The Pilgrimage of Amir Khan


Written by Darril Fosty

July 10, 2013, New York City, NY. (ISN) – On a hot and humid New York evening, on the rooftop of the Sanctuary Hotel, the 26-year old English boxer Amir Khan enters the swanky Haven cocktail lounge and restaurant in Manhattan’s Theatre District with his beautiful 21-year old wife Faryal Makhdoom.

Decked out in a smart looking blue-gray pinstripe suit by British designer Duncan Quinn, the quick talking Khan greets the guests in attendance who are there to welcome him and his wife back to the Big Apple.

Photo courtesy The Boxing Observer

Of British-Pakistani descent, the high profile Khan has gained legions of fans on both sides of the Atlantic, along with Pakistan, and throughout the Arab world, but despite his popularity the fighter also has his share of detractors labeling him as ‘arrogant’. If his critics are indeed correct, it is certainly not visible watching him as he enters the lounge taking time to acknowledge and talk to the people in attendance, many whom he has never met. “You know one thing, you have to be confident in this sport,” said Khan. “A lot of people take that the wrong way and think you are being cocky. I’m confident, not cocky. I have my feet firmly on the ground. I respect people; I never talk trash or anything. I’m a true professional.”

When asked if he felt any added pressures being a high profile Muslim public figure in a socio-political environment where daily world news headlines, and current events, often exploit tensions creating misconceptions of how the Muslim faith is viewed by the West, Khan emphatically states “No.”

“Whenever an event happens in the world, bad events, I always get a phone call. My team gets pestered with phone calls ‘Amir what do you think of this, Amir what do you think of that?’. . . I want people to follow my footsteps, that’s what I [have] said. Continuing in earnest Khan adds, “You know, in religion you always get good and you always get bad, I want people to follow my footsteps and do what I am doing – I do good things, that’s what I want (from others).”

Part of Khan’s leading by example mantra has been working to raise money for several charitable causes from England to Pakistan and in the United States. Married to Makhdoom in a lavish Muslim ceremony held at the New York’s Waldorf Hotel in June of last year, Makhdoom, a former resident of Staten Island, and an area devastated by Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Relief effort took on great importance to his wife, and to the boxer. “We raised some money for Sandy. We sent it to a charity over here so they could distribute clothing, food, and that stuff,” said Khan. “Look, I am not from America, my wife is from America, but still, it’s for charity, people need help and me being an influential (public) person in England, I could show my support by doing that.”

Part of his efforts also included recruiting other high profile British athletes to take on the cause. “I even got a couple friends of mine, I know a lot of footballers, I know a lot of famous people in England, I got them involved in it,” Khan exuberantly asserts. “I have a lot of friends like soccer players from Wayne Rooney to all the big names, I know them all. I also got them to put a hand in their pocket and also show support.”

Yet, Sandy Relief is only the latest of many of Khan’s charitable efforts including working with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Multiple Sclerosis Society, and The New Children’s Hospital Appeal, all efforts clearly at the heart of what he feels is part of his roll is as a world public sporting figure – all of which he takes great pride when discussing. “It gives me a warm feeling when I help people who are hit by disaster. I did the same when Pakistan had an earthquake and when Pakistan had a flood. I love to help. When the Haiti disaster happened I helped out with that a lot. When the (Bangladesh) tsunami happened, I helped in that. I like to give my help.”

With his actions being watched by millions, Khan wants to use his opportunity in the limelight to help set forth an example. He continued stating, “Being an influential person, and people looking up to me, I have [to be] a roll model. If I say something, or if I do something, people follow my footsteps, so I want them to do the right things in life. Charity only humbles you.”

Currently negotiating the final details of an anticipated December 7th battle with IBF Welterweight champion Devon Alexander, the 2006 Olympic Silver Medalist and two-time World Champion Khan (28(19)-3) is moving up to 148 pounds in the hopes of conquering, currently, boxing’s most lauded divisions.

Throughout boxing’s history many a warrior has faltered after moving to heavier divisions but the confident Khan isn’t worried about making the jump, pointing instead to the recent success others have found after making the same move. “I have been at this weight for over six years, if you look at the people in the weight division (Marcos) Maidana, Alexander, (Tim) Bradley, (Paulie) Malignaggi, they have all won world titles. I am the only one who has stayed at the same weight”

For Khan, his move comes in the wake of what many have labeled “shaky” victories over Julio Díaz and Carlos Molina, both coming on the heels of losses to Lamont Peterson and Danny García. But according to Khan, he attributes his recent ‘less than stellar’ performances to failing to make a jump in weight class earlier, a move he sees not only as a natural one but one long overdue. “I use to kill myself making the weight, now it will be much more easier. . . Sometimes (boxers) do lose weight, but not in the right way,” said Khan. “As you can see I am getting bigger but I am a very disciplined fighter, I’ll still make the weight regardless. I used to kill myself making the weight, it’s not healthy for me. I use to go into fights not healthy.”

