Islam encourages Muslims to participate in permissible competitions and prohibits them from betting, which is the same as gambling. Referring to the prohibition of gambling, Allah Almighty says [O you who believe! Intoxicants (all kinds of alcoholic drinks), gambling, Al Ansab, and Al Azlam (arrows for seeking luck or decision) are an abomination of Satan’s handiwork. So avoid (strictly all) that (abomination) in order that you may be successful. Satan wants only to excite enmity and hatred between you with intoxicants (alcoholic drinks) and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah and from the prayer So, will you not then abstain?] (Al-Ma’idah 5:90-91).
Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi, deputy chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, states the following: There is an obvious difference between permissible competitions and prohibited betting. A permissible competition is between two teams, and the winner gets a prize that is paid by a third party. However, a prohibited bet, which is nothing but gambling, is when two spectators bet each other a certain sum of money to be paid by the one who supports the losing team to the one who supports the winning team. This is a bet that has nothing to do with the competition between the two teams, as it occurs between two parties who have no relation to the competition, and the said sum of money is paid to someone who has no relation to the competition.
That kind of bet was made between Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) and the polytheists before betting was prohibited, regarding the Qur’anic verse in which Almighty Allah says [The Romans have been defeated. In the nearer land (Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine), and they, after their defeat, will be victorious] (Ar-Rum 30:4).
Abu Bakr bet the disbelievers a sum of money that the Romans would defeat the Persians within 3 years. When Abu Bakr told the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) about that — and gambling had not been prohibited then — the Prophet commanded him to increase the said period from 3 years to 9 years because the Arabic indicates that the victory will happen within 3 to 9 years.
Within that period, the Romans defeated the Persians and Abu Bakr won the bet. In that case, the two parties were Abu Bakr and the polytheists, and both had nothing to do with the war between the Romans and the Persians. Thus their bet was a kind of gambling. Afterwards the prohibition of gambling was revealed and when Abu Bakr got the money of the bet, Allah’s Messenger commanded him to spend it on the poor.
Al-Azhar’s House of Fatwa further states the following: Gambling is prohibited according to the following Qur’anic verses: [O you who believe! Intoxicants (all kinds of alcoholic drinks), gambling, al-ansab, and al-azlam (arrows for seeking luck or decision) are an abomination of Satan’s handiwork. So avoid (strictly all) that (abomination) in order that you may be successful. Satan wants only to excite enmity and hatred between you with intoxicants (alcoholic drinks) and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah and from the prayer. So, will you not then abstain?] (Al-Ma’idah 5:90-91).
Ibn `Abbas, Qatadah, Mu`awiyah, Ibn Salih, `Ata’, Tawus, and Mujahid said that the Arabic word maysir in the verse refers to gambling.Accordingly, anything that involves gambling is regarded as maysir, which is prohibited by this verse, except for the kind that involves competition, which is permissible according to a legal Islamic proof as will be shown later.
Gambling is also prohibited according to the following verses: [O you who believe! Eat not up your property among yourselves unjustly except it be a trade amongst you, by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves (nor kill one another). Surely, Allah is Most Merciful to you. And whoever commits that through aggression and injustice, We shall cast him into the Fire, and that is easy for Allah] (An-Nisaa’ 4:29-30), and [And eat up not one another’s property unjustly, nor give bribery to the rulers (judges before presenting your cases) that you may knowingly eat up a part of the property of others sinfully] (Al-Baqarah 2:188).
Eating up other people’s property unjustly has two forms. The first is taking the money of someone against their will, through oppression, theft, treachery, usurpation, etc. The other form is taking someone’s money with their consent but through a prohibited way, such as gambling and riba (interest). In this regard, Muslim scholars unanimously agree upon the prohibition of gambling.
There is no disagreement that the money suspended on a risk between two persons is considered gambling. The Hanafi scholars view that any case involving suspending money on a risk is regarded as gambling. They base their opinion on the case when a man said to another that he would give him a certain sum of money if the latter ate a certain number of eggs. When the two men referred to `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), he said that it was gambling and he did not permit it.
Accordingly, Hanafi scholars invalidate conditional ownership contracts, whether they are grants, charity, or selling contracts. For instance, if someone grants another a property dependant on a future happening, this grant is deemed invalid and void in terms of ownership, even if the latter has already got it. They also maintain that any ownership suspended on a risk is invalid, as mentioned by Al-Jassas in his book entitled Ahkam Al-Qur’an regarding the following verses: [They ask you (O Muhammad) concerning alcoholic drink and gambling. Say: “In them is a great sin, and (some) benefit for men, but the sin of them is greater than their benefit”] (Al-Baqarah 2:219).
[O you who believe! Intoxicants (all kinds of alcoholic drinks), gambling, al-ansab, and al-azlam (arrows for seeking luck or decision) are an abomination of Satan’s handiwork. So avoid (strictly all) that (abomination) in order that you may be successful] (Al-Ma’idah 5:91).
Al-Jassas, the imam of Hanafi scholars of his time, said, “There is no disagreement on the prohibition of gambling, except for that kind of bet related to races, like camel races, and shooting (spear throwing).” He also mentioned some proofs from the Sunnah supporting his opinion.
Thus, the Hanafi opinion is that betting is only permissible if applied to the permissible cases mentioned in the Sunnah, such as competitions related to horses, camels, spear throwing, shooting,
running, knowledge of jurisprudence, etc. The wisdom behind the permissibility in these cases is that there is a necessity to learn horsemanship, prepare horses, shoot, etc., and such competitions improve these skills for that purpose. They also say that the competition in these cases is permissible when the reward is offered in one of the following three forms:
1. The money given to the winner is from the ruler, whether it is his own or from the Muslim state treasury, or even from another party, and this is what is called a prize.
2. The money is given by one of the two competitors to the other and not vice versa, as when someone says to another, “If your horse beats mine, I will pay you a certain sum of money as a reward, but if mine beats yours, you pay me nothing.”
3. The money is given by two competitors to a third if the latter beats them, and the third competitor does not pay them anything if he or she loses. At the same time, the competition between the two competitors is still in process, despite the participation of the third. If one of the two wins, he or she gets the said money from the other; and if the third competitor wins, he or she gets the money from the two and pays nothing if he or she loses.
However, if the said money competition and the said money are between the two competitors alone, without a third, it is considered prohibited gambling. This is the opinion of the Hanafi scholars in brief, though some other scholars deem it permissible to have such a competition between only two competitors without a third. However, the widely known opinion of the four imams of fiqh is that it is prohibited in this case.
What we have mentioned above are the permissible forms of betting. Hence, today’s form of betting, whether related to horseracing or any other type of competition, is considered a prohibited form of gambling for which there are no Islamic legal texts indicating it is permissible. On the contrary, the above Qur’anic verses stress its prohibition.
The Lawgiver of Shari`ah prohibits gambling, including today’s various kinds of bets, because of the resultant evils that we witness every day. Gambling has caused the bankruptcy of many bettors and ruined their homes and families. It has also led many of them to commit all kinds of crimes, such as theft, embezzlement, and even suicide.
Whoever reflects on these and other disastrous consequences of gambling has increasing faith that it is out of Allah’s mercy that He has prohibited gambling as well as many other things that have disastrous consequences.