Question:

Are the gifting schemes known as Secret Sufis or Tuhfatul Mu`min Permissible which are similar to Secret Santa?
All of the participants’ names are placed into a hat or container and mixed up. Each person then chooses one name, but doesn’t tell anyone which name was picked. He/she is now responsible for buying a gift for the person selected.
When the gifts are wrapped, labels with the recipients name are put without the name of the donator. 
All the gifts are then placed in a general area for opening at a designated time with a guessing game as to who donated the gift.
Is this method permissible?

Answer:

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.

Hibah (gifting) is a praiseworthy action which has been encouraged in the Qur’an and Sunnah.  The Prophet ﷺ said:
“Give each other gifts and you will love each other.” [1]

Maulana Abdul Hayy al-Laknawi raḥimahullah mentions that it is desirable (mustahab) to give a gift and a Sunnah to accept a gift.[2]

In essence, there are two types of transactions:
1) Unilateral transactions (Uqūd al-Tabarru`āt)
2) Bilateral transactions (‘Uqūd al-Mu`āwaḍāt)

Hibah (gifting) is a unilateral transaction composed of gifting of an item and taking possession of the gift by the recipient.
As far as the scheme in question is concerned, a common objection raised against it is that it is a bilateral transaction and in particular, a barter trade.  This is argued based upon the fact that one gives and receives a gift in return.  The proponents of this objection further claim that due to such a scheme being a bilateral transaction and a sale, the scheme is subject to the prohibitions of Jahālah (gross ignorance) and Gharar (uncertainty), thus impermissible.  However, a major limitation of this argument is that it fails to comprehend the consequences of the counter-gift being absolutely unknown (Majhūl).  Mufti Taqī Uthmānī hafiẓahullah highlights the position of all four schools on this matter with the following:
“All the Fuqahā’ have explicitly ruled that a gift with a conditional gift in return will only be a valid sale when the counter-value/counter-gift is known.  However, if the counter value/counter-gift is unknown, as a consequence, the transaction will be void according to the Shāfi`ī and Hanbalī school.  As for the Hanafī and Mālikī school, the gift will be categorically valid.  The condition of a counter-value or counter-gift will be void.”[3]

Thus, these gifting schemes cannot be considered a bilateral transaction due to the counter-gift being totally unknown.
Furthermore, a counter-gift is not conditioned at the time of gifting an item in such a scheme.  Hence, the gift is a true unilateral transaction.  In addition, in such schemes, a counter-gift is not always received from the recipient of one’s gift.  Many a time, the donator receives a gift from a person different to the one he gifted an item to.  As a result, it is different to a bilateral transaction which takes place between two transacting parties.

Therefore, the gifting by individual members of such a scheme will remain unilateral transactions of gifting among a number of participants.  However, a few recommendations are advisable to curb any possible negativity arising from such a scheme:

1) A maximum spending limit
A ceiling and a maximum amount to be spent on a gift is encouraged.  This will eradicate any negative feelings arising from getting something unexpected or less valuable to what one gifted.

2) Specified genre of gifts 
Specifying the genre of possible gifts will also curb any potential negativity.

3) The entire scheme from the beginning till the end must be non-binding
The scheme must be non-binding to conform to the laws of gifting in Sharī`ah.  Anybody at any time must be allowed to opt out or withdraw without any implications or rebuke from anybody.

Thus, considering the above Secret Sufi/Tuhfatul Mu`min gifting schemes which resemble Secret Santa are permissible.

And Allah Ta’ālā Alone Knows Best
Mufti Faraz Adam,
www.darulfiqh.com
 
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[1]  عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُولُ: «تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا» (الأدب المفرد ص 208 ط دار البشائر الإسلامية)

[2]   فهي مندوبة، وقبولها سنّة إلا لعارض، كما إذا علمَ أنّه مالُ حرام، أو أنّه يمتّن عليه بما أهداه إليه. (عمدة الرعاية ج 5 ص 9 ط دار الكتب)

[3]  بحوث في قضايا فقهية معاصرة ج 2 ص 192 ط دار القلم