ‘come as a mercy to ALL mankind’.”

As mentioned earlier, the onset of COVID-19 has jeopardised the dates for Unity Grammar’s next mission to Cambodia and potentially hindered the progress of some other initiatives, but nothing can dampen Osman’s enthusiasm.

“We are determined to push through….for example, to go ahead with our work with the Exodus Foundation.

“We sponsor 72 Orphans through Human Appeal International so will campaign online to raise awareness.

Asked to comment on the possible effects the current community restrictions may have on Ramadan, Osman had this to say:

“We may be in lockdown and the Masjids may be closed, but the doors to Allah’s mercy always remain open.

“This is a great opportunity to increase the closeness of family ties and to use technology and social media for the good.

“There is no lockdown when it comes to Islamic goodness and the mercy of Allah.

“Everybody can contribute, even a $1.00 coin donation can make a difference and think of the difference a smile per day can make!!

“We all need to get involved and to do our bit.”

A perfect example of Osman’s philosophy of maintaining lifelong friendships with past students is prominent and hard-working chiropractor Tarek Sari, proprietor of ‘The Back Specialist’ in Greenacre and the popular president of Sydney Muslim Cyclists, a group which recently featured in a separate article on this website.

(See story headlined: “On Their Bike For Charity”.)

Now 38 years of age, Tarek was taught Business Studies, Commerce and Geography by Osman in the mid-1990’s at Malek Fahd and to say that they remain firm friends close to 25 years later, speaks volumes for the mutual respect between the pair.

“(Osman) will always be Mr Karolia to me,” Tarek Sari said when I spoke with him recently for this story.

“I recall him being a great teacher but more importantly, a mature figure during my education who treated students as friends, not just numbers or foot soldiers at the school going through the motions.

“I remember in around 1997, Malek Fahd and another Sydney school participated in a 4-team interschool sporting challenge in Melbourne.

“Kids being kids and mucking around away from their parents, some of our group were kicked out of the hotel we were staying at but Mr Karolia’s sole concern was finding new accommodation for us rather than coming down hard on us or punishing us.

“Mr Karolia eventually moved on to his next appointment at Noor Al Houda but we met up again in 2000 in Malaysia when we were both on our way but in different groups to Makkah and Madinah, where we met up again during the Umrah.

“We are both keen cyclists and Mr Karolia was the driving force behind the formation of the Sydney Muslim Cyclists club in February, 2015.

“Back then, there were a number of Muslim cycling ‘sub-groups’ but Mr Karolia could see the potential of the groups joining forces to become a club.

“We now go on regular team rides, some just for exercise and recreation, but we also have some major fundraising events for worthwhile charitable causes and recently surpassed our $10,000 goal to raise funds for Syria on our annual Sydney to Wollongong ride.

Sydney Muslim Cyclists club was Osman’s brainchild. Some of the group were pictured before the recent charity ride to Wollongong. President Tarek Sarek (left) has been friends with Osman since being his student almost 25 years ago.

“Summing up Mr Karolia in a few words is no easy task.

“He is certainly very approachable, very gentle, very loveable…..and very huggable!” Tarek laughed.

“I have found that in life, some people are able to help their fellow man tangibly in terms of the physical and the financial and by creating infrastructure, while others provide emotional support and inspiration.

“But Osman Karolia not only ticks all of these boxes, he is also a man whose actions back up his eloquent words….be it travelling to places like Cambodia and Vietnam with his former students to help the poor or working on community initiatives closer to home.

“This is a man who is not afraid of getting his hands dirty, building water wells and toilet blocks for the poor in Asia, working alongside men who are generally less than half his age.

“But having said that, he resonates with people of all ages.

“We love him because he affords us his time, listens to us and provides sound advice….all of the time remaining so humble and grounded.

“I also applaud Mr Karolia for the Interfaith work he does, bringing those and especially students of other faiths closer to our own because at the end of the day we are all people and there are some definite similarities between some other religions and our own beautiful Islam.

“Brother Steve, I am extremely grateful that you’ve given me this opportunity to explain what Mr Karolia means to me as a person.

“He is a man, who through the grace of Allah, is always full of hope and positivity, even when situations may appear hopeless to others.

“At times like these when the world is so full of sadness, stress and so many problems, this is a man we can all look up to for the positivity and inspiration that he provides.”

From my own perspective, I could not agree more with Tarek Sari.

When Osman Karolia is your friend, he is your friend for life.

I first met Osman a few years ago when I visited Unity Grammar College with my beautiful brother, the late great Ali Banat of the MATW Project.

My first ever meeting with Osman was when I visited Unity Grammar with the late, great Ali Banat

Osman and I hit it off immediately and for the past three years we have co-compered the Liverpool Eid Festival which in 2018 became the International Eid Festival.

I think one of the main reasons we work so well on stage and connect so well away from the stage is that we have shared values, which of course, include helping the less fortunate.

We also both realise that the world will be in big trouble if as responsible adults, we fail to do our best to mentor and nurture today’s youth.

After all, (and this quote actually forms part of Unity Grammar’s mission statement): “Our children today are the leaders of tomorrow”…..and for both of us focusing on youth is a huge priority in our lives.

“Our children today are the leaders of tomorrow” …. not just part of Unity Grammar’s mission statement but one of Osman’s most heartfelt philosophies

It’s been a joy for me to co-compere the International Eid Festival with Osman the past three years and there is nobody I would rather share the stage with!

Osman had this to say about our friendship.

“Brother Steve, when you contacted me to let me know you were going to run this story, I was lost for words.

“I can tell you that it’s a huge privilege as it’s given me the chance to let your readers know the initiatives I am currently working on and possibly express an opinion or two which may surprise them.

“It’s also given me a chance to talk about you, Steve!

“I liked you from day one, I greatly admire the work you do for the community for the sake of Allah, be it your charity work or your fantastic short videos or the inspiration you provide to young people.

“I was only saying to Salima earlier: “Steve Dabliz is a pandemic of goodness and a virus that we all need to catch!!”

RIGHT BACK AT YOU, MY BROTHER!!!!