Amir Malik is a devoted golf enthusiast, but the sport has not always reciprocated his passion.
As a passionate sports enthusiast since his early years in Kingston upon Thames, London, he developed a strong interest in golf even before trying it out. However, as he didn’t have anyone to play with, Malik settled for watching from the sidelines.
In 2012, everything shifted when his previous employer offered him the opportunity to try his skills at a driving range.
“At the age of 38, Malik shared with CNN that upon playing the first ball, he was immediately struck by the incredible nature of the game.”
“I’ve participated in numerous sports, but only a few have left me eagerly anticipating the next day’s game.”
In 2017, Malik joined a local club and started participating in Sunday morning tournaments, signaling his readiness to elevate his game.
During these occasions, Malik was exposed to the negative aspects of the game, which made him feel alienated due to the conflicting values between club culture and his Muslim beliefs.
Before hitting the ball, Malik would feel uncomfortable due to the disapproving glances he received for not participating in bets during in-house competitions, as gambling goes against his religion of Islam. While on the course, taking time to perform salat (Islamic prayers performed five times a day) only added to his worries.
He remembered feeling frightened and intimidated, wondering how people would react.
“We always ensured that we stayed out of the way, but you were constantly made to feel extremely uncomfortable.”
His discomfort was worsened by the usual practice of drinking in the clubhouse after competitions. Since Malik doesn’t consume alcohol, he had to submit his scorecard and leave early.
As he honed his skills and frequented more esteemed golf courses, discomfort frequently transformed into blatant animosity. Malik, of Pakistani heritage, disclosed encountering racial discrimination while playing the sport.
“You turn up and immediately you can feel the vibe and the atmosphere, the way you’re spoken to, the way you’re treated,” he said.
“I am taken aback by the fact that my physical appearance, such as my beard and skin color, may lead you to assume that I am incapable of playing or unaware of proper etiquette.”
“I used to feel extremely frustrated because I could sense and experience it. Growing up in this environment, I knew what it felt like. It wasn’t until I hit a perfect shot down the middle of the fairway that people recognized my skill, but by then, it was already too late.”
Malik’s love for golf remained unaffected by his past experiences. In fact, they motivated him to seek out other British Muslims who also enjoyed the sport.
Inspired by the positive reception he received during his travels, Malik decided to officially launch his new business venture in December 2019. He named it the Muslim Golf Association (MGA) and extended invitations to a charity golf event at The Grove, a highly regarded location near London.
The first event organized by the MGA will welcome individuals of all faiths. Prayer accommodations will be available and there will be no consumption of alcohol or participation in gambling. Malik was surprised by the overwhelming reaction. In just one day, all 72 spots were reserved and by the end of the week, there were over 100 people on the waiting list.
In August of 2020, an event was held that raised a total of £18,000 for charity. The event also included a powerful moment as over 60 players came together to pray in the courtyard of the Grove, marking a significant milestone for Malik.
He expressed his amazement, saying, “It was truly incredible that we were able to gather people and create a sense of safety and ease on our own platform.”
The MGA has teamed up with Marriott hotels to organize a tri-series tournament starting in 2021. The champions of this year’s tournament will receive a fully paid trip to Belek, a golfing destination in Turkey.
Malik expressed his initial perception of golf as a sport exclusively played by wealthy, Caucasian men. However, he now sees it as a chance to prove that individuals of different racial backgrounds can excel in the game.
Malik is thrilled by the enthusiastic reception from Muslim women towards MGA events. Following the successful launch of three trial sessions in Birmingham last year, over 1,000 players have already registered for the upcoming series of women-only introductory events taking place throughout the country in the next two months.
Malik is of the opinion that Muslim women in the UK are facing obstacles in their participation in sports due to insufficient options for all-female facilities and sessions.
The MGA does not have a strict dress requirement, allowing women to wear a niqab and abaya while playing. They also reserve sections of courses for special events, making sure new players feel at ease.
Malik expressed his amazement at the overwhelming response, stating that it has been truly incredible. He encourages women to come as they are, with a smile and comfortable shoes, as the team will handle the rest. This approach may not be groundbreaking, but it has made the event more accessible and the demand for it has been astounding.
“The golf course does not show prejudice.”
Up to now, MGA events have brought in more than 1,300 attendees. Moving ahead, the group’s goal is to expand its reach globally and attract as many new players as possible.
During his childhood, Malik had to seek inspiration from athletes in other sports who were also Muslim, like Moeen Ali, a cricketer from England. From Muhammad Ali to Kareem Abdul-Jabaar to Mohamed Salah, there have been many successful Muslim athletes in various sports, but the world of professional golf lacks similar representation.
A recent study referenced by England Golf, the governing organization for amateur golf in the country, revealed that only 5% of golfers in England come from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
Richard Flint, England Golf’s COO, believes that forming connections with organizations like MGA can help us comprehend and dismantle the obstacles that have led to a lack of diversity in the sport.
CNN spoke with Flint who stated that individuals should not be made to feel uncomfortable when entering a golf club or facility based on their age, race, ethnicity, or gender.
As a progressive and innovative institution, our goal is to make golf accessible to all and shift outdated beliefs about the sport.
Although Malik’s goal is to have Muslim athletes participating in professional tours, he clarifies that his intention in forming the MGA was not to create a Muslim version of Tiger Woods.
“He expressed that it would be an added bonus if that were to occur, but the main goal is to encourage the golf industry to reflect on itself and promote accessibility, openness, and diversity. This would be a significant accomplishment.”
The golf course does not show bias. The ball does not inquire about your color, race, or gender… yet it is a exclusive club that has only allowed a select few to join.
Malik thinks it is necessary to make changes. He believes that golf has many important principles and customs that should be preserved, but it also needs to adapt and grow. If it were more inclusive and open to different cultures and traditions, it has the potential to become even better.
This article has been revised to provide further information on the connection between England Golf and the MGA.