Jan 1, 2014


Malaysian chameleon and maverick politician Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said the obvious when he called for casinos to be operated by Malays and to have a share in the ill-gotten wealth that is shared only by selected members of the ruling elites. He may be right in demanding such a review given the perceived increasing public disenchantment with policies of the Malaysian government. The argument he put forward was worth considering. I am not suggesting its legality but rationality demands a review of the points he raised. Looking from a religious point of view, the argument presented by him may find some support in the interpretation of the analogy based on the permissibility of eating of locus due to its destruction of crops that are meant for human consumption. If substantial percentage, say 70-90% of the win is given away in charity or invested in public project that could be tolerated since the bulk of such winning is channeled to some public good. I have seen that the people who frequent the 4D shops and Toto or any of the lottery booths are disproportionately the Malays, albeit through their non-Muslim proxies. I saw with my own eyes when I was in Kuantan (in the state of Pahang) that the shop-owner of a 4D shop placed a notice discouraging and even cautioning the Muslims of paying for a ticket stating that it is prohibited by the State Religious Authority. While I was in a stall sipping some tea I saw Muslims soliciting their non-Muslim friends to purchase one and they were negotiating their share in case they win. As this is an incurable disease which is spreading like wild fire and destroying many Muslim individuals and families, it is high time the concerned authorities revisit its prohibition and find a solution to this menace. It is obvious who is looting who and benefiting from it.

Recently a student of mine asked me whether buying a lottery constitute gambling, for the Arabic word maisir (ميسر ), the root word of which is y-s-r (ي س ر), meaning that which is obtained easily (without much effort), does not refer to gambling per se. In fact the Arabic word refers to an ancient Arabian game of chance (forbidden by the Qur'an) played with arrows without heads and feathering, for stakes of slaughtered and quartered camels. We do not know the reason for its prohibition, perhaps on the basis of unnecessary killing of innocent camels for the sake of the game. The blessed Prophet being a great animal-rights advocate might have anticipated such cruel wastage in pursuit of winning a game. This contention is reinforced by yet another Arabic term used in the Qur'an together with the above word - azlam (أزلام ) referring to arrow without head and feathers, used in divination. Of course the present day gambling does not follow this method. The fact that the amount one gets in return is disproportionately more than what one contributes is tantamount to the definition of maisir. That does not refers to gambling at all. The Arabic equivalent to the word gambling is qimar (لعب القمار ). This word does not occur in the Qur'an nor in the context mentioned above. The only plausible reason for the prohibition of gambling is due to its attendant problems like moral indecencies that may lead one to compromise one's family's dignity and security in pursuit of winning. The reason as to why the scholars have termed maisir as gambling is due to its association and resemblance with the above descriptions.

Once the former President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari reportedly told the then Prime Minister of Singapore, King Lee the I about investing in a Casino business in an Island off the coast Karachi, to which the self-righteous Lee advised him against it considering the Islamic nature of Pakistan. But the same moralist could not convince against his protege King Lee the II from opening casinos in Singapore.


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