Amir Malik on a campaign to make golf more inclusive for Muslims – Yalla Match



CNN

Amir Malik is a man who loves golf. However, golf did not always like him.

A fan of the sport since his childhood in Kingston upon Thames, London, he was fascinated by golf long before he took his first swing. But since he didn’t know anyone else who played, Malik settled on a side view.

That all changed in 2012 when his former boss invited him to try his hand at managing.

“From the first ball I thought, this is it. This game is great.

“I’ve played a lot of sports, but there’s not much when you go to sleep and think about it and you can’t wait to wake up to go back and play again.”

In the end, Malik was ready to take his game to the next level. He joined a municipal club in 2017 and started participating in tournaments on Sunday mornings.

In these events, the “ugly side” of the game was quickly revealed to Malik, who felt isolated by the clashing conflict between the club’s culture and his Islamic faith.

The annoyance would start before the ball was even kicked as Malik said he questioned views on his refusal to take part in betting on indoor competitions as gambling is forbidden in Islam. While on the course, stepping aside for prayer – an Islamic ritual performed five times a day – only exacerbated his fears.

You will feel fear and intimidation. How will people react? “He remembers.

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

His discomfort was compounded by the common tradition of club drinking after competitions. Since Malik does not drink alcohol, he was left to give his scorecard and get out early.

As he improved and played more prestigious courses, the annoyance often escalated to outright hostility. Malik, who is of Pakistani origin, said he was subjected to racism on the golf course.

“You turn up and immediately feel the vibe and the atmosphere, the way you talk, the way you’re treated,” he said.

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

“It really frustrated me because you feel it, you feel it, you grow into it, you know how you feel. And it will only happen after you hit one right down the middle of the track – when a car is smoking – and then people think, ‘Oh, he can play’, and it’s too late. ”

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

Encouraged by the interest he saw on his travels, in December 2019 Malik named his new venture – the Islamic Golf Association (MGA) – and sent out invitations for a charity golf day at The Grove, a prestigious venue outside London .

The first MGA event will be open to all faiths; Prayer facilities will be provided and there will be no drinking or gambling. Malik was stunned by the response. Within 24 hours, all 72 places were booked, with more than 100 people on the waiting list by the end of the week.

The event, which took place in August 2020, raised £18,000 for charity, and the sight of more than 60 players praying together in Grove’s garden was a watershed moment for Malik.

“It was unbelievable to me,” he said. “To be able to bring players together, feel safe and comfortable and be on our own platform.”

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

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

The overwhelming response to MGA events among Muslim women was equally exciting for Malik. After launching three demo tournaments in Birmingham last year, 1,000 players have already signed up for the women-only Flair series scheduled across the country over the next two months.

Malik believes Muslim women in the UK are being prevented from taking part in more sports due to the lack of facilities and women-only sessions.

The MGA has no dress code, meaning women can play in the niqab (face veil) and abaya (long robe) if they wish, and they rent out portions of the tournaments to be used exclusively for gourmet events, to ensure a comfortable experience for new players.

“The response has been absolutely incredible, amazing,” Malik said. “I tell the women: ‘I don’t care what you wear, what you look like, just come with a smile and a pair of trainers and we’ll take care of everything else. “We didn’t do anything revolutionary, we just made it available, and the demand is incredible.”

MGA has hosted women's golf tastings across the country during 2022.

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

Malik must have grown up following other sports for Islamic role models, such as English cricketer Moeen Ali. From Muhammad Ali, to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to Mohamed Salah, countless Muslim athletes have forged illustrious careers across a range of sports, but professional golf presents a rarity compared to the examples.

Male sports champion Moeen Ali in a match against Pakistan in September.

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

England Golf chief operating officer Richard Flint, along with groups such as the MGA, believes that the barriers that have contributed to a lack of diversity in the game can be understood and broken down.

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

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

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

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

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

“The golf course does not discriminate. Don’t ask the ball about your color, race or gender…However, it was a very closed club and was open to very few people.

Malik thinks it’s time for a change. “Golf has a lot of extraordinary values ​​and traditions, which I think should still be kept consistent, but should evolve… If it wants to open itself and allow other cultures and traditions to bring all these wonderful things into this game, it can be absolutely wonderful be.”

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