There is an obvious difference between permissible competitions and prohibited betting. A permissible competition is between two teams, and the winner gets a prize that is paid by a third party. However, a prohibited bet, which is nothing but gambling, is when two spectators bet each other a certain sum of money to be paid by the one who supports the losing team to the one who supports the winning team. This is a bet that has nothing to do with the competition between the two teams, as it occurs between two parties who have no relation to the competition, and the said sum of money is paid to someone who has no relation to the competition.

That kind of bet was made between Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) and the polytheists before betting was prohibited, regarding the Qur’anic verse in which Almighty Allah says [The Romans have been defeated. In the nearer land (Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine), and they, after their defeat, will be victorious] (Ar-Rum 30:4).

Abu Bakr bet the disbelievers a sum of money that the Romans would defeat the Persians within 3 years. When Abu Bakr told the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) about that — and gambling had not been prohibited then — the Prophet commanded him to increase the said period from 3 years to 9 years because the Arabic indicates that the victory will happen within 3 to 9 years.

Within that period, the Romans defeated the Persians and Abu Bakr won the bet. In that case, the two parties were Abu Bakr and the polytheists, and both had nothing to do with the war between the Romans and the Persians. Thus their bet was a kind of gambling. Afterwards the prohibition of gambling was revealed and when Abu Bakr got the money of the bet, Allah’s Messenger commanded him to spend it on the poor.

By Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi

** Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi is the deputy head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research.