Question:

What is the difference between trading, investments and gambling when the outcome is uncertain in all and all have risk?

Answer:

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

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

In the context of risks, trading and gambling are both regarded as speculative risks.  In trading and gambling, one may profit or lose.  However, there are key differences which make gambling and trading inherently different.    

Some of the differences are:

1)    Gambling is considered to be the staking of wealth by two or more parties where the winner wins all and the loser loses all[1].  In other words, gambling is winning at the expense of another’s loss. 

In trading and investments, partners/members collectively gain or collectively lose. 

2)    Gambling does not involve ownership of underlying assets.  It is merely staking your wealth. 

Investment includes ownership of underlying assets.

3)    Profiting in gambling is pegged upon the occurrence of an uncertain event; usually in a ‘yes or no’ proposition.

Profiting in investment and trading is not pegged upon the occurrence of an uncertain event, rather, there are multiple factors resulting in a profit yield, primarily, the performance of the underlying asset.

4)    Gambling involves transferral of ownership of one’s wealth conditionally on the occurrence of an uncertain event.  This is prohibited in Shariah.

In investments and trading, uncertainty and risk is not in the transferral of ownership of one’s wealth, rather, one purchases and invests in underlying assets in the very beginning. 

5)    In gambling, loss occurs as a result of incorrect betting and the uncertain event occurring.  It a win or lose proposition.

In investments, loss is as a result of bad performance of underlying assets.  It is not a simply win or lose proposition. 

6)    Gambling has gharar (gross uncertainty) as the transferral of ownership is suspended on an uncertain event.

Investments have ghurm (risk) and dhamān (liability) as a result of transferral of ownership in the very beginning.

Professor Sami al-Suwailem describes the difference between gambling and investments in the Theory of Gharar in his paper on ‘Hedging in Islamic Finance’[2].  The following is a paraphrase of his arguments: 
Game is used to denote a for-profit exchange among two or more agents, whereby agents’ payoff are uncertain at the beginning of the game.
Games can be classified according to the sum of players’ playoff into three categories: positive-sum, zero-sum or mixed-sum.

1.     Positive-sum game are games in which players have common interests, and thus they gain together or lose together.  An example of a positive-sum game is partnership or musharakah.  Since each partner contributes capital and labour, both would gain if the project succeeds and both would lose if it fails.  The size of the payoffs need not be equal for the two parties.  But they must gain together and lose together, although the contribution of each might not be equal.

2.     Zero-sum game are games in which one party gains and the other loses.  Gambling is the most obvious example.  One player wins and the expense of the other.  Again, the magnitudes of gain and loss need not be equal.  The term ‘zero-sum’ indicates that the interests of players are in direct opposition. 

3.     Mixed games are games that include both sorts of outcomes; the zero-sum game as well as the positive-sum outcome.  These games allow for mutual gain, but also imply the possibility of conflict of interest.  Examples of mixed-games include share-cropping/Muzara’ah, Ju’alah and ‘urbun.

In a zero-sum game, one party gains at the expense of the other.  It is a pure transfer of wealth for no counter-value.  Since each party is seeking profits not donations, it becomes therefore a sort of ‘eating wealth for nothing’, strictly condemned in the Qur’an.  Further, a zero-sum game is a game with direct conflict of interests, which represents the source of enmity that accounts for the prohibition of maysir or gambling in the Qur’an: “Satan only wants to plant enmity and hatred among you through wine and maysir.” (Qur’an 6:91)

Characteristics of zero-sum games:
1.     Whatever one party gains is what the other loses.  
2.     Gains and losses in a zero-sum game are determined bilaterally – between the two parties of the contract.  That is, an actual net transfer of wealth takes place at maturity from party to another, with no counter-value in exchange. 

In conclusion, the above points are some of the reasons why investments and gambling are inherently different despite the outcome being uncertain for both.  An investor speculates by taking ownership of assets and bears the risks of the assets.  An investor profits as a result of the owned underlying assets’ positive performance.  On the other hand, a gambler speculates by conditionally staking wealth on an uncertain event without taking ownership of any asset.  A gambler profits if his bet materialises and as a result takes his share and the share of the loser as profit. 
 
And Allah Ta’ālā Alone Knows Best

Mufti Faraz Adam,
www.darulfiqh.com
 
DISCLAIMER:
The views and opinions expressed in this answer belong only to the author and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of any institutions to which he may be affiliated.
Arguments and ideas propounded in this answer are based on the juristic interpretations and reasoning of the author. Given that contemporary issues and interpretations of contemporary issues are subjective in nature, another Mufti may reach different conclusions to the one expressed by the author. Whilst every effort has been taken to ensure total accuracy and soundness from a Shari’ah perspective, the author is open to any correction or juristic guidance. On the event of any juristic shortcomings, the author will retract any or all of the conclusions expressed within this answer.
The Shari’ah ruling given herein is based specifically on the scenario in question.  The author bears no responsibility towards any party that acts or does not act on this answer and is exempted from any and all forms of loss or damage.  This answer may not be used as evidence in any court of law without prior written consent from the author.  Consideration is only given and is restricted to the specific links provided, the author does not endorse nor approve of any other content the website may contain.


