The Strong Believer: Healthy Bodies, Minds, and Souls – Rulings on Games
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick
The Strong Believer is a podcast, and now a series of articles, for young Muslims seeking to improve their bodies, minds, and souls. The following article is the ninth of the series, and is delivered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick. This series is intended to assist Muslims aged 20 and up who want to live healthy, strong, active, and wholesome lives without compromising their faith.
Our goal is to encourage and guide Muslims with fitness and nutrition advice while also fulfilling their Islamic duties. We are motivated by the words of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace), who said: “The Strong Believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, while there is goodness in them both…”
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate.
May Allah guide us to that which pleases Him, forgive us for our shortcomings, and alleviate our difficulties, Amin.
Rulings on Games
Every game played by two or more people that relies on luck, conjecture, and guessing is unlawful, no matter whether money is stipulated or not. Paying prize money in every game that encourages and assists necessary combat is permissible if the terms of the competition conform to the rulings discussed below.
Every game not of the preceding two types is permissible if no money is paid therein. Still, the permissible games become unlawful if they prevent one from performing a religious or this-worldly duty.
The passages above are near-verbatim translations from Ibn Al-Naqib Al-Misri’s ‘Umda Al-Salik, a classic traditional text on Shafiʿi Sacred Law. These comprehensive passages will form the basis for this article’s presentation of the Rulings on Games in light of Sacred Law.
The Beauty of Sacred Law
I was surprised to learn about the laws below. Across the world, Muslims are schooled from a very young age to despise drinking alcohol, gambling, and eating swine. I recall my teacher (Allah preserve him) saying that “today, we’ll learn about permissible gambling!” His words shocked me but also piqued my curiosity.
The beauty of Sacred Law, however, is all-encompassing. Even our physical training and competitions are governed by divine instruction. There is no other monotheistic religion with such an all-encompassing way of life as Islam.
The opening passages of this article explain that certain games are unlawful, and games for prize money have a specific set of rules, but beyond that, games and competitions are generally permissible. The only other clause is that even the permissible games should not distract one from religious and worldly duties.
How can games have prize money where the competitors put up the money, and the winner takes all, but still be permissible? The following passages are meant to shed light on how well-rounded Sacred Law is and emphasize that games, training, and physical competitions are part of Sacred Law and not divorced from our Faith. Allah knows best.
Games, Contests, and Prizes
The scriptural basis for competitions and races entailing prize money is the word of Allah Most High, “And make ready against them whatever force and lines of horses you can.” [Quran 8:60].
‘Uqba Ibn ‘Amir narrates that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Force means marksmanship,” (repeating this three times.) [Muslim]
Races for Prize Money
Races with prize money for the winner are permissible between horses, mules, donkeys, camels, or elephants, provided that the animals competing are of the same species. However, it is not, for example, permissible to have such a race between a camel and a horse. The participants must know which animals will be ridden, the amount of the prize, and the distance to be run. [Nawawi, Minhaj al-Talibin]
Both contestants may put up the prize money, either one or by a third party. Suppose either contestant or a third party puts up the prize money. In that case, the race is unconditionally permissible, and the winner takes all (regardless of whether he was the one who put up the money or whether it was the other person).
Suppose both contestants put up the prize money. In that case, a third rider must enter the contest with a mount equal to theirs (in speed, stamina, and so forth) who puts up no money (so that it may be distinguished from gambling. If all three put up the money, then there must be a fourth contestant with them who does not pay, and so on).
Similarly, bets from one side alone, such as saying, “I will give you ten dinars if what you have said proves to be correct,” are lawful when the other party bets nothing. Here, the winner takes all. If two riders finish together, they divide the prize. [Ibid]
Competitions in Marksmanship for Prize Money
It is also permissible to compete for prize money in competitions of skill at archery, spear throwing, or other combat skill when both contestants put up the prize, either one or a third party. Although both put up the prize money, a third marksman must enter the contest, as mentioned above (meaning one comparable to the others in marksmanship, who puts up nothing). [Misri, ‘Umda al-Salik]
For the validity of such a competition, the following details must be specified before the contest:
- Who will be shooting;
- The number of shots per bout, how many shots are needed to win, and the criterion for a hit (that is, in archery, whether the arrow must stick or whether it need merely leave a mark);
- The distance to the target; and
- Which of the contestants is to begin.
Because Sacred Law permits prize money, non-monetary prizes are a fortiori permissible, and Allah knows best.
Believers should ideally engage in permissible sports so that they will be physically strong and preserve their health, which will help them do acts of worship and strive with excellence for the sake of Allah.
There are matters of Islamic etiquette that one should pay attention to when playing sports and doing exercise to strengthen the body:
- Seeking reward with Allah, and doing these things to help one worship Him and support those who have been wronged;
- These activities should not involve anything contrary to Islamic teachings, such as participants bowing to one another, striking the face, uncovering the nakedness (‘awra), gambling, and so on;
- It should not distract one from obeying and worshipping Allah, honoring one’s parents, and other essential priorities;
- One should not spend excessive amounts of wealth on it, lest it is wasteful (israf); instead, one’s involvement in such activities should be based on moderation and within the framework of Islamic teachings.
I pray this is of benefit.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan.
He received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.
He is also the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.
Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and has completed his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.