First of all, we would like to stress that there is nothing wrong with entering the Green Card Lottery. The issue is no more than a form of drawing lots that has nothing to do with gambling.
Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, former President of the Islamic Society of North America, states the following: “it is important to understand various rulings in Islam on lottery. We should also know what the Green Card Lottery is. Then we can apply an Islamic judgment on this issue.
The word “lottery” literally means the drawing of lots. There are basically two types of lottery. In some lotteries, a number of tickets are sold and one or more of these tickets draw prizes. This type of lottery is a kind of gambling or qimar. It is forbidden in Islam because many people put in their money and only a few receive the prize. Others lose their money and receive nothing for it.
The other type of lottery does not involve any payment. Here, the lots are drawn in order to choose between various groups of people or things. In the Islamic terminology, it is called qur’ah or istiham. This is basically permissible. In the story of Prophet Yunus (peace and blessings be upon him) mentioned in the Qur’an, there is a reference to the casting of lots. He was thrown into the water when his name came up in that lot. Referring to this, Allah Almighty says, “And then he drew lots and was of those rejected.” (As-Saffat 141)
It is also mentioned in the Qur’an that when Maryam (Mary, Jesus’ mother, may peace and blessings be upon her and her son) was growing up, some of her relatives threw their pens (in a lot) to know which of them should be her guardian. It was her maternal uncle Prophet Zakariya (peace and blessings be upon him) whose name came in that lot and so he became her guardian. (See Aal `Imran 44). The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) sometimes also used to do qur’ah. Imam Al-Bukhari has two chapters in his book of Hadith on this subject: “Chapter on the use of qur’ah in difficulties” and “Chapter on the use of qur’ah when planning for a trip”. There are also long chapters on this subject in the books of Fiqh.
All Muslim jurists agree that the method of qur’ah is permissible in Islam in order to choose between various equal options. It is a kind of random selection without depriving any one of his/her rightful due.
To my understanding, the Green Card Lottery is nothing but a kind of qur’ah. The purpose of this lottery is to give a chance to the people of many countries to come and live in the United States. This visa is also called “Diversity Immigrant Visa”. The US government makes available each year by random selection 50,000 permanent residence visas (Green Cards) to people from around the world. This program began in 1990 and its objective was stated then as “to issue Green Cards to individuals born in countries with historically low levels of immigration to the United States.”
The government does not charge any money to enter the lottery. To enter, an applicant must be a native of an eligible country. Every year a list of ineligible countries is issued. These are the countries that have already met their immigrant quota. A person who applies for this visa must have either a high school education or its equivalent, or two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation requiring at least two years of training or experience.
There are, however, some agencies in the US as well as in other countries that charge the applicants a “filing fee” or “processing fee”. But this money does not go to the government and one does not have to use the services of these agencies.
On the basis of this information and the above principle of qur’ah, I do not see anything wrong in the Green Card Lottery. It is permissible for Muslims to enter this lottery. One can directly apply for this visa, but if someone finds it difficult, it is also permissible for him/her to use the services of any processing agency and to pay that agency its fee. This fee is not for the lottery; it is for the services of filling out the application and filing.”