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Is Playing with Instruments of Gambling Permissible in Sharia?

Is Playing with Instruments of Gambling Permissible in Sharia?

Games that are conventionally associated with gambling are also often played without any wagers involved. For example, many people engage in playing cards, chess, and poker as a purely recreational activity without any intention of gambling. There is even some evidence to suggest that games involving memory and strategy are beneficial for cognitive health. A study found that chess improves cognitive abilities, coping and problem-solving capacity, and even socio-affective development of children and adolescents who practice it.[1] This raises the question as to whether the Sharia permits playing with the instruments of gambling?


Gambling —playing games with wagers— is prohibited by the Sharia. However, playing with cards and other instruments conventionally associated with gambling without any wagers does not constitute gambling and therefore, it is permitted.


1. The prohibition of gambling is clear from the verses of the Quran, which mention gambling (maysīr), alongside the consumption of alcohol, as a means of creating societal discord. Although, the Quran acknowledges that there are benefits to both, it claims that their detriments outweigh their benefits. For example,

  • They ask you about wine and gambling. Say: 'In them both lies grave sin, though some benefit, to mankind. But their sin is graver than their benefit.'(2:219)
  • O Believers! wine and gambling, idols and divining arrows are an abomination of Satan’s doing. So, keep away from it, that you may prevail. Satan only desires to arouse discord and hatred among you with wine and gambling, and to deter you from the mention of God and from prayer. Will you desist?  (5:90-91)

2. In addition to the Quran, there are a significant number of narrations (that reach the level of mutawātir[2]) that allude to the impermissibility of engaging in any financial activity in which one does not have control over its outcome.[3]

3. Throughout centuries Muslim scholars (both Shia and Sunni) have held a consensus in which they agree that gambling is prohibited by Sharia.

4. The Quran is silent when it comes to playing with instruments of gambling without wagers, as the Quranic prohibition refers to actual gambling, and thus playing games without wagers is not understood to be gambling.

5. Some jurists have nevertheless taken a precautionary stance and have claimed that playing with instruments of gambling without wagers is prohibited. They argue that narrations indicating the prohibition of gambling do not distinguish between playing with or without wagers. For example,

The report from Fudayl regarding black gammon, chess and other instruments of gambling, the Imam said: “If Allah were to separate truth (ḥaqq) from falsehood (bāṭil) where would such things be? I said, with falsehood! He said: What cause do you have with falsehood?”[4]

Imam Ali (as) is reported to have said: “Anything that distracts (alha) from the remembrance of Allah is gambling (al-maysir)”[5]

Other jurists understand the narrations to prohibit games such as black gammon and chess only because they were instruments of gambling. Since they are no longer commonly known as the instruments of gambling anymore, some contemporary jurists allow playing with them. [6]

6. However, these narrations, like others in the same category, are not explicit in the prohibition of playing with the instruments of gambling particularly when the activity is not associated with any wagers. At most they emphasise on the point that indulging in such activities distracts from other important engagements. Accordingly, in essence playing with instruments of gambling without wagers is not a prohibition in itself, even if it still commonly associated with gambling. On the contrary, certain playing may be beneficial for memory retention and other mental skills.

Even if it is conceded that there is enough evidence within the unrestricted tone of the reports to suggest the prohibition of playing games of chance even for recreational purposes without wagers, this can be understood as a prelude to actual gambling which is prohibited. Accordingly, playing without wagers only needs to avoided on an individual basis if the individual feels it may lead them to gambling.


[1] Aciego, R., García, L., & Betancort, M. (2012). The benefits of chess for the intellectual and social-emotional enrichment in schoolchildren. The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 15(2), 551-559

[2] A narration is mutawātir if it is reported by a significant number of narrators at each level in the chain of narration, such that it reaches succeeding generations through multiple chains leading back to its source.

[3] For a list of reports concerning the impermissibility of gambling and its transactions see Al-Shaykh al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, pp. 164-168; 318-326.

[4] Al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 6: 436; Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, 17: 324.

[5] Al-Ṭūsī, Amālī, p. 336; Wasāʾil al-Shīʿa, 17: 316

[6] Khwānsārī, Jāmiʿ al-madārik 3: 27