x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Dubai home for sport's perfect match

The wedding of Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza is the talk of their home countries. But a similar couple moved here partly to seek tolerance.

The Indian tennis player Sania Mirza will marry the former Pakistani cricket captain Shoaib Malik.
The Indian tennis player Sania Mirza will marry the former Pakistani cricket captain Shoaib Malik.

DUBAI // This is where they found love and plan to start their married life, where millions of their compatriots have traded and worked and developed lifelong ties. Shoaib Malik, 34, the former Pakistani cricket captain, and 24-year-old Sania Mirza, the Indian tennis star, created a frenzy this week in their respective home countries - such a marriage is controversial given their long history of political conflict - when they announced their engagement.

They met in Australia at the start of the year. It is said they got to know each other during the Dubai Tennis Championship, when Malik was playing in the Pakistan-England series in Dubai. The high-profile couple say they love Dubai and are keen to live here. Whether the issues are due to nationality or religion, sometimes a couple in a mixed marriage has to find a new neutral ground to start over.

The UAE was also such a place for Anandalakshmi Mohammed Shareef, a teacher, and her husband KM Shareef, an accountant, they fell in love while at college in Kerala, India. She is a Hindu, he a Muslim. Mrs Shareef's family objected to their romance but, after five years, they married and Mr Shareef, now 38, decided to move the family here. That was 10 years ago. They now have a son, Azad, five, and live in Abu Dhabi.

"There was lots of hassle from my side - full-fledged opposition," said Mrs Shareef, 31. After the birth of Azad, the families reconciled. However, the Shareefs' decision to carve out a new life away from India was motivated not only by financial stability, but also by the chance to raise their child in a place where both religions are respected. "Here, when you go anywhere, no one cares, there is no worry about discrimination," said Mrs Shareef.

"But our decision to move here was for financial stability. Especially for this kind of marriage, you need that." Malik and Mirza need not worry about financial stability. Sources close to the cricketer said yesterday they were looking for a luxury apartment. They are expected to move to Palm Jumeirah after their wedding. As the owner of property here, Malik already has a UAE residency visa. The prize for winning a tournament in Canada in 2008 was an apartment in Ajman and a visa to live in the Emirates.

Malik's teammates from his Bangladeshi club side, Mohammedan Sporting Club, are staying at a hotel in Ajman this week, while the all-rounder tries to hide from the media in Dubai. They are taking part in the PCL Twenty20 Bashundhara Cup in Sharjah, which ends on Saturday. On Tuesday, after Malik announced his wedding plans, he hammered 92 runs of just 25 balls ensuring a victory for his team. Malik left the stadium straight after the game, avoiding the waiting press.

But Malik's teammates said he was very happy and they wished him all the best, while fans in his home city of Sialkot celebrated the wedding announcement. In Hyderabad, Mirza's home, she said Malik had called her from Sharjah to tell her about his innings. He sounded very excited, she said. Malik has friends and family in this country and Mirza is said to be looking forward to having many friends from both communities.

Mrs Shareef said the sports stars "made a nice couple". But she added: "After marriage, it's a different story. I pray they stay together." pmenon@thenational.ae sbhattacharya@thenational.ae