Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick
I compete in billiards tournaments for the federation, where you pay ten euros to participate. We don’t win money. Instead, first, second, and third place wins inexpensive symbolic cups. The organizer buys the cups before we pay our membership. Can I participate in this tournament despite the organizer and the one we pay for the services being different people?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah guide us to that which pleases Him, forgive us for our shortcomings, and alleviate our difficulties, Amin.
Winning prizes (even cash, with conditions) for lawful competitions is permissible, and Allah knows best.
It is, however, only permissible to compete for cash prizes in activities that have a direct use in combat training, such as marksmanship. [Nawawi, Minhaj al-Talibin]
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Let there be no competitions in anything except archery, camel racing, or horse racing.” [Tirmidhi & Ibn Hibban]
Your question relates to non-monetary prizes, so it is not as restrictive, and Allah knows best.
Some may find the above strange, but Sacred Law is beautiful and governs even our past-times, so we have Divine Blessings in every aspect of our lives. May Allah bless you, your family, and all Muslims, Amin.
Games, Contests, and Prizes
The scriptural basis for competitions and races entailing prize money is the word of Allah Most High, “And make ready against them whatever force and lines of horses you can.” [Quran, 8:60].
‘Uqba Ibn’ Amir narrates that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Force means marksmanship” (repeating this three times). [Muslim]
Races for Prize Money
Races with prize money for the winner are permissible between horses, mules, donkeys, camels, or elephants, provided the animals competing are of the same species. However, it is not, for example, permissible to have such a race between a camel and a horse. The participants must know which animals will be ridden, the amount of the prize, and the distance to be run. [Nawawi, Minhaj al-Talibin]
Either one of both contestants or a third party may put up the prize money. Suppose either contestant or a third party puts up the prize money. In that case, the race is unconditionally permissible, and the winner takes all (regardless of whether he was the one who put up the money or whether it was the other person).
Suppose both contestants put up the prize money. In that case, a third rider must enter the contest with a mount equal to theirs (in speed, stamina, and so forth) who puts up no money (so that it may be distinguished from gambling. If all three put up the money, then there must be a fourth contestant with them who does not pay, and so on).
Similarly, bets from one side alone, such as saying, “I will give you ten dinars if what you have said proves to be correct,” are lawful when the other party bets nothing. Here, the winner takes all. If two riders finish together, they divide the prize. [Ibid]
Competitions in Marksmanship for Prize Money
It is also permissible to compete for prize money in competitions of skill at archery, spear throwing, or other combat skill when both contestants put up the prize, either one or a third party. Although both put up the prize money, a third marksman must enter the contest, as mentioned above (meaning one comparable to the others in marksmanship, who puts up nothing). [Misri, ‘Umda Al-Salik]
For the validity of such a competition, the following details must be specified before the contest:
- who will be shooting,
- the number of shots per bout, how many shots are needed to win, and the criterion for a hit (that is, in archery, whether the arrow must stick or whether it need merely leave a mark),
- the distance to the target,
- and which of the contestants is to begin.
Because Sacred Law permits prize money, non-monetary prizes are a fortiori permissible, and Allah knows best.
I pray this is of benefit.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan.
Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.
He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.
Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.