By Sheikh Shaker El Sayed and Ismail Royer
This piece was written in 2003 when Ismail Royer was communications director of the Muslim American Society (MAS) Freedom Foundation. Shaker El Sayed was secretary general.
The position of Islam on gambling is that it is prohibited, harmful and destructive to society. Gambling is addictive by nature, a practice that takes money from the poor with the perceived yet illusive promise that they may “win” something without having to work for it.
Gambling is mentioned in the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, alongside drinking alcohol as an abomination, a sin, and a grave harm to mankind.
“O you who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, sacrificing to stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination- of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that you may prosper.” (Quran 5:90)
The Quran makes it clear that prosperity does not come through gambling. Gambling causes families to break, societies to suffer, and the economy to deteriorate. It leads to addictions, depleted individual and family resources, and creates a false economy and superficial jobs that add nothing to the local or national gross product. It also promotes the notion that man may take that for which he has not earned or worked, which violates the ethical foundation of any decent society.
Harm greater than benefit
“They ask you concerning wine and gambling. Say: ‘In them is great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.’” (Quran 2:219)
Islam is a religion of balance, and it acknowledges that gambling brings a certain measure of benefit. That benefit, however, is short term and quite limited in scope. Those who profit are the gambling industry moguls who invest heavily in lobbying local governments for permission to open their establishments. Local governments also receive a nominal return in taxes and licensing fees.
On the other hand, there is much evidence to suggest that in the communities to which it is introduced, legalized gambling consistently fails to live up to the promised return, and in fact inflicts greater harm in terms of economic and social costs.
Crime and gambling
“Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of God, and from prayer: will you not then abstain?” (Quran 5:91)
The Quran teaches that the price of gambling is hatred and discord among men, and studies bear witness to this fact. According to the National Research Council, “As access to money becomes more limited, gamblers often resort to crime in order to pay debts, appease bookies, maintain appearances, and garner more money to gamble.”
Similarly, a 1995 report by the Attorney General of Maryland concludes, “Casinos would bring a substantial increase in crime to our state. There would be more violent crime, more crimes against property, more insurance fraud, more white collar crime, more juvenile crime, more drug and alcohol-related crime, more domestic violence and child abuse, and more organized crime.”
Something for nothing
It is a basic principle of Islam that man must not take that which he has not earned or worked for. Indeed, the word “gambling” in the Quran’s Arabic language is derived from a root word that literally means “easy,” and “something attained with no effort.” Along with the other very significant factors we have mentioned, this element is one of the reasons for gambling’s prohibition.
Gambling makes a person rely on accidents, luck, and wishful thinking for his earnings, instead of hard work and effort. This is an attitude that directly harms not only himself and his family, but the society in which he lives that has lost the benefit of the fruits of his labor.
Victimizing the poor
“Whoever says to his companion, ‘Come on, let’s gamble,’ let him give in charity (as penance).” – Prophet Muhammad
Islam promotes the idea of basic fairness in society, and prohibits the rich from preying on the poor. Gambling victimizes the poor with the promise of an easy escape from their circumstances. Those who can least afford it tend to gamble most. Thus, gambling amounts to an extra tax on the poor, known in economic terms as a “regressive tax,” because, according to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission:
“…players of all income levels that gamble similar amounts will lose at equal rates. Consequently, lower income gamblers pay proportionately more ‘voluntary tax’ dollars than higher income gamblers.”
Islam seeks to eliminate altogether the mental condition that makes some in society vulnerable to gambling’s empty promises by 1) fostering a solid spiritual base in the individual’s personality, leading him or her to seek God’s bounty in wholesome pursuits, and to remember God when they are tempted to do otherwise; and 2) mandating a social welfare system of zakat (charity), giving, and fellowship that alleviates the harshness of poverty and despair.
The Quran tells Muslims to “enjoin the right and forbid the evil.” Muslims have a moral and civil obligation to oppose the introduction of ills like gambling into society, and to respectfully counsel their friends and neighbors who may have fallen into this destructive practice.
For policymakers considering gambling as a new source of revenue, we encourage a search for moral, sustainable alternatives to solutions for budget shortfalls. Any industry that undermines a locality’s work ethic, economy, security, and morality cannot be accepted as a legitimate part of that community.