Qais Ashfaq is a young, British professional boxer who as an amateur competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics and won a silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth games. He took time out to talk to HOTD.
HOTD: You’ve been boxing for 19 years which is a long time given you’re only 27. How did you get interested in the sport?
I started when I was 8 years old. My cousin used to box and he’s 10 years older than me and when he came back from his fights, talking about his trophies and his experience it always interested me, even when I was around 5 years old. My uncle noticed that and said when you’re the right age, I’ll take you to the gym and when I turned 8, he took me there and I liked the atmosphere. Being there felt so right and the people were all really nice, then with time I started training and sparring then fighting.
HOTD: When did it become less a hobby and more a discipline for you?
I’ve always been quite competitive but it took me 3 national titles to feel that I was any good. My first national title was when I was 12, the second when I was 13 and then 14. That’s when I thought I keep winning these titles, I must be pretty good at it, but I didn’t have that sense of being good at it until winning my third title.
HOTD: How important is the coach?
Very important because just like every person is different, their approach is different. Sometimes you need attention and confidence, at other times you need to be left alone. The coach knows your needs and helps you on the journey, so the coach is an essential component to shaping a fighter’s mindset.
HOTD: How have Islamic principles helped you in your sport and in maintaining discipline?
Alhamdulillah, I’ve always been very religious even as a child due to my upbringing. The best thing I can say to describe it is that it’s a mental state and only Islam can get you through it. You face challenges in training and at fights, and even when you face losses in any sport, your Islam guides you because of your faith in a higher power and trust in Allah. It’s that inner belief that everything is in Allah’s Hands and He is the best of planners. That’s something you have to trust and believe otherwise you may stop boxing instead of understanding that you are here for a reason. That reason could be to help other people, to inspire others, to spread the Deen, but your humility is what keeps you in check. Everything is according to Allah’s Plans.
My manager is Anthony Joshua’s team and he said “Never let success get to your head and failure get to your heart.” That’s the perfect way to put it. Similarly, Islam reminds us that no matter what titles or success we achieve, we aren’t better than anyone else, there’s only one higher power that is the best of all and that is Allah.
HOTD: Is it difficult being a Muslim in today’s sporting world?
There are difficulties at times but you have to trust in Allah (SWT) that whatever is happening is in His Hands and He is the best of planners. When you get in the ring sometimes, there are people who may not like you because of your religion or skin colour. It could be your opponent, the fans, the judges, but you have to have faith that whatever happens is from Allah and trust in Him and His Decree.
HOTD: Participating in the 2016 Summer Olympics must’ve been a proud moment for you and the family. How did it feel to be part of such an important event?
It was amazing in terms of experience, I think my performance wasn’t the best but it was everything to me at the time. Losing in that tournament just brought me back to reality and remembering Allah (SWT), my faith got me through that time. I look back and think it wasn’t meant to be. I had so many injuries going into that tournament coming from the qualifiers and on the night I didn’t perform well and everyone talks about luck, but it isn’t luck it’s Allah’s Plan.
HOTD: How long have you been following HOTD and how did you discover our platform?
I genuinely couldn’t tell you how long but ever since I started on Twitter so a very long time!
HOTD: Is there a particular Islamic guiding principle that really speaks to you and your experience?
A friend of mine, Bilal, said to me that people might ridicule you after you lose or be negative towards you as fans are very fickle and when you lose they can switch support, but remember one thing: it’s Allah (SWT) who gives you izzat (respect) and nothing else in this world. I always remember that. My Dad too has always been there for me and taught me so much. I remember at one time, there was a sponsor that pulled out and it really upset me and my Dad said why are you getting angry about this? I said it’s because I need the sponsorship. My Dad said “Always remember whatever you get, money, fame or anything, it’s all from Allah (SWT), so why are you getting upset? Whatever is meant for you will come your way. The sponsor isn’t taking it away, it’s Allah (SWT) who hasn’t permitted it for you.”
Alhamdulillah for these reminders.
There’s a lot of things my Dad has taught me that I understand more now that I’m a father myself. I’ve got a 7 month old child and everything I do is for him and my family. It’s why I come to the gym, work hard and Insha’Allah, with Allah’s Will, I’ll get to the top.
HOTD: Who’s your favourite boxer of all time?
In and out of the ring, it has to be Muhammad Ali because it wasn’t about just being the greatest boxer, but being a great humanitarian who spread Deen across the world.
Thanks to speaking to HOTD Qais and we pray you are successful in all you do and continue to inspire others.