Fiqh of Gambling


Do raffles take the same ruling as lotteries? – At work they do this thing, you buy some tickets, they put them in balloons and you can win 1/2 a day off or a coffee gift certificate, etc. They also play the lottery here, when asked I refused that, but this raffle type thing caught me off-guard and the new girl (me) got put on the spot…right afterwards I felt worried b/c it hit me that this may be the same as lotteries?


In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

Gambling, as any sound minded person will tell you, is a great evil of the society and immensely harmful to the wellbeing of the human social order. As such, Islam has categorically and firmly prohibited all forms of gambling, so that the human society is saved from its ill-effects and harms.

Allah Most High says:

O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination of Satans handwork: Abstain from such (abomination), that you may prosper. Satans plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: Will you not then abstain? (Surah al-Maidah, V. 90-91)

In the above verse of the Quran, the term al-Maysir has been used in order to describe gambling, whilst in some other texts of the Sunnah, we find the word al-Qimar being used. The meaning of both these terms and expressions is the same.

Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) says: al-Maysir is the al-Qimar. The same has been narrated from Mujahid, Said ibn al-Musayyib, Hasan al-Basri, Muhammad ibn Sirin, Ata ibn Abi Rabah and others (may Allah be pleased with them all). (See: Tafisr Ibn Jarir, 2/358)

The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) emphasised the prohibition of gambling to such an extent that even considering to take part in gambling was regarded to be blameworthy.

Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: Whosoever says to another: come lets gamble should give in charity (m: as a form of expiation for intending to gamble). (Sahih al-Bukhari, no. 4579)

Imam Abu Bakr al-Jassas (Allah have mercy on him) states:

There is no difference of opinion between the scholars regarding the prohibition of gambling. (Ahkam al-Quran, 1/329)

In this brief answer, I do not intend to mention all the various evidences for the prohibition of gambling, and its harms and ill-effects, for that is a forgone conclusion. However, what I do intend to do is to deal with the definition of gambling and its various forms prevalent today.

Definition of gambling

Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) says in the commentary of verse 219 of Surah al-Baqarah:

al-Maysir is al-Qimar. In the days of ignorance (jahiliyyah), an individual would stake/risk his wife and wealth whilst gambling with another person. Then whosoever defeated his opponent would take away his (the defeated persons) wife and wealth. (See: Tafsir Ibn Jarir, 2/358)

The above statement of one of the Messenger of Allahs (Allah bless him & give him peace) great Companions clearly indicates that in the days of Jahiliyyah, people would not only gamble with their wealth, rather with their wives and families also.

In the abovementioned verse of Surah al-Maidah, gambling with arrows has been referred to. The pagan Arabs would slaughter a camel and divide it into various big and small parts. Each part of the slaughtered camel would be given a name, and that name would then be inscribed upon an arrow. Thereafter, all these arrows would be gathered along with some other empty arrows, and picked in the name of all those who were taking part. In whosevers name an arrow would be picked, he/she would receive the part of the camel written on that arrow, whilst those in whose name empty arrows were picked, not only did they not receive any share in the camel, rather they would have to pay for the whole price of the camel. The Quran forbade this practice and called it in another verse istiqsam bi al-Azlam. (See: Ahkam al-Quran of Imam al-Jassas, 2/11 & Tafsir al-Kabir of Imam al-Razi, 2/400)

Allah Most High referred to this form of gambling in the following verse:

Forbidden to you (for food) are: that which is sacrificed on stone (altars); (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows: that is impiety. (Surah al-Baqarah, v. 3)

Sayyiduna Abd Allah ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) defined gambling in the following words:

The risk of losing on both sides (or putting something at stake from both sides) (mukhatarah) is gambling. (Ahkam al-Quran, 2/11)

Another definition given is:

Ownership of wealth with a risk of losing on both sides (tamlik al-mal ala al-mukhatarah). (ibid)

The great Hanafi jurist (faqih), Allama Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) defines gambling in the following words:

Gambling (qimar) is from the word qamar, that which increases at times and decreases at other times. It has been given the name al-Qimar due to the possibility that each one of the gamblers may lose his wealth to his counterpart, and it is also possible that one may gain from the wealth of the other. (Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr, 6/403)

