Amir Malik is a man who loves her golf. However, golf didn’t always like him.
A devoted sports enthusiast since his childhood in Kingston upon Thames, London, he was fascinated by golf long before he first took on 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 the driving field.
“From the first ball I thought, this is it. This game is great.
“I’ve played a lot of sports, but not so much when you go to bed and think about it and you can’t wait to get 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 competing in Sunday morning tournaments.
In these events, the “ugly side” of the game was quickly revealed to Malik, who felt isolated by the conflicting conflict between the club’s culture and his Islamic faith.
The annoyance would begin before the ball was hit, as Malik said he questioned glances about his refusal to participate in bets on indoor competitions, as gambling is forbidden in Islam. While out on the course, stepping aside for prayer – the Islamic ritual performed five times a day – only heightened 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 exacerbated by the common tradition of club drinking after competitions. Since Malik does not drink alcohol, he was left to hand his scorecard and get out early.
As he improved and played more prestigious courses, the annoyance often escalated into outright hostility. owner of Pakistani Pedigree, he 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, ‘Cool, just because I have a beard, I’m tan, and I don’t look like you,’ maybe you think I can’t play or you don’t think I know etiquette.
“It was really frustrating me because you feel it, you feel it, you grow into it, you know how you feel. And it’s only after you hit one right in the middle of the lane – when a car is smoking – and then people think, ‘Oh, he can play,’ and it’s time It’s too late.”
Malik’s passion for golf was not influenced by his experiences. On the contrary, they have prompted him to explore other British Muslims who share his love of the game.
Encouraged by the “pockets” of interest he saw on his travels, in December 2019, Malik put a name to 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 liquor 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 yard was a watershed moment for Malik.
“It was amazing to me,” he said. “To be able to bring men together, to feel safe and comfortable and to be on our own platform.”
Since then, MGA has partnered with the Marriott hotel chain to organize a tri-series tournament starting in 2021, with winners of this year’s edition receiving an all-expenses-paid trip to the Turkish golf paradise in Belek.
“I looked at golf and thought, ‘It’s a sport that white, old, rich men play,’” Malik said. “Now we have a chance to really 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 of events scheduled across the country over the next two months.
Malik believes that Muslim women in the UK are being prevented from participating in more sports due to the lack of facilities and women-only sessions.
The MGA has no dress code, which means that women can play in the niqab (face veil) and abaya (long robe) if they wish, and they rent out sections of the tournaments to use exclusively for gourmet events, to ensure a comfortable experience for new players.
“The response was absolutely incredible, mind-blowing,” Malik said. “I say to women, ‘I don’t care what you wear, how you look, just come with a smile and with a pair of trainers and we’ll take care of everything else. “We haven’t done anything revolutionary, we just made it available, and the demand is incredible.”
To date, MGA events have attracted over 1,300 participants. Looking ahead, the organization aims to make global efforts to reach as many new players as possible.
While growing up, Malik had to look for other sports to set an example for Muslims, such as the English cricketer Moeen Ali. From Mohamed AliTo Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Mohamed SalahCountless Muslim athletes have made illustrious careers across a range of sports, yet professional golf offers a rarity compared to the examples.
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.
Working alongside groups such as MGA, Richard Flint, chief operating officer of England Golf, believes 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 golf club or 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 change negative perceptions about the game that belongs in the past.”
While Malik hopes to soon see Muslim players compete on the professional rounds, he says he did not form the MGA to produce the Muslim Tiger Woods.
“If it happens as a by-product, that’s great,” he said. “But if we can get the golf industry to take a long hard look at itself and make it accessible to everyone, and make itself open and diverse, that’s a huge achievement.
“The golf course doesn’t discriminate. Don’t ask the ball about your colour, race or gender…However it was a very closed club and it was open to very few people.
Malik thinks it’s time for a change. “Golf has a lot of exceptional values and traditions, which I still think need to be kept consistent, but have to evolve… If it is to open itself up and allow other cultures and traditions to bring all these wonderful things into this game, it could be absolutely wonderful.”