Amir Malik is on a path to make golf more inclusive for Muslims



CNN

Amir Malik is a man in love with golf. However, golf has not always loved him.

A sports fan since his childhood in Kingston upon Thames, London, he was fascinated by golf long before he took his first swing. But not knowing anyone else who played, Malik settled for a side view.

Everything changed in 2012, when his former boss invited him to try out at a training camp.

“From the first ball I thought, ‘This is it. This game is amazing,'” Malik, now 38, told CNN.

“I’ve played a lot of sports, but there aren’t too many when you go to bed thinking about it and can’t wait to get up to play again.”

Finally, Malik was ready to take his game to the next level. Joining a municipal club in 2017, he began competing in Sunday morning tournaments.

Amir Malik (L) is a keen golfer.

It was at these events that the “ugly side” of the game quickly revealed itself to Malik, who felt isolated by the clash between the club’s culture and his Muslim faith.

The unrest started before he even hit a ball, as Malik says he drew quizzical looks for his refusal to take part in betting in domestic competitions, as gambling is forbidden in Islam. On the street, taking a break to observe salat (ritual Islamic prayers performed five times a day) added to his anxieties.

“He would feel scared, intimidated. How will people react?” remembered.

“We always made sure we were out of the way, but you made me feel very, very uncomfortable.”

His discomfort was compounded by the common tradition of drinking in the club after competitions. Since Malik does not drink alcohol, he was allowed to hand in his score sheet and make an early exit.

As he improved and played more prestigious courses, the discomfort often turned into outright hostility. Malik, who is of Pakistani descent, said he has experienced racism on the golf course.

“You show up and you can immediately feel the vibe and the atmosphere, the way they talk to you, the way they treat you,” he said.

“And you’re like, ‘Wow, just because I have a beard and I’m brown and I don’t look like you, you probably think I can’t play or I don’t know you.’

“It used to frustrate me a lot because you feel it, you feel it, you grow up with it, you know what it feels like. And it’s not until you hit one right in the middle of the street, when you’ve smoked a car, that people think, ‘Oh, can play,’ and then it’s too late.”

Malik’s passion for golf was not tempered by his experiences. On the contrary, they encouraged him to seek out other British Muslims who shared his love of the game.

Encouraged by the “pockets” of interest he had seen on his travels, in December 2019 Malik named his new company – the Muslim Golf Association (MGA) – and sent out invitations for a charity day of golf at The Grove, a prestigious venue. on the outskirts of London.

The inaugural event of the MGA would be open to all religions; prayer facilities would be provided and there would be no alcohol or gambling. Malik was surprised by the answer. Within 24 hours, all 72 places had been reserved, with more than 100 people on the waiting list by the end of the week.

The event, held in August 2020, raised £18,000 for the charity, and the sight of more than 60 players praying together in the Grove playground marked a defining moment for Malik.

“That to me was unbelievable,” he said. “That we could bring guys together and feel safe and comfortable and be on our own platform.”

Play stops to allow golfers to pray during an MGA event at Carden Park, Cheshire in May.

Since then, the MGA has partnered with hotel chain Marriott to host a three-series tournament starting in 2021, with the winners of this year’s edition securing an all-expenses-paid trip to Turkish paradise of the Gulf of Belek.

“I looked at golf and thought, it’s a sport played by white, old, rich men, period,” Malik said. “Now we have a chance to show the world that non-whites can play this game and we’re doing really well at it.”

The overwhelming response to MGA events among Muslim women has been equally exciting for Malik. After launching a trio of pilot sessions in Birmingham last year, 1,000 players have already signed up to the series of women-only taster events scheduled across the country over the next two months.

Malik believes Muslim women in the UK are not taking part in more sports due to a lack of facilities and women-only sessions.

The MGA has no dress code, meaning women can play in a niqab (face veil) and abaya (long robe) if they wish, and hires sections of courses for their exclusive use for events tasting, to guarantee a comfortable experience for people. new players

“The response has been absolutely incredible, mind-blowing,” Malik said. “I tell women, ‘I don’t care what you wear, how you look, just come with a smile and a pair of sneakers and we’ll take care of the rest.’ We haven’t done anything revolutionary, we’ve just made it accessible , and the demand is incredible”.

The MGA has hosted women's golf taster sessions across the country throughout 2022.

To date, MGA events have attracted more than 1,300 participants. Looking ahead, the organization aims to take its efforts globally to reach as many new players as possible.

Growing up, Malik had to look to Muslim role models in other sports, such as English cricketer Moeen Ali. From Muhammad Ali to Kareem Abdul-Jabaar to Mohamed Salah, countless Muslim athletes have had brilliant careers in a variety of sports, but professional golf offers a comparative dearth of examples.

Malik's sporting hero Moeen Ali in action against Pakistan in September.

According to a survey cited by England Golf, the country’s governing body for amateur golf, only 5% of golfers in England are from ethnically diverse groups.

By building relationships with groups such as the MGA, England Golf Chief Operating Officer Richard Flint believes that barriers that have contributed to the lack of diversity in the game can be understood and broken down.

“No one should feel uncomfortable walking through the doors of a golf club or facility simply because of their age, race, ethnicity or gender,” Flint told CNN.

“As a modern, forward-thinking organization, we want to make golf open to everyone and change the negative perceptions about the game that belong to the past.”

In 2021, the MGA hosted The Race to Arden, with the final event staged at the Forest of Arden in Warwickshire.

While Malik hopes to soon see Muslim players competing on professional tours, he says he did not form the MGA to produce a Muslim Tiger Woods.

“If that happens as a byproduct, that’s great,” he said. “But if we can get the golf industry to look at itself and become accessible, open and diverse, that’s a huge success.

“The golf course does not discriminate. The ball doesn’t ask you what color, race or gender you are… but it has been a very closed club open to very few people.

Malik thinks it’s time for a change. “Golf has a lot of great values ​​and traditions, which I still think should stand firm, but it needs to evolve… if it were to open up and let other cultures and traditions bring all of this greatness to this game , could be absolutely wonderful.”

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