Is The Lottery Haram?

Is The Lottery Haram?


Assalamu alaykum. I have a friend who wants proof that taking part of the lottery is forbidden. He doesn’t consider it as gambling (‘maisar’ as used in the Quran). Can you please explain with Quran and Hadith, if possible, that it is forbidden to buy lottery tickets? Thank you.

Wa alykum as-salaam,

I apologize if this is rude, but I am honestly quite confused: How is taking part in the lottery, not gambling?

Governments that use lotteries do not even deny this, they might call it “gaming,” but I think there’s a big difference between “gaming” in the awesome sense of video games and “gaming” in the horrid sense of putting money down in the hopes of winning money, without any predictable outcome.

In fact, when we look at the psychological effect of gambling, it is this unpredictable element to gambling that makes it such an addictive behavior.

So let’s look at some psych 101 (thanks Intro to Psych, Dr. Chen you were the best), let’s say every time you do something, like push a button, you can get a “reward” of some kind. So, if you push the button, and every time you get a piece of candy, then you know what pushing the button does and what will happen, so it becomes pretty boring to you.

You want this when it comes to the government, DMV, etc.

However, let’s say you push the button, and nothing happens. You push it again. Nothing happens. Push it again, and you get TEN candies. AMAGAWD, awesome, right? You push the button, and then, again, and again, and again, and every time, nothing, but, you remembered that that one time, you got TEN candies, so, you keep going, and maybe you push the button for the thirty-seventh time and you get one candy. I think you get the picture.

You see, this second scenario is the most unpredictable, because you are unsure of what the outcome will be, and you may be rewarded more heavily, but chances are you will get nothing. This scenario and this process is the method that creates crippling addictive behavior.

This is how bad relationships work, ps.

Anyways, so let’s replace “push a button” with “put money into a slot machine” or, and I’m just spit-balling here, “buying a lottery ticket,” and let’s replace “candy” with “money.”

Gambling is the most addictive behavior precisely because there is no predictable outcome from the input of the individual, and the promise of a “big reward” or “big payout” is what drives the allure and power of this addictive behavior.

I mean, when researchers at the University of Cambridge are literally confounded as to why people would continue to gamble at casinos, when it is known that the game is rigged for the player to lose (it is a business at the end of the day), they devoted entire studies towards it.

Look at this little snippet on the causes:

“Both near-misses and personal choice cause gamblers to play for longer and to place larger bets. Over time, these distorted perceptions of one’s chances of winning may precipitate ‘loss chasing’, where gamblers continue to play in an effort to recoup accumulating debts. Loss chasing is one of the hallmarks of problem gambling, which actually bears much resemblance to drug addiction. Problem gamblers also experience cravings and symptoms of withdrawal when denied the opportunity to gamble.”

So, with time, gambling mimics the mental symptoms of drug addiction. How awesome, right? …Thanks Cambridge, what a buzz kill. (But, for real, Cambridge, thank you so much, keep up the good work)

So, before we even get to The Qur’an and the Hadith, it becomes pretty clear that gambling (in which the lottery is without a doubt part of) is a horrendous practice that destroys individuals and societies.

I mean, when you look at Casinos, they do not have clocks, they do not have windows, and they are designed to keep the player stuck there; in fact, they are lit in such a way to mimic a certain time of night that they (the Casinos) find stimulate people to be in the best of moods. All this, so that the players keep wasting their money and keep “gaming,” which, now that I think about it, is exactly like a Chuck E. Cheese…

All joking aside, this isn’t a laughing matter, and I apologize if I am coming off that way. I just feel like the amount of evidence, outside of The Qur’an and the Sunnah just underlines how terrible gambling is, in all forms, and the lottery is a critical cornerstone of gambling, because if your friend thinks that the “lottery” itself was mentioned by The Qur’an, I’m sorry, it isn’t, in that, I don’t think there is an Arabic word for “Mega Millions,” but the lottery is without a doubt gambling.

So, when we look at The Qur’an, let’s look at how it addresses gambling:

“They will ask thee about intoxicants and games of chance. Say: “In both there is great evil as well as some benefit for man; but the evil which they cause is greater than the benefit which they bring.” And they will ask thee as to what they should spend [in God’s cause]. Say: “Whatever you can spare.” In this way God makes clear unto you His messages, so that you might reflect” [2:219] Muhammad Asad

So, The Qur’an underlines that the destructive element towards both intoxicants and “games of chance” (that’s gambling, ps) are not only both horrendous, but that even if someone wanted to say “but, hey, it’s harmless… what’s wrong with one lottery ticket, or one drink?” the reality is that, they destroy people.

