Person with a Question: Shaikh, we’d like to know the Islamic ruling on some modern games: we call them “carrom,” “billiards,” and “dominoes.” What’s the Islamic ruling on playing [these], or, you know, cards…?
Shaikh Al-Albānī: Yes, these games are without doubt of various kinds. For example, al-shaddah [the deck]—these playing cards—these are without a doubt, a game of the disbelievers, those who worship others along with Allāh, who’ve represented their beliefs and worship of others along with Allāh in some of the pictures they’ve printed on some of the cards; among them is a young man and among them is a girl, and others along those lines. Playing with these types of cards—and, as you know, the topic of discussion right now is not gambling—but playing with these types of cards as a [form of] recreation or, as you all say, “passing through [literally, “cutting”] time” or “wasting time”—and this is from the ignorance of Muslims today that they don’t remember the old Arabic proverb: “Time is like a sword; if you don’t cut it [i.e., pass through it actively], it will cut you [i.e., pass through you]”—so this is from the things Muslims are going through today; they waste something whose value is more precious than gold and silver, and that is nothing other than time