[1]  وَمِنْهَا) أَنْ يَكُونَ الْخَطَرُ فِيهِ مِنْ أَحَدِ الْجَانِبَيْنِ إلَّا إذَا وَجَدَ فِيهِ مُحَلِّلًا حَتَّى لَوْ كَانَ الْخَطَرُ مِنْ الْجَانِبَيْنِ جَمِيعًا وَلَمْ يُدْخِلَا فِيهِ مُحَلِّلًا لَا يَجُوزُ لِأَنَّهُ فِي مَعْنَى الْقِمَار نَحْوَ أَنْ يَقُولَ أَحَدُهُمَا لِصَاحِبِهِ: إنْ سَبَقَتْنِي فَلَكَ عَلَيَّ كَذَا، وَإِنْ سَبَقْتُك فَلِي عَلَيْك كَذَا فَقَبِلَ الْآخَرُ وَلَوْ قَالَ أَحَدُهُمَا لِصَاحِبِهِ إنْ سَبَقْتَنِي فَلَكَ عَلَيَّ كَذَا وَإِنْ سَبَقْتُك فَلَا شَيْءَ عَلَيْك فَهُوَ جَائِزٌ؛ لِأَنَّ الْخَطَرَ إذَا كَانَ مِنْ أَحَدِ الْجَانِبَيْنِ لَا يَحْتَمِلُ الْقِمَارَ فَيُحْمَلُ عَلَى التَّحْرِيضِ عَلَى اسْتِعْدَادِ أَسْبَابِ الْجِهَادِ فِي الْجُمْلَةِ بِمَالِ نَفْسِهِ، (بدائع الصنائع ج  6 ص 206 العلمية)

(3) وهو في عرف زماننا كلُّ لعبٍ يشترطُ فيه غالباً أن يأخذَ الغالبُ من المتلاعبين شيئاً. ينظر: ((الزبدة))(3: 39).

(4) قوله: كالقمار؛ وهو في عرف زماننا كلُّ لعبٍ يشترطُ فيه غالباً أن يأخذَ الغالبُ من المتلاعبين شيئاً. (عمدة الرعاية ج 6 ص 479 العلمية)

(والمُلامَسةُ، وإِلقاءُ الحَجَر، والمُنابَذةُ: وهي أن يتساوَما سلعةً لَزِمَ البيعُ إن لمسَها المشترِي، أو وضعَ عليها حصاةً، أو نبذَها البائعُ إليهِ): فهذه البيوعُ فاسدةٌ؛ لأنَّ انعقادَ البيعِ متعلِّقٌ بأحدِ هذه الأفعالِ، فيكونُ كالقمار(نهابة النقاية ج 4 ص 50 دار الوراق)

سمي القمار قماراً؛ لأن كل واحد من المقامرين ممن يجوز أن يذهب ماله إلى صاحبه، ويستفيد مال صاحبه، فيزداد مال كل واحد منهما مرة وينتقص أخرى، فإذا كان المال مشروطاً من الجانبين كان قماراً، والقمار حرام، ولأن فيه تعليق تمليك المال بالخطر، وإنه لا يجوز. (المحيط البرهاني ج 5 ص 323)

(قَوْلُهُ لِأَنَّهُ يَصِيرُ قِمَارًا) لِأَنَّ الْقِمَارَ مِنْ الْقَمَرِ الَّذِي يَزْدَادُ تَارَةً وَيَنْقُصُ أُخْرَى، وَسُمِّيَ الْقِمَارُ قِمَارًا لِأَنَّ كُلَّ وَاحِدٍ مِنْ الْمُقَامِرَيْنِ مِمَّنْ يَجُوزُ أَنْ يَذْهَبَ مَالُهُ إلَى صَاحِبِهِ، وَيَجُوزُ أَنْ يَسْتَفِيدَ مَالَ صَاحِبِهِ وَهُوَ حَرَامٌ بِالنَّصِّ، وَلَا كَذَلِكَ إذَا شُرِطَ مِنْ جَانِبٍ وَاحِدٍ لِأَنَّ الزِّيَادَةَ وَالنُّقْصَانَ لَا تُمْكِنُ فِيهِمَا بَلْ فِي أَحَدِهِمَا تُمْكِنُ الزِّيَادَةُ، وَفِي الْآخَرِ الِانْتِقَاصُ فَقَطْ فَلَا تَكُونُ مُقَامَرَةً لِأَنَّهَا مُفَاعَلَةٌ مِنْهُ زَيْلَعِيٌّ (حاشية ابن عابدين ج 6 ص 403 أيج أيم سعيد)

[2] http://straightwayethical.com/papers/Swailem-Hedging.pdf