Permissibility of an Islamic Contest

By Mufti Ebrahim Desai
Posted: 17 Zul-Qa'dah 1424, 10 January 2004

Q.) A contest is being held during the month of Ramadan throughout my city, in which participants are to answer 10 questions regarding the Qur'an, and the awards include a complete Hajj package, a complete 'Umrah package, and other lesser prizes. Participants are to purchase a booklet for $2.00 which contains the questions, as well as a number of advertisements from Muslim businesses to help offset the costs of the prizes and the booklet.

The questions are very short, usually requiring no more than a one word answer, and participants have the entire month of Ramadan to complete their questionnaires. It is likely, then, that most participants will score perfectly on the questionnaire. Therefore, a random name will be drawn in order to determine the winner of the prizes.

All that being said, I can't help but think that this is no different from a standard lottery, since one pays for the "ticket" (the question booklet) and then by way of a random draw, a winner is decided. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Muslim people plan on participating in this contest, and many Masajid and Imams are supporting it. After reflecting on the issue a great deal, my feeling is that it is no different from gambling, and that participation should be discouraged.

A few brothers asked me to inquire from an Alim about the permissibility of such a contest, with as much proof from Qur'an and Hadith as possible.

What do you think about this? Many people, much more knowledgeable than I, have approved of and encouraged participation in this contest, so I am quite confused about its permissibility. [Faraz]

A1.)  From what you describe, your analysis is correct. This does look like a lottery in thin disguise. Did you ask the Imams in your city who are supporting it for their reasons? How do they answer your argument?

We could provide a useful response if we get their reasoning.

Otherwise as described this thing is so plainly wrong it hardly needs any further substantiation.

-Khalid Baig

Q.) One of the organizers gives this explanation regarding the permissibility of the contest.

1- Prizes are 100% covered by donations and advertising from businesses. (Some of them have their ads there and others don't have their ads there.)

2- The $2 dollars never go towards prizes at all. It only covers printing and marketing.

3- For the $2 you are getting coupons of a value of over $5 inside the booklet. He also mentioned "that we have distributed some copies free of charge here and there.. so, you don't have to show a proof of purchase to claim your prize." [Faraz]

A.) The contest is haram and involves gambling. This is clear as day light. A participant has to purchase a booklet which is integral to the contest and makes it no different from any form of haram gambling, like lottery. The book is not absolutely independent of the contest. It is not like for example purchasing gas etc. and you are offered a gift.

All three reasons cited by the organizer in support of the permissibility of the contest are incorrect. The prizes being covered by donations, the 2 dollars not going to the prizes and getting coupons more than $2 dollars in the booklet does not change the situation of gambling. Distributing few booklets free also does not alter the situation. Why only few books were distributed? That is a clear indication that the majority of the booklet were sold as an integral part of the competition and precondition to qualify for the contest. Surely the organizers will not ask for proof of purchase since they are aware that the majority of the booklets are sold.

As an alternative, we advise that the costing of the printing of the booklet be also covered by sponsors and books be distributed free of charge. And Allah Ta'ala Knows Best