Now, while I have addressed the effects of alcohol, and why it is haram, here, I think the overwhelming scientific evidence that I mentioned earlier should be enough reason, but then The Qur’an reminded me of something: look at what you are spending your money on.

Did you see how much money people were able to raise because they thought they were going to get a cash prize? People who would say they “didn’t have money,” were giving whatever they “didn’t have” towards trying to win the lottery. Remember a little while back how there was over a billion dollars raised by the lottery in the United States?

Imagine if people would give that much money towards the poor, towards the sick, towards the needy?

I mean, look at that verse, God asks that you spend “whatever you can spare” and if your friend would put that money towards a charity, towards feeding a homeless person, or even to his own family, how much more benefit would that bring? If everyone just spent that “little bit” how much more money would we have for Muslim causes? Perhaps we’d have endowments that would help Muslims with their college tuition? Maybe we wouldn’t have to see young children die of hunger because we spent that money on developing agricultural infrastructure?

This is our test, right here, the question is what do we do, and when people ask why is there suffering if God exists, the reality is that we are the ones who create the suffering, not God, and it is up to us, as our test in this life, to work towards ending that suffering, even if it is just one person, it’s a difference.

Gambling, is just one of the many things that prevent human beings from changing the world for the better.

The Qur’an continues, in the fifth Surah:

“(90) O you who have attained to faith! Intoxicants, and games of chance, and idolatrous practices, and the divining of the future are but a loathsome evil of Satan’s doing: shun it, then, so that you might attain to a happy state!

(91) By means of intoxicants and games of chance Satan seeks only to sow enmity and hatred among you, and to turn you away from the remembrance of God and from prayer. Will you not, then, desist?” [5:90-91] Muhammad Asad

Not only does God underline in ayah 91 that intoxicants and games of chance are simply methods to destroy communities, to break up families, and to remove a person from a state of happiness, but look at the correlation made in the 90th ayah: God groups intoxicants, games of chances, with idolatrous practices and fortune telling (as real and divine) just to be clear, those last two, kinda are the definition of shirk, like, y’know associating partners with God, violating the essential element of belief in Islam, tawhid, or The Absolute Oneness of God.

Now, gambling and intoxicants do not carry the same implications as shirk, but, what The Qur’an is explaining is that they are as destructive as shirk. Think about that, let your friend consider that, would they want to even risk playing with what “defines Maisar” when that is how destructive games of chance are described in The Qur’an.

Now, within the Hadith, we find what The Prophet told his followers what they should do should they gamble:

“And whoever says to his companions, ‘Come let me gamble’ with you, then he must give something in charity (as an expiation for such a sin).”

This Hadith, in Bukhari, underlines that people are liable to make mistakes, and therefore, in this same Hadith, it’s quite interesting to see that The Prophet says:

“Whoever amongst you swears, (saying by error) in his oath ‘By Al-Lat and Al- Uzza’, then he should say, ‘None has the right to be worshipped but God.’”

Granted, this was a common expression before Islam, and sometimes people would mistakenly say this, but I hope this Hadith illustrates that mistakes happen, and even if your friend has mistakenly participated in gambling, he should ask for forgiveness, and give money to charity, which underlines the point I made earlier, on how gambling is a waste of resources and prevents money from being used for good.

Oh, and just so we’re clear, the definition of gambling was used not just for games of chance, but even for uncertainty when it came to any matters of financial transactions that could prove costly to one party but not the other. Check out this Hadith, from Imam Malik’s Muwatta which is narrated by Said ibn al-Mussayab:

“Said ibn al-Musayyab [said]: ‘Part of the gambling of the people of Jahiliya was bartering live animals for slaughtered meat, for instance one live sheep for two slaughtered sheep.’”

In this Hadith, Said ibn al-Musayyab uses the same word used in The Qur’an for “games of chance,” and while I do not want anyone to try and figure out whether buying microwavable meals is the equivalent to what Said ibn al-Musayyab was describing (and please don’t ask me [it isn’t, trust me]), the point is, that a business transaction, where one party can incur financial loss without accountability of the other party, is described as “gambling,” then it becomes quite clear that the lottery clearly falls into the category of “games of chances” as described in The Qur’an and the Hadith.

I hope this helps, and I hope that you can convince your friend to stop gambling, because he is simply wasting his money on the lottery and he needs to stop because he’s not just hurting his community by wasting his resources on the lottery, but, at the end of the day, he’s doing the most damage to himself. I pray that he will be able to realize that, insha Allah.

I hope that helped, and if you, or anyone else, has a question on this, or any other topic, please do not hesitate to ask me, insha Allah.

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