Don’t Gamble Your Future Away

According to The Quran, “Intoxicants and gambling (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination – of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that you may prosper)” (Quran 5:90-91). Islam, a religion believed in by Muslims – who form over a quarter of the world’s population – takes a strong stance protecting the inherent value of hard-work and genuinely earned money. Whilst Islam allows for the performance of recreational activities, including various kinds of sports, it definitively prohibits any game which involves gambling. To Western spectators, it may seem a rather strict set of rules. Indeed, many readers may not realise the inherent slippery slope which complements a favouring toward gambling. Attending horse races, spending some spare change at poker machines, or ‘trying your luck’ at the roulette table may seem a perfectly acceptable normality, even hobby. But upon deeper investigation into the fundamental process engrained, Sharia Law’s prohibition of gambling represents a wise philosophical, if not religious, guide toward a more prosperous and secured future.

Built into the mechanics of Poker, Roulette, Baccarat, Blackjack and the plethora of betting facilities online and off-line, including NetBet Casino, is a desire to, at its simplest: make money off money. The gambler does not work for his potential profit, but rather throws caution to the wind in hoping to reap reward off chance. Yes, it is arguable that skill plays a part in games such as Poker, but the line of separation is thin. At the root of Islam’s teachings, regulations outlining what is considered “halal” (permissible) and “haram” (forbidden) is a system of justice arising from well-heeded norms of society not unlike those idealised in other religions such as Buddhism and Christianity. A person, through his spiritual connection, should rise above the temptations of material and physical assets, and instead of putting value in them, he or she should place value on what they enable – an ultimate purpose. It follows that money, as the embodiment of material asset, or the vehicle through which material assets can be easily obtained, should not be an end in itself, but rather a means to live a strong and fulfilling life. Gambling, however, places money at its purpose.

Islamic finance is grounded upon principles of transparency and ethical transaction, geared toward sharing risk between businesses and consumers, and minimising the asymmetric information prevalent in many corporation-shareholder relationships which can be witnessed nowadays. A particularly dim view prevails over contracts involving uncertainty, as Sharia Law necessitates that commerce must involve underlying assets backing-up the monetary value of the trade. Housing bubbles would be a thing of the past under these principles prescribing non-leveraged, non-inflation driven ideology as not only is the charging and receiving of interest prohibited, but any contract involving chance is forbidden. Needless to say, conventional insurance companies should be wary of their notorious tactics driven from an expectation that the insured event, through a quagmire of fine print, will never actually occur.

Uncertainty, and dependency of financial institutions (ahem, insurance companies) upon making a profit off calculated nominal outcomes runs a thin line between halal and harem in Sharia Law. A famous example is the prohibition of the sale of an unborn calf – who can guarantee its quality to the future buyer? Gambling, performed carefully or recklessly, is thus a clear extension in the mechanism profiting from uncertainty – by paying regular premiums you are spending money in advance for an insured action that may never occur, thus opening ample opportunities where one party benefits at the expense of the other.

Interpretation of The Quran’s teachings can be varied and subject to temporal change. Whereas chess first flourished in the Baghdad caliphate over a thousand years ago, subsequent readings of a particular verse: “O true believers, surely wine and lots and images and divining arrows are an abomination of the works of Satan” led Muslim lawyers in 800CE to propose that “lots and images” were an allusion to chess. However it seems that the progressive distinction between what is and isn’t a ‘game of chance’ is the involvement of skill, mental strategy and to an extent, military tactics – a point argued by Ash-Shafii, a ninth century jurist. Chess, in its incorporation of imagination, forward-thinking and logical decision-making, does not constitute the treacherous proscription of gambling and thus can be permissible, although ample opposition is still encountered. Backgammon, on the other hand, stands more clearly in the forbidden zone.

In a world of increasingly sophisticated financial ecosystems, opportunities to hedge your well-earned money against the fortunes of a stock-market is becoming more and more available. Whereas in the older days you would have to ring your broker to arrange your orders, applications nowadays offer opportunities to invest from the convenience of your mobile phone. Some would rephrase this to be ‘over-convenience’. Sharia Law prohibiting games advertising and tempting Muslims to spend well-earned money on fortuitous circumstances may be a poignant example for governmental institutions to follow. How often do we hear about debt-driven bubbles and unsustainable growth trajectories? With the throes of depressions such as America’s downfall a distant but pertaining memory, it’s difficult to look the other way.

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