Gambling is a complex issue in Islam. There are varying perspectives on whether betting and games of chance are permitted under Islamic law. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what Islam says about gambling, examine evidence from the Quran and Hadith, and help you better understand the nuances of this debated topic.
What Does “Haram” Mean in Islam?
In Arabic, “haram” means forbidden. When something is deemed haram in Islam, it is prohibited according to Islamic law. Acts that are considered haram are typically very clearly outlined in the holy texts of the Quran and Hadith (teachings of the Prophet Muhammad).
Some examples of universal haram acts include murder, theft, deceit, gambling, adultery and consumption of pork or alcohol.
Gambling in the Quran
The Quran, which Muslims believe to be the direct word of God, includes a few verses that address gambling. One verse discourages Muslims from drinking wine, gambling, idolatry and divination, describing it as “the work of Satan” (Quran 5:90).
Another verse states: “O you who believe! Intoxicants, gambling, idolatry, and divining arrows are but a loathsome evil of Satan’s handiwork. So avoid it in order that you may be successful” (Quran 5:90).
Based on these verses, most Muslims conclude that the Quran prohibits all forms of gambling, betting and games of chance. The consumption of alcohol is also forbidden.
Hadiths on Gambling
In addition to the Quran, the Hadith provides further guidance on Islamic life. There are several Hadith that directly address gambling:
“Whoever says to his companion: ‘Come, I will play with you for such and such a wager,’ then one of them must have what the other stipulated.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
This suggests betting or gambling with the purpose of easily taking another person’s money is prohibited. Another Hadith states:
“Whoever plays dice has disobeyed Allah and His Messenger.” (Sunan Abu Dawud)
Here the Prophet specified dice games as being forbidden. And in another Hadith, gambling is listed among major sins:
“The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: ‘There are four things that, if they are done, constitute major sins: associating others with Allah, disobeying parents, murder, and lying.’” (Sunan Ibn Maajah)
Based on these sayings, most Islamic scholars conclude gambling and games of chance are haram. But there are caveats.
Differing Perspectives on Gambling
While gambling is generally forbidden in Islam, not all Muslims adhere to the same standard. There are some perspectives that recreational betting or wagering modest amounts of money for entertainment may be permissible.
Some Muslims argue that verses in the Quran and Hadith do not completely prohibit all forms of gambling. They point out that Arabic words like maysir (gambling) and qimar (dice games) are narrower than the English word “gambling.”
They argue that “gambling” is a broader term that includes playing the stock market, insurance, prize drawings and other activities that involve some risk but provide social benefits. They believe only excessive speculation or wagering one’s wealth is forbidden.
Others point out that games of skill like horse racing were common during the Prophet Muhammed’s time. Muslims have differing views on whether it’s permissible to wager on outcomes that involve some skill or knowledge.
There are also cultural factors. In some Muslim-majority countries like Egypt, small-scale gambling is socially acceptable during festivals or special occasions. However, conservative countries like Saudi Arabia enforce a strict ban on all gambling.
So opinions are mixed on whether recreational betting purely for entertainment is haram or halal (permissible). Scholars agree that addictive or excessive gambling that can lead to financial ruin is sinful behavior.
What Major Scholars Say About Gambling?
Given the evidence and differences in interpretation, what do the major schools of Islamic law say about gambling?
The four major Sunni schools unanimously agree gambling is forbidden:
- Hanafi school: Consider gambling haram based on verses in the Quran.
- Maliki school: Prohibit gambling since it did not exist during the Prophet’s time.
- Shafi’i school: Believe the Quran and Hadith explicitly prohibit gambling and betting.
- Hanbali school: Outlaw gambling 100% based on authoritative texts.
The Jafari school, followed by Shia Muslims, also prohibits gambling and games of chance. Overall, the majority consensus across schools is that Islam forbids gambling.
Permissible Forms of Recreation
While gambling is prohibited, Islam does not forbid recreational fun and entertainment. There are many forms of recreation that are considered halal and encouraged in moderation, including:
- Sports like running, swimming, horseback riding
- Board and video games based on skill
- Recreational activities that bring people together
- Arts, music and cultural activities
- Hobbies like collecting, painting, writing
The goal is positive recreation that enriches the mind and body without promoting obsession, addiction or unethical outcomes. Activities that incorporate chance may be permissible if not primarily betting-based.
Guidance for Muslims on Gambling
Given the nuances around this topic, what guidance do Islamic experts suggest for Muslims when it comes to gambling and games of chance?
- Avoid casinos and lotteries that promote excessive gambling. Focus on ethical investments.
- Temper recreational activities involving betting or prizes with modest wagers.
- Refrain from addictive games and activities that can lead to financial strife.
- Replace gambling-based entertainment with sports, skills, arts and community recreation.
- If unsure whether an activity is haram, consult reliable scholars for guidance.
- Set a good example for the community by avoiding obvious gambling and speculative excess.
While some recreational activities in Islam may involve debate, it is clear believers should avoid obsessive gambling, predatory games of chance and promoting gambling enterprises that can harm communities. Moderation and ethics are key principles.
There are diverse views on gambling in Islam, but most experts consider habitual gambling and speculative excess as haram based on Quran verses and Hadith. While occasional recreational betting may be debated, addictive wagering that ruins lives is strictly forbidden. Rather than games of chance, Muslims are encouraged to find spiritually rewarding recreation that enriches their families and communities.