Prohibiting Khamr [Intoxicants] and Maysir [Gambling]
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala forbids His believing servants from consuming Khamr and Maysir [i.e. intoxicants and gambling]. Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Ali bin Abi Talib radhiAllahu anhu, the Leader of the Faithful, said that chess is a type of gambling.
Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Ata, Mujahid and Tawus, or , two of them, said that every type of gambling, including children’s playing with [a certain type of] nuts, is Maysir. Ibn Umar said that Al-Maysir means gambling, and this is the same statement that Ad-Dahhak reported from Ibn Abbas radhiAllahu anhu, who added, “They used to gamble during the time of Jahiliyyah, until Islam came. Allah then forbade them from this evil behavior.”
In this ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,
يَـأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ إِنَّمَا الْخَمْرُ وَالْمَيْسِرُ وَالاٌّنصَابُ وَالاٌّزْلاَمُ رِجْسٌ مِّنْ عَمَلِ الشَّيْطَـنِ فَاجْتَنِبُوهُ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
“O you who believe! Khamr, Maysir, Ansab, and Azlam are a filth of Shaytan’s handiwork. So avoid that in order that you may be successful.”
We learned earlier, the prohibition of alcohol came in different stages. Ahmad ibn Hanbal recorded in his Musnad from Abu Huraira radhiAllahu anhu that he said, “There were three stages to prohibit intoxicants.”
When the Messenger of Allah sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam migrated to Madina the people were consuming alcohol and gambling including the Muslims. So they asked the Messenger about these things.
A person who is a believer knows that these things are morally wrong. So although there was no prohibition regarding their consumption yet they asked the Messenger. It is then when ayah 219 of Surah al-Baqarah was revealed stating, “In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.”
People said there is no sin it for us. They are not haram. They went on drinking alcohol until one day the person who was leading the Salah mixed the ayaat in his recitation because at that time he was intoxicated. It was then that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala sent down a tougher command than the previous one in Surah an-Nisa ayah 43. He said, “O you who have believed, do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying.”
People continued to drink alcohol but would avoid it when the Salah time was near. It was then when this ayah of Surah al-Ma’idah was revealed. They replied, “We abstain O Lord.”
By starting this ayah with, “O you who believe” Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala asserts that if you are believer than listen to this. If our emaan is weak the ayah will have no impact on our heart. But if we truly consider ourselves to be believers and our hearts are attached to the commands of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, we will be attentive and act upon what’s being said.
Literally, khamr خَمْرُ is that which covers the intellect. It includes every kind of intoxicant whether it is a drink, something a person smokes, smells or put in his mouth; anything that overcomes the mind of a person is an intoxicant. When a person is intoxicated he cannot distinguish between right and wrong. He’s harming himself and other people. Therefore, there’s a law against drunk driving. A true believer will not fall for intoxicants. He cannot appreciate the fact that a part of his life has gone. That’s a wasted time.
The word maysir مَيْسِر in the ayah has been used for gambling but literally it means any game of chance or betting through which people acquire some wealth. It includes lottery as well. A person who is involved in maysir cannot be generous or sualeh. We have been taught to do ehsaan with others, be considerate and be extra nice; display excellence of conduct. In maysir, we are looking for ways to acquire someone else’s money. We win by hurting someone else.
The word ansab اٌّنصَاب means a stone altar. This is where the mushrikeen used to offer their sacrifices to their idols.
The word azlam اٌّزْلاَمُ is the plural of zulm. It means using arrow to find out your fortune. When people were not sure about a matter, they will take three arrows. One said, “Do it”. The other said, “Don’t do it”. And the third didn’t say anything, it means, “Try again”. These arrows were used to take decisions. This is similar to using dice or cards, today.
All of these things are filth رِجْسٌ .It is applied to both physical and intangible filth. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says in Surah al-An’am ayah 145, “Say: I do not find within that which was revealed to me [anything] forbidden to one who would eat it unless it be a dead animal or blood spilled out or the flesh of swine – for indeed, it is impure.”
What is the reason for avoiding a certain type of food? It’s rijs meaning unclean or impure. This is the physical filth.
Intangible filth, on the other hand, means spiritual filth. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says in Surah al-Hajj ayah 30, “So avoid the uncleanliness of idols.” The idols may be fragrant and clean apparently, but there’s spiritual uncleanliness in them.
Here in Surah al-Ma’idah ayah 90, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is talking about the spiritual impurity. Khamr, maysir, ansab and azlam are the works of Shaytan. He has beautified them for the people. He incites them to do. Therefore, we have been instructed to stay away from them and be successful. Falah means that a person attains his goals and he is saved from that which is makrooh or disliked. He is successful in this world and the hereafter.
[Explanation of the ayah compiled from the lecture of Taimiyyah Zuberi]