Amir Malik is a devoted golf enthusiast, but the sport has not always reciprocated his affection.
Since he was a child living in Kingston upon Thames, London, Malik has been a dedicated sports enthusiast. He developed a strong interest in golf even before he tried it for the first time. However, since he didn’t know anyone else who played, Malik had to settle for being a spectator.
In 2012, everything changed for him when his previous supervisor offered him the opportunity to try out a driving range.
Malik, who is currently 38 years old, shared with CNN that upon seeing the first ball, he immediately knew that this game was truly amazing.
“I’ve participated in various sports, but there aren’t many that make me go to bed thinking about it and eagerly anticipate waking up to play again.”
In 2017, Malik joined a local club and started participating in Sunday morning tournaments, ready to elevate his game.
During these occasions, Malik was quickly exposed to the negative aspects of the game, feeling alienated by the stark contrast between club culture and his Muslim beliefs.
Before hitting the ball, Malik experienced discomfort as he received questioning looks for not participating in gambling during internal competitions, which goes against his Islamic beliefs. On the course, taking a break to perform salat (Islamic prayers performed five times a day) only added to his anxieties.
He remembered feeling frightened and overwhelmed, wondering how others would respond.
“We always took pains to avoid being in the way, but you were made to feel extremely uncomfortable.”
His discomfort was worsened by the common practice of drinking in the clubhouse after competitions. Since Malik does not consume alcohol, he had to turn in his scorecard and leave early.
As he honed his skills and frequented higher-end courses, discomfort frequently turned into overt animosity. Malik, who is of Pakistani heritage, disclosed experiencing discriminatory behavior while playing golf.
“He mentioned that upon arrival, one can immediately sense the energy and ambiance, as well as the manner in which they are addressed and treated.”
“I am surprised that you would judge me based on my appearance, assuming that because I have a beard and a different skin color, I am incapable of playing or understanding the etiquette.”
In the past, this situation caused me a great deal of frustration because I could sense and feel it. Growing up in it, I knew exactly what it felt like. However, it wasn’t until I hit a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway that people recognized my abilities. Unfortunately, by then, it was too late.
Malik’s enthusiasm for golf was not diminished by his past encounters. In fact, they motivated him to seek out other British Muslims who also had a passion for the sport.
After noticing some interest during his travels, Malik decided to officially launch his new venture in December 2019. He named it the Muslim Golf Association (MGA) and sent out invitations for a charity golf event at The Grove, a renowned location near London.
The first event organized by the MGA will be inclusive of all religions, with prayer accommodations and restrictions on alcohol and gambling. Malik was surprised by the overwhelming response. In just 24 hours, all 72 spots were filled and over 100 individuals were added to the waitlist by the end of the week.
In August 2020, a fundraising event was organized and raised £18,000 for charity. A significant moment for Malik was witnessing over 60 players praying together in the courtyard of the Grove.
“I found it absolutely incredible,” he remarked. “The fact that we were able to bring people together and create a sense of safety and ease in our own space.”
The MGA has joined forces with Marriott hotels to host a tri-series tournament starting in 2021. The champions of this year’s event will receive a fully-funded trip to Belek, a popular golf destination in Turkey.
“I initially perceived golf as a sport exclusively for wealthy, elderly Caucasian men,” expressed Malik. “However, we now have the chance to prove that individuals of color can excel in this game as well.”
Malik is thrilled by the enthusiastic reception of MGA events by Muslim women. Last year, three trial sessions were held in Birmingham, and already 1,000 players have registered for the series of women-only introductory events planned throughout the country in the next two months.
Malik posits that the participation of Muslim women in sports in the UK is hindered due to insufficient availability of facilities and sessions exclusively for women.
The MGA does not have a specific dress requirement, allowing women to wear a niqab and abaya if they choose. Additionally, the organization reserves sections of golf courses for introductory events, prioritizing the comfort of new players.
Malik expressed her amazement at the overwhelming response, stating that it has been truly remarkable. She encourages women to join regardless of their appearance, simply bringing a positive attitude and a pair of trainers, as they take care of everything else. Their approach may not be groundbreaking, but it has made a significant impact, as shown by the high demand.
The golf course does not show any bias.
So far, MGA gatherings have drawn a crowd of more than 1,300 people. In the future, the group’s goal is to expand its reach worldwide in order to attract even more new players.
During his childhood, Malik had to seek out Muslim role models in other sports, like England’s Moeen Ali who played cricket. From Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar to Mohamed Salah, numerous Muslim athletes have achieved great success in various sports, but there is a noticeable lack of representation in professional golf.
A survey referenced by England Golf, which oversees amateur golf in the country, revealed that only 5% of golfers in England come from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
Richard Flint, the chief operating officer of England Golf, believes that forming connections with organizations like the MGA can help us comprehend and dismantle the obstacles that have led to a lack of diversity in the sport.
Flint told CNN that everyone should feel welcome at golf clubs and facilities, regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, or gender.
“As a progressive and contemporary institution, our goal is to make golf accessible to all and challenge outdated stigmas surrounding the sport.”
Malik’s goal is to eventually witness Muslim athletes participating in professional tours, but he clarifies that his intention in creating the MGA was not to create a Muslim version of Tiger Woods.
He expressed, “If this occurs as a result, then that’s wonderful. However, if we can encourage the golf industry to reflect on itself and become more inclusive and diverse, then that would be a significant accomplishment.”
The golf course does not show favoritism. The ball does not inquire about your race, gender, or ethnicity… yet, it has been an exclusive club with limited membership.
Malik thinks it is necessary to make some changes. He believes that golf has important values and customs that should be preserved, but it also needs to adapt and progress. If it were to become more inclusive and allow diverse cultures and traditions to contribute, the game could reach its full potential.
This article has been revised to provide clarity on the partnership between England Golf and the MGA.