Suz Member is a fire fighter, youth mentor and the first professional British-born Indian boxer to fight in Africa. In this exclusive interview with Dilly Hussain, he tells us about the role Islam plays in his life and what made him turn down a career-changing sponsorship deal with an alcohol firm.
DH: Suz tell us a bit about your family, your background, where you were born and where you currently reside?
SM: I was born and bred in Preston, Lancashire. I have wonderful parents and a family. Originally I’m Indian Gujrati.
DH: How far did you get in academia?
SM: I did alright in school but wasted a lot of time. I was not the most studious of pupils and would get in trouble a lot.
DH: Did you ever get into fights when you were younger?
SM: I was never a trouble-maker but got into fights. In some instances, trouble with the police which I’m not proud of but its made me the person I am today.
DH: When did you start boxing and why?
SM: I started boxing at the age of 11. I went with a friend after reading the Rocky Book front to back in one night.
DH: When did you become a fire-fighter and what were you doing before that?
SM: I became a fire-fighter 14 years ago. Before that I worked in retail, and as a sales rep.
DH: How long have you been a practising Muslim?
SM: I am blessed to be born a Muslim. I try my best to always do the right thing. I am not the best example of a good Muslim but I try. I battle with my demons every day in order to stay on the right path. Like every human, I have flaws and shortcomings, but I pray Allah (swt) gives me strength to remain steadfast on His deen. I’m not a preacher who judges others, I simply try and perform the obligatory actions as Muslim and let Allah (swt) be the judge.
DH: You were the first Briton to have a high-profile professional fight in Zambia. How did that make you feel?
SM: I fought in Zambia and won. I loved my time there. I was made to feel like a superstar and was well looked after during my stay there.
DH: You have a considerable following in Central Africa due to your charity work in Zambia. What kind of projects are you involved with and what motivated you to get involved?
SM: At the time I was doing mentoring work with children for a government funded organisation called “North Lancashire Training Group” (NLTG) which resulted in an invitation to go Zambia for 10 days to mentor the children there. It was the most humbling experience of my life.
I donated money that I earned through boxing and mentoring to Zambian schools and charities. I did this because majority of the people there didn’t even have basic necessities like food, shelter, clothes and clean water, so it felt wrong to take when they had very little to give.
DH: How did the six-figure sponsorship deal come about? If you don’t mind me asking, how much was it and who’s the firm?
SM: Unfortunately for legal reasons I can’t disclose who the company was or how much the contract was for, but it was significant. The deal came through my mentoring work for NLTG in Africa. That was over 18 months ago, it wasn’t a straight forward deal, there were a lot of tie-ins and clauses involving the marketing of their alcohol brand, hence I turned it down without a second thought. I am a Muslim first, a boxer second.
I never courted publicity for this decision, so I’m actually surprised at all the fuss made over it…I mean, isn’t it just standard procedure to refuse something that is clearly prohibited in Islam? Funnily enough, this was only brought up by a presenter during a recent interview I had with BBC Radio Lancashire.
To be honest, I had forgotten about it and moved on. What shocked me is the fact that some people were surprised that I turned the deal down! I guess it’s a reflection of how society perceives the concept of money without any relevance to how it’s obtained or where it’s come from. Haram money comes, haram money goes – there is no barakah (blessings) in it. I am still seeking sponsorships, so businesses please come forward!
Furthermore, due to the mentoring work I do with young people in schools and prisons, it would be hypocritical of me if I had accepted the sponsorship deal and marketed alcohol. I never even told my family about it, I had no interest in it so why should I?
DH: Between work, training and fighting, what other hobbies and interests do you have?
SM: Eating out, travelling, meeting new people and socialising.
DH: Who do you think is the greatest boxer in history?
SM: I have no favourites but I enjoyed watching Muhammad Ali and Prince Naseem Hamed fight.
DH: Who is a modern great?
SM: I don’t really have one. I respect and admire anyone who steps into the ring competitively.
DH: Some ulama (scholars) believe that boxing (contact sport in general) is haram, because the Prophet Muhammad (saw) said in an authentic hadith “do not strike the face” whilst others have said the environment is not Islamic (free mixing and selling/consumption of alcohol). What are your thoughts on this?
SM: I am neither qualified nor knowledgeable enough to comment on this matter. I box for me, as a sport and Allah (swt) will be the judge over all that I did in this life.
DH: What role has Islam played in your life, in public and private?
SM: I try praying my five daily salaat, I keep the obligatory fasts regardless of training or fights and I pay my zakat. I try my best to implement Islam in my private and public life. All I want is for the last words to leave my mouth before dying is “La ilaha illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah”, and that my Creator accepts the good that I have done in this life.
DH: What’s your advice to Muslim youth?
SM: I am not pious (far from it) or knowledgeable enough to advise anyone but what I will say is this – you are blessed to be born with Islam into a Muslim family, don’t waste that privilege. Islam is a complete way of life, not just a religion!
DH: Suz, like you, I was a bit of a rebel when I was a teenager. My dad got me into boxing at the age of 15 and I had a few amateur fights. Next time you’re down south, we can have a little sparring session? Body shots only of course!
SM: Ha ha! Dilly you’re a character bruv! Why not? I better be careful then, you might hurt me!
DH: What do you think of 5Pillarz?
5Pillarz is wicked mashAllah! I’ve bookmarked it as my first “go to” for British Muslim news. Alhamdulillah, the content, the team behind it, the diversity of opinions and groups that you give platform to is truly representative of British Muslims and an asset to the community in general. Anything which promotes Islam correctly and positively is good.
You can follow Suz Member on Twitter @suzmember and Dilly Hussain @DillyHussain88