In light of the various similar definitions of gambling, Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Shafi (Allah have mercy on him) gave a simple and lucid definition for it in his renowned Maarif al-Quran. He sates:

Gambling has been defined as a transaction in which the act of making someone the owner of ones wealth (or something else of value) is contingent on such a condition that both of its sides are equal (i.e. the outcome of which is uncertain). Consequently, there are two equal possibilities of gaining total profit or suffering total loss. For instance, it is possible that the penalty may fall on A, and it is possible that it may fall on B. All kinds and forms of such gambling that were present in the past or are in vogue today or will appear in the future will come under the domain of gambling. (Maarif al-Quran, 1/532)

Hence, we can say that gambling is an activity in which the players voluntarily transfer money or something else of value amongst themselves, but this transaction is contingent upon the outcome of some future uncertain event.

For example: A says to B: If it rains today, I will give you 100, and if it does not rain today, then you will have to give me 100. Similarly, two people compete in a race on the condition that the loser will have to pay the winner 100.

By keeping the above definitions in mind, it becomes clear that there are basically four necessary ingredients for a transaction to be considered gambling:

a) It is a transaction between two or more people,

b) In this transaction, in order to gain someone elses wealth, one places his wealth at stake, whether actually or by promising to pay it later,

c) Gaining of anothers wealth is contingent upon some uncertain event in the future, and both possibilities of it occurring and not occurring are present,

d) The wealth which one puts at stake is either lost completely without anything in return (and because of which one suffers a complete loss), or it brings with it some wealth of the other person without giving anything in return (because of which the other person suffers a complete loss).

Any transaction that has the above-mentioned four elements will be considered a transaction of gambling, hence unlawful.

After understanding the abovementioned explanation regarding the definition of gambling, let us now look at its various forms. Basically, there are two fundamental formations of gambling:

1) The first form of gambling is when no party is obliged to pay any amount for certain; rather, the payment of each party is dependent upon a uncertain event in the future. In this case, the gambler does not stake his money initially, rather the money is put at stake by promising to pay later.

For example, A and B compete in a race, with the promise of the loser paying the winner 100. In this example, there is no certainty of payment from any one party; rather the payment is contingent from both sides on winning and losing.

Also included in this category is the betting that takes place in horse-racing and various other sports. For example, A says to B that if team X wins the match, I will pay you 100, but if team X loses, you will have to pay me 100. This will be gambling, hence unlawful. It is for this reason, Sayyiduna Ali (Allah be pleased with him) said: Chess is the gambling of non-Arabs. (al-Bayhaqi in his Shuab al-Iman)

However, it should be noted here that in order for this type of betting to be considered gambling, there should be a two-way bet. If a one-way bet is made, it will not be considered gambling, hence lawful.

For example, A says to B that if team X wins, I will pay you 100, but if team X loses, you dont pay me anything. This is a one-way bet and not considered by the jurists (fuqaha) to be gambling. The reason being is that in order for a transaction of gambling to transpire, the wealth of both parties should be at stake. A one-way bet is akin to one making a vow of paying someone money if such and such thing occurs. (See: Radd al-Muhtar, 6/403)

Also, if a third person not taking part in the sport vows to give the winner a prize, then this is also permitted and not considered to be gambling, provided the participants do not have to pay anything to enrol into the competition.

2) The second form of gambling is where payment is certain from one side, and uncertain from the other. The one paying for certain is actually staking his wealth, in that it may bring more wealth or it may be lost totally. This is probably the most widespread type of gambling and has many different forms.

In this category we have the prevalent forms of insurance, in that the premiums are paid for certain, whereas the return is uncertain. You may lose all the premiums you paid or may receive in return more than what you paid. This is one of the reasons why insurance has been declared unlawful by the scholars.

Also included are the various types of lotteries, raffles, and sweepstakes, where one has to pay to be included in the draw, whether this payment is in the form of entrance-fees, purchasing of tickets or any other form. The reason being is that the total accumulated cash will be distributed amongst those whose names emerge in the draw as the prize-winners, which is clear gambling. If ones name does not emerge in the prize draw, one will be losing ones wealth without anything in return.

Similarly, various types of crosswords and puzzles are published in newspapers and magazines, and it is advertised that whosoever solves them correctly and encloses a certain amount of money, stands a chance of winning a great prize. This is also gambling, because one is enclosing some money (even though it may be a minimum amount) so that it brings with it more or it is lost altogether. Yes, if no money was demanded to be included in the prize-draw, then that would not constitute gambling, hence permitted.

At times, various teams take part in a sports tournament with each team required to pay a certain entrance-fee. Thereafter, the winning team is given a prize or a trophy purchased through the money accumulated from each teams contribution. This is also gambling, hence unlawful.

Another example is of the various types of competitions that take place regularly on the Radio, TV, etc. A question is posed to the listeners or the viewers with a promise that whosoever phones in with the correct answer and his name is drawn; he will receive a ticket for two people in such and such country, for example. Now many people think, this great offer is only a phone- call away and who knows, I may be the winner. I wont lose anything if I dont win, because I only have to call and give them the correct answer.

What these people dont realize, however, is that the charge of the call is greatly increased, in order to facilitate the acquisition of the award. So, normally the charge to make such a call would be (for example) 10 British pence, whilst one is being charged 1 pound here. Hence, the remaining 90 pence is used in the acquisition of the winners reward.

Whats more, not all of the money is used in order to acquire the prize; rather, these companies who offer such competitions keep a large sum of money to themselves, and then with the remaining sum, they acquire the prize. At times, they keep all the money to themselves without even drawing the name of the winner, hence deceiving everyone.

Therefore, the above is clearly and categorically a form of gambling, and must be avoided by the Muslims. One brother, despite being advised not to take part in a certain competition, still went ahead and called the organisers with the correct answer. It was advertised that callers will be charged one pound a minute. This brother ended up paying 30 in total after having to wait on the line for a long time!

A very important aspect should be firmly understood here, that is, in order for a transaction to be considered a form of gambling, it is necessary that the money which one puts at stake is paid without any return (as mentioned earlier). Thus, if one receives the full return for the money put at stake, it cannot be called gambling, rather, it will not even classify as placing ones money at stake, because one has received the full return of ones money.

For example: If one purchased a ticket for entrance into an exhibition or bazaar, with the organisers of the event promising a prize for the holder of the lucky number on one of the tickets, then that can not be called clear gambling, because the ticket-holder has paid in order to enter the exhibition, and he has received the full return of his money. However, if ones intention was not to enter the exhibition, rather to win the prize, then one will be indulging in a kind of gambling, though not open gambling.

Another example is that of manufacturers, in order to attract customers, placing certain lucky tokens or numbers in their produced items, with the lucky winner receiving a prize. The ruling here is that if the cost of these items is similar to its cost when the prize-wining scheme is not in operation, then it would not classify as gambling.

For example: A bar of chocolate is normally sold at 50 British pence, and the price remains the same even with the prize-winning scheme in operation, then to take part in this scheme and win the prize would be permitted. The reason being is that one has received the full return of ones money which (in this example) is of the chocolate bar; hence one is not placing ones money at stake.

However, if the cost of the item is raised due to the prize-wining scheme, for example: the chocolate bar is sold at 60 pence, with the promise of an award for the lucky token-holder, then this would be considered gambling, because one is receiving the full return for only the 50 pence invested but the remaining 10 pence is put at stake. If one did not win any prize, the 10 pence would be lost, and in the case of winning, the 10 pence would bring with it more than its value.


The above was a detailed explanation with regards to gambling and its various forms. As you can see, there are many ways and forms of gambling. At times, people do not even realize that they are involved in gambling and committing a major sin, hence one need to be vigilant.

Gambling discourages honest labour and encourages greed, materialism and discontent. It encourages get rich quick thinking and reckless investment of God-given resources. It is (in its essence) a form of robbery, which is stealing. Each gambler wants to get the prize money for him/herself.

Therefore, stay away from all forms and types of gambling. Labour honestly for productive wealth. Use your money wisely in accordance with the injunctions of the Quran and Sunnah. Dont be a loser. Dont gamble. May Allah Almighty save us all from even coming close to gambling, Ameen.

And Allah knows best

Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari 
Darul Iftaa, Leicester, UK

MMVIII © Qibla.


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