A win over Alexander will catapult Khan to the top of the Welterweights with the likes of Mayweather, Bradley, and Pacquiao and, presumably a mega money showdown in 2014. “We are working towards a Floyd Mayweather fight,” states Khan. “I think winning this fight will take us to that next step toward the Floyd fight and being world champion. I want to fight a notable opponent, and (Alexander) is a notable fighter.” Khan continued, “Whoever they put in front of me I’ll fight. My dream is to fight the best out there, you know, the likes of Floyd. I have a great team around me. I have Golden Boy promotions who are with me, helping me, supporting me. It’s all about just working hard and achieving my goals – my ambitions, I am working hard towards them.”

The articulate Khan has not only been successful in promoting himself on his way to arguably becoming Great Britain’s highest-profile boxer, but being of Pakistani decent, the fighter has an unique opportunity of being a world-wide ambassador of his sport. It is a roll Khan clearly embraces advocating that he would like to see his next fight potentially take place in Dubai. “Being a Pakistani, I think it can be huge if it happened in Dubai because . . . I mean, Dubai is like a new Vegas . They are trying to take all the biggest events in the world there. You have everything there, why not?”

In recent years, Dubai has showcased some of the world’s biggest sporting events from International Association Football (soccer) to Formula 1, and this October, the UAE will host a series of cricket test matches between top ranked South Africa and Pakistan. According to the Dubai Sports City website, their vision is “To create one of the world’s premier sporting destinations in line with the overall vision of Dubai to create world-class sporting infrastructure and become a destination for the sporting world.”

Part of this vision is to aggressively move into the realm of hosting boxing’s biggest events, and the Muslim Khan being the perfect draw for a sports crazed Muslim nation primed to become one of boxing’s biggest destinations. For Khan he sees Dubai, not only as a great opportunity for boxing, but for himself stating, “It is my dream to fight there. . . . There is so much they want to do with boxing. They want the likes of Floyd (Mayweather) to be there, myself to be there. So lets try, why not?”

Why not Las Vegas?

“I love to fight in Vegas, Vegas is amazing. America is amazing. I love the fans in America but I thought it is something people already know. Lets open a new avenue and maybe put something else on the map for boxing.”

Dubai is not the only location Khan sees as a new venue to showcase his talents, but also potentially fighting in diverse locations akin to Mohammad Ali when Ali promoted the sport of boxing world-wide fighting all over the globe from Kinshasa, Zaire, Jakarta, Indonesia, Quezon City, Philippines, and Tokyo, Japan. “I would like to fight in China one day,” states Khan. “I would like to fight in Pakistan itself, being a Pakistani, and I would like to fight all over. I did that as an amateur, I would like to do that professionally as well. I would love to go all over to these big destinations, to fight over there and put boxing on the map.”

An admirer of the great Mohammad Ali, Khan sees the legendary Muslim fighter as roll model and one he hopes to emulate, not only in the ring, but outside it as well. “I want to be a people’s champion like Mohammad Ali was, that is what I want to achieve. It’s all about being small (humble) and doing the right things and winning the fans over. I know I can fight anywhere in the world if I they take a liking to me. I have that kind of style, it’s exciting, so let’s see how it goes.”

If Khan is to be viewed as a “people’s champion,” he not only has to claim the title of undisputed world champion, having conquered the best of his new weight class, but he has to become a figure transcending both borders and cultures. This is something he already has done on a personal level. “I have a lot of English friends, I have a lot of Indian friends,” remarks Khan. “My best friend is an Indian. It’s different, a lot of people have (surprisingly) said, you’re a Pakistani and your best friend is an Indian?. . . I’m one of the guys, religion and stuff doesn’t make a difference – if your heart is clean, and you are a clean person, (you should) do what you want.”

For Khan, getting past a difficult opponent in Alexander will be no easy task. But if the Brit does put in a good performance decisively defeating the American, he will be on his way to potentially achieving the boxing and personal goals he has set forth for himself possibly becoming a world-wide Muslim hero to many – one transcending borders, cultures, and religions.

In the second chapter of the Koran, the prophet Mohammed writes: “So we have made you the center of the nations that you should bear witness to men.” These words are at the heart of what it means to be a Muslim and how one should live their life. In the case of Khan, he walks with confidence between the Muslim world, the Western world, and the boxing world. Like many of his brethren before him, he too is on a personal pilgrimage.