Friday, September 17

Religion is Subjective

A few days ago a friend asked if I could settle an argument he was having with a colleague. A bit of background here: They both play Poker quite extensively, and not just for fun. My friend is a non-Muslim. His colleague, however, is one.

So the obvious disagreement they had was in the Muslim defending his right to gamble. Alarm bells ringing yet? But wait - I wouldn't be posting this if it didn't get vaguely interesting.

His (the Muslim's - let's call him Joe) reasoning was that the prohibition of regular gambling was a consequence of the concept of "unearned incomes" being generally disallowed in Islam, much in the way interest bearing loans are. He further reckons that because he puts in enough effort into playing Poker 10 hours a day etc, his income is just as "earned" as anyone else's. For those of you who don't play the game some consider high stakes professional Poker as a game more of skill, like sport, rather than more about luck. And like sport, if one has a natural talent in a game then there's no reason why they shouldn't exploit it.

My friend on the other hand suggests that gambling, like drinking and borrowing money, is something which can undermine that moral structure of a society. I added that gambling is also unfair in a lot of cases, has an increased likelihood of negatively affecting a person's character, and always has losers.

We then moved on to Blackjack - a game where it's totally possible to count cards and therefore bet lightly when the game is not in your favour and heavily otherwise. "Is there any difference between this and any other speculative/investment activity?" my friend asked. "What about buying stock - like 200 kilos of bananas which may not sell?" They certainly appear to be the same.

The problem here is with the reduction, or inference of a ruling. We live in modern times with a lot of concepts and facilities which didn't exist in the time of The Prophet(SAW)[1] - a prime example is that of the range of securities which now exist in financial markets. That's a natural consequence of time moving forward, and thankfully we have a framework of how to infer new rulings from the old. The trouble is that this framework largely relies on subjective opinion (albeit of a good character), and is itself subject to interpretation. This of course results in disagreements and differences of opinions - you can easily find two equally respected scholars saying the opposite for a particular ruling, be it whether women are actually allowed to pluck their eyebrows to if a suicide bomber is justified in any way for his actions. There is no Islamic Pope (although whether there should be one is another issue beyond the scope of this post. But quickly, I think we're alright without).

I don't really think that there's an issue though. People are naturally good and tend, in the whole, to make good choices between what's good and what's bad. In many ways this comes from God - in the hidayaat he blesses us with and which we should ask him for every day. Further, I think that if one considers all options and makes their own rational decision about which to follow, then ultimately they'll be stronger in following their faith. Of course there are nasty things like fitna, oppression and dunya getting in the way of making the right choice, but that's up to the individual to overcome. Anyone else can only advise on religion which at the end of the day is a personal thing. And besides in most cases we can co-exist with these differences in opinion anyway.

So is gambling ok in Islam? Without listing my reasoning (that's your job) I still don't think that it is - and there are certainly other more clearly legal ways to make a living (although we should make sure not to make haraam what is halal). Joe, however, appears to have thought about it and has made his decision and I wish the best of luck to him. As always, God knows best.

A final note: IANAS (I am not a scholar), and although I feel there is an Islamic basis to what I've written above I can't claim to have spent much time and effort researching in to it. Take what you will, but please do your own further independent research before accepting on this or ANY Islamic concept or opinion.

[1] For ease of writing and communication I shan't be writing the praise of our Prophet after his name from now on. I trust that the reader will though when reading or mentioning his reference, as I am when writing it.

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