July 30, 2014

Maqasid Shari'ah: The Prohibition of Gambling, Punishment and Justification

Gambling or al-maisir from Islamic perspective is defined to mean a game of haphazard in all matters particularly a game of chance by means of divinatory arrows. Maisir is of various categories. Some of these types of maisir are seeking omen or fortune by divinatory arrows, back gammons, chess, lottery and many others.

The word maisir is derived from the root ‘yasara’, means to become gentle, to draw lots by arrows or ‘yasaar’, means affluence because maisir brings about profit or yusr, that is convenience, ease because it is an earning without toil and exertion or yasr, means dividing a thing into a number of shares and distributing them among themselves. Gambling is called maisir because those who partake in the games of chance divide the meat of sacrificial animal among themselves. [1]

All the above connotations are vividly found in the word maisir. According to Imam Malik gambling is of two categories that are; a game of chance that is partaken in with a view of sport (fun) and the game of chance which involves gambling. To make it clearer, gambling means all dealings in which people are require making a bet and every dealing which involves some aspects of gambling is maisir.


There are verses from the Qur’an which highlighted the prohibition of gambling and the wisdom behind its prohibition. Allah says:

“‘They asked the Prophet (S.A.W) about khamr (intoxicants) and games of chance (gambling). Say, in both of them there is great harm although there is some advantage as well in them for men, but their harm is much greater than their advantages. [2]

In another verse, Allah mentions:

“O ‘ you who believe, verily wine and game of chance, ungodly shrines, and divining devices are abomination of Satan’s work. Avoid them, that your may prosper. Only would Satan sow hatred and strife among you, by wine and games of chance, and turn you aside from, the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. Will you not, therefore abstaifi from them?” [3]

From the above verses, it is obvious that maisir entail great sins and promises petty benefits and that maisir is an abominable act of Satan. It is therefore imperative to avoid gambling in order to achieve success and happiness in our lives. Satan sows in our hearts the seeds of enmity and hatred against one another and turns us aside from the remembrance of Allah and other obligation particularly prayer by means of games of chance. Although it entails some benefits as mentioned in the verse, we have to bear in mind that its harmful effects outweigh d benefits to individual as well as people at large.

In fact, the gradual prohibition in the first verse (2219) has been totally declared unlawful in the second verse (5: 90,91) leaving no room for relaxation.


The Prophet (S.A. W) said:

“Whoever says to his companion, come let us play a game of haphazard should give alms (as an atonement). [4]

It connotes that a mere invitation to gambling is such a serious sin as to warrant atonement thereof by charity. What is more the position of a man who is indulges in gambling. The Prophet (S.A.W) further said:

“Whoever plays backgammon as if he dyes his hands with the flesh of swine and its blood.” [5]

1bn Abi Al Dunya has reported Yahya b. Kathir as saying:

‘Allah’s Messenger passed by people playing backgammon. He said, “their heart are preoccupied in sport, their hands are ill and their tongues make absurd utterances. Every game which involves gambling or mischief, is a game of chance (maisir).”

There is no difference of opinion among the jurists that every sort of gambling is harmful, except betting for horse race and archery which have been declared lawful for persuading for horsemanship archery and preparation for Jihad. This is in line with the Qur’anic verse where Allah says:

“Make ready for them all you can of armed force and horses tethered that thereby you may dismay the enemy of Allah and your enemy.” [6]

Therefore, it is clear that the prohibition of gambling is not only mentioned in the Qur’an but also supported by the tradition of the Prophet


Looking to great emphasis and its root of prohibition in the Qur’an and Sunnah, it is no doubt to say that gambling is an offence. However it is not an offence punishable by hadd because it does not fall under any category of hadd crimes. It is in fact an offence punishable by ta’zir.

As it is understood, ta’zir are crimes which punishments have not been fixed by the Qur’an and the Sunnah. However, it is as a whole can be divided into two types:

1. The actions and omissions in which any divine provision (Shariah text) or any principle thereof is violated (ma’siya).
2. The violation of rules regulations and orders of the rules acting as sub-legislative authority; provided that such rules and regulations must not be arbitrary and must be based on the larger interest of the society (maslaha ‘amma). In fact, these rules and regulations should not contravene any Divine provisions.

As far as the offence of gambling is concerned, it falls under the first category which is called ma’siya. Ma’siya is defined as the commission of prohibited acts and the omission of obligatory acts which are mentioned in the Shari’ah text. Thus, any violation of a legal order or prohibition which is not punishable either by a hadd punishment or atonement is considered a ta’zir crime and should be punished by a ta’zir punishment.


Every society reacts against the behaviour of individuals which infringes upon public interest and it is universally believed that acts which provoke social relations must be punished.

One may ask, Why Islam prohibit gambling? Why gambling is liable under ta’zir punishment? Is the punishment justified?

To answer these questions, a careful study and attention must be given to the nature of gambling itself and effects entail from the act.

Gambling brings about religious, social, moral and economic harm. From the Qura’nic verses that have been discussed before it is clear that gambling entails following evil effects.

First, gambling distracts those who partake the game from the remembrance of Allah and Prayer. When a gambler sits continuously for hours together, he is so absorbed in it that he forgets everything around him; rather he becomes unconscious of his own self. He forgets his household and family’s responsibilities. How then, can be take care of his prayer?

Second, it sows the seeds of disputes and quarrels among the gamblers which ultimately assume the shape of enmity and hatred among them. This point is made clear in the following verse:

“Only Satan sow hatred and strife among you, by wine and games of chance and turn you aside from the remembrance of Allah and from Prayer; Will you not, therefore abstain from them?

Third, the sin of gambling is greater than its benefit. The verse 2: 219 enunciated two invaluable principles namely:

1. Dispelling mischiefs is precedent to acquiring benefits and,
2. The commission of lesser evil is obligatory when the commission of either of the two evils is necessarily essential.

Fourth, it corrupts morals making people sluggish in waiting for providence by whimsical means and giving up activities essential for making earnings viz agriculture, industry, business which are the foundation stone of social living and human prosperity and happiness in this mundane life.

Fifth, it enslaves the gambler who becomes a mute slave in the hands of gambling and seldom succeeds in abandoning it. When he earns some benefit, his greed for gambling increases and when he losses the game, even then his interest in the games of chance increase to make good the loss. In this way, he remains awfully engaged in gambling till he becomes a destitute.

Sixth, it brings about a sudden havoc in the countries due to sheer waste of wealth by losing the game. Finally, it usurps the wealth of towns and transfers it to the band of the mischief mongers within and outside the country. Thus, gambling is a root cause of innumerable economic evils reducing many rich people to destitution and ultimately forcing them to commit suicide.

From the wording of the Qura’nic verse (2219), Allah has mentioned that there exist benefit (manfa’a) in gambling and wine drinking (khamr). However, the mundane benefits of gambling as compared with its great harm and ruinous complexities are mere whimsical benefits. Some of petty benefits of gambling are:

1. It gives some transitory pleasure to the winning gambler, for this pleasure is followed by grief as a reaction, when he suffers loss’ by gambling.
2. It promises munificence to the poor just as people winning lottery, a form of gambling build asylums and hospitals and do other good works. But the fact is that the wealth acquired by unlawful means and spent on good works have no reward because Allah is Pure and He accepts only pure things. The same thing is true about gambling or lottery for it brings about a benefit to a very small group of people and causes a crushing loss to the majority of them.
3. It makes a destitute a rich man all of a sudden without any toil and in the next moment reduces a rich man to a destitute.

In short, all the benefits of gambling enumerated above are imaginary and whimsical whereas its harms are real. When the gambler spends his wealth for a fancied profit and when a person wastes his hard earned money for the fancied things having no existence, he corrupts his thinking and weakens his reason. Gambling has forced a large number of gamblers to commit suicide and made them content with living a life of humiliation and abjection.

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