Sunday, 25 February 2007

The Sin Of Gambling Explained

Allah SWT says in the Qur'an:

"They ask you (O Muhammad) concerning wine and gambling; say: 'In them is a great sin and some profit for men, but the sin is greater than the profit'."(Surah 2: Ayat 219)


Let us examine the Qur'an and the Sunnah to see what Islam has to say about gambling. In the verse mentioned above, Allah clearly decries the evil practice of gambling and wine-drinking. The correlation between wine and gambling as sister-social-evils - merit a topic of it's own, but this article will discuss only the aspect of gambling.

In the above verse, the word "maisir" is used to describe qimar or gambling. "Maisir" is derived from the root word "ya sa ra" which literally means "easy" and "something attained with no effort". Gambling is thus termed "maysir" because of the element of earning money or winning something without any effort at all. This element is one of the rational reasons for the prohibition of gambling.

During the time of Arab Jahiliyah, the form of gambling most familiar with the pagan Arabs was by casting lots by means of arrows on the principle of a lottery: the arrows were marked and served the same purpose as lottery ticket. Something, for example, a carcass of an ox was divided into unequal parts. The marked arrows were then drawn from a bag: some represented no share at all, some a small share, and some a bigger share. Whatever arrow you drew was pure luck. Allah Ta'ala forbids this form, as well as all other forms of game of chance, on the basis that a person loses by means of pure chance; whilst if he is fortunate to have gained anything, it would be gained by pure luck having not earned it, thus not even deserving it.

The above verse also mentions one interesting aspect i.e. there is some benefit in gambling, but its harms far outweigh its goodness. One group of Mufassirun (Muslim scholars who are experts in the explanation of the meaning of the Qur'an and its interpretation) like Imam Mujahid RA and Imam Suddi RA have said - that the paltry goodness mentioned in this verse refers to the portion won by the lucky gambler. The pagan Arabs would regard their winning as a "divine gift" from Allah, and whenever a person would be afflicted with a disease or paralysis, they would use their winnings to cure such a person.

However, according to Imam Qatadah RA and Imam Sha'bi RA, the prohibition of gambling, like that of wine, was revealed in stages, and the above verse was soon abrogated by another verse in the Qur'an. In this verse, Allah explicitly mentions gambling as "an abomination from the evil practices of the Shaytaan", and Allah categorically forbade it saying, "will you not then shun it?" The abrogation of this verse surely meant that now what ever little benefit or advantage which was to be gained from gambling was passed off as completely forbidden, and it was made to be understood that there is absolutely no benefit in gambling. After all, what enjoyment is there in winning something when there has been unfair loss and disappointment for the other party?


When the verse which prohibited gambling in it's entirety was revealed, the reason was also given by Allah Ta'ala:

"The devil only wishes to create disparity and enmity amongst you by means of wine and gambling, and hinder from remembering Allah and from prayers." (Surah Al-Maa'idah: Ayat 91)

In fact, Saiyidina Umar RA realised the unsure nature of the first verse, and he made the following du'a:

"O Allah! Give us clear guidance as to wine and gambling, for it wastes away our intelligence and money."

Upon this, Allah revealed the verse which clearly prohibited these practices.

When it was revealed, and Allah asked: "Fahal antum muntahun?,"

Saiyidina Umar RA loudly exclaimed: "Inthayna intahyna". ("We have surely abstained from it, we have surely abstained from it")

During the period of Jahiliyah, a person would gamble away his wealth, possessions, and even his wife. When losing them, he would be much disappointed at his quick and unexpected loss, his anger would be inflamed, and he would be infuriated to see his belongings suddenly in the hand of the winner. This situation created much hatred between the two parties so much so that fights and quarrels would erupt between the two. More than often, these fights would involve an entire tribe, and it would last for many years.


Through gambling, a temptation is created within a person which is fuelled by his own greed and the desire to earn a quick and easy buck. The person then loses again and again, but tries again and again. As his frustration mounts, he indulges in more and more tickets, all the while nursing his fantasy that one day he will hit the jackpot. Before he knows it, he has developed an obsession, all his money is spent, he loses his house and his car, his family life is thrown in tumult, and he is left a helpless person on the street. He makes promises to reform himself, but the appeal and enticement of trying just one more time is too strong to ignore. He tries his hand again, loses again, and before long a hard working and industrious man is reduced to an outcast from his family. His friends reject him, he feels too ashamed to mix with the people for fear of being labelled as the "gambler", he does not perform his Solat in the Masjid nor attend any family related events. He goes into a depression, and more than often his end is tragic. This scenario has been witnessed time and time again in the world and needs no further elucidation.

A person in the clutches of gambling surely has no desire to roll up his sleeves, don his overalls, and get to work. Gambling enslaves one who then becomes a mute slave in the hands of gambling and seldom succeeds in abandoning it. He thinks there is no need for working since he will eventually win, and win "big time" one day.

The Holy Prophet Muhammad SAW said:

"To earn an honest livelihood is a duty ranking only next to the chief duty (of offering prayers)." (Mishkat Al-Masabih)

Islam seeks to address poverty by means of hard work, and not by luck or chance. In this light, gambling only produces a nation of opportunists, a nation devoid of any resourcefulness, and a nation bereft of any form of motivation and intuition. It makes people dependent on some sluggish whimsical impact of winning. Even if he happens to win, his greed for more increases. After having lost all his earnings, that still does not deter him from stopping, but he will gamble more in the vain hope of recovering his losses.


According to Imam Suddi RA, the spiritual harm is preventing from the truth, and the physical harm is the oppression of others. Allah says that gambling diverts one's attention from Allah and from Solat. The fact that gambling has the power to actually distract a person in itself shows how great obsession and fascination it has. The possibility of instant gain is foremost in the mind of the gambler. The gambler neglects all other avenues of gaining a lawful living, and this obsession soon drives him to concentrate all his efforts on gambling and gambling alone. His obsession mounts his back like a sack of lead, and he is bogged down by it. Remember that this is an obsession for gaining the world in an unlawful and easy way, his outlook turns materialistic and he thinks that he will have achieved his goal in life if he wins those millions. In such a situation, it is only logical that he would not remember Allah, and seek His bounty, because for the gambler, his bounty is in gambling. He thus ruins himself spiritually. On the other hand, the person content with his lot and engaging in the in the remembrance of Allah has a carefree life, free of the worry of earning possible gains, and free from the worries associated with materialism and committing sin. Such a person knows that his rewards are secure with Allah Himself.


The biggest physical loss a man incurs by gambling is oppression, i.e. economic oppression. In a material world, gambling is seen as one solution to poverty, economic imbalance, and recession, but in reality it only worsens these problems. Islam forbids gambling, just like interest; not because it is against material gain, but because of the economical imbalance it creates. In dealing with interest, the rich become richer and the poor become poorer; in gambling too, the fortunate become richer, whilst the less fortunate become poorer. In both instances, a greater economic imbalance is created, but in the case of gambling, the loss is complete, whilst in interest, one loses in proportion to the amount borrowed.

In Islam, every Muslim has the duty of seeing to the eradication of poverty, and this can not be achieved through gambling.

It is narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar RA that the Holy Prophet SAW said:

"A locality in which has to starve a night is deprived of Allah's protection." (Mustadrak of Hakim)

Saiyidina Ali RA is also reported to have said:

"Allah has levied upon Muslim in their wealth, an amount which would suffice for the poor. If the poor go hungry and unclad, it is because of the misdoings of the rich." (Imam Tabrani's - Mu'jam Al-Saghir)

These verses point out to the fact that gambling is nothing but a convenient excuse for the state or for the wealthy to keep their wealth, whilst allowing institutions like gambling to flourish in order to let problems look after themselves and even worsen.


Gambling, far from a being scheme designed to benefit humanity, is nothing but a farce designed to usurp the wealth of all and transfer it to the hands of a select few who control the industry. Thus, far from solving any problems, it worsens it. The only pleasure a gambler attains is some transitory pleasure when winning, but this is short-lived once he loses it again. If it is argued that our roads will be upgraded, medical and education facilities improved, and the proceeds will go to welfare with such money, let it be known that such money spent on good works have been acquired through unlawful means. Allah does not accept charity through unlawful means, for He is pure, and He only accepts what is pure. At the end, the grim reality is that gambling only brings about benefit for a small segment of the community, whilst it causes crushing loss to the majority.

In conclusion, the greatest harm of gambling is that it makes a wealthy man a pauper overnight, and a pauper a wealthy person overnight. When a person's condition is changed overnight, he does not know how to handle it. This usually drives the rich to commit suicide or live in perpetual shame and humility, whilst it engages the poor in a wild spending spree that leaves even the rich agape at the amount of wastage and reckless spending being committed. At the end, the economic problems are still there, and only more social evils are created.

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