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



Aamir Malik is a man who loves golf. Yet golf didn’t always love him.

A devoted sports fan since his childhood in Kingston upon Thames, London, he was fascinated with golf long before he took his first swing. But not knowing anyone else to play, Malik settled for a side scene.

That all changed in 2012, when his former boss invited him to try his hand at a driving range.

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

“I’ve played a lot of games, but not many games when you fall asleep thinking about it and you can’t wait to get back up and play again.”

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

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

The discomfort begins before a ball is even hit, as Malik says he questioned his refusal to participate in gambling on intramural matches, as gambling is forbidden in Islam. Off course, stepping aside to observe namaz – the formal Islamic prayer offered five times a day – added to his worries.

“You will feel scared, scared. How are people going to react?” he recalled.

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

His uneasiness was exacerbated by the common tradition of clubhouse drinking after the contest. Since Malik does not drink alcohol, he is left to hand over his scorecard and make a quick exit.

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

“You come in and immediately you can feel the atmosphere and the atmosphere, the way you’re spoken to, the way you’re treated,” he said.

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

“It used to really frustrate me because you feel it, you feel it, you grow up in it, you know what it feels like. And it’s not until you hit one down the middle of the fairway — when you drink a drive — that people think, ‘Oh, he can play,’ and by then it’s too late. ”

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

In December 2019 Malik, encouraged by the “pockets” of interest he had seen on his travels, gave his new venture a name – the Muslim Golf Association (MGA) – and sent an invitation to a charity golf day at the prestigious venue The Grove. . Just outside of London.

MGA’s first event will be open to all religions; Prayer facilities will be provided and there will be no alcohol or gambling. Malik was surprised by this answer. Within 24 hours, all 72 places were booked, with over 100 people on the waiting list by the end of the week.

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

“To me it was just amazing,” he said. “That we can get guys together, feel safe and comfortable and just be on our platform.”

During an MGA event at Cardon Park, Cheshire in May, play is stopped to allow golfers to pray.

Since then, the MGA has partnered with the Marriott hotel chain to organize a tri-series tournament starting in 2021, with the winners of this year’s edition all-expense paid at the Turkish golfing paradise of Belek.

“I looked at golf and thought, this is a game played by white, old, rich men,” Malik said. “We now have an opportunity to really show the world that non-white people can play this game and we’re very good at it.”

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

Malik believes that Muslim women in the UK are being held back from participating in more sports due to the lack of all-female facilities and sessions.

The MGA has no dress code, which means women can play wearing the niqab (face veil) and abaya (long robe) if they wish, and it designates sections of the course for its exclusive use for taster events. is, to ensure a comfortable experience. new players

“The response has been absolutely incredible, mind-blowing,” said Malik. “I tell 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 haven’t done anything revolutionary, we’ve just made it accessible, and the demand is fantastic.”

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 global to reach out to as many new players as possible.

Growing up, Malik had to look to other sports for Muslim role models, such as England cricketer Moeen Ali. From Muhammad Ali to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Muhammad Salah, countless Muslim athletes have had illustrious careers in a range of sports, yet professional golf offers a comparative dearth of examples.

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

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

By establishing links with groups such as the MGA, England Golf chief operating officer Richard Flint believes barriers contributing to a lack of diversity in the sport can be understood and broken down.

“No one should feel uncomfortable walking through the doors of a golf club or facility 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 the negative perceptions about the game that have existed in the past.”

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

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

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

“Golf courses don’t discriminate. The ball doesn’t ask what color, race or gender you are… yet it remains a very closed club open to very few.

Malik believes it is time for a change. “Golf has a lot of unique values ​​and traditions that I still think it needs to hold on to, but it needs to evolve … if it’s going to open itself up to other cultures and To let the traditions bring all that to the game, then it can be absolutely fantastic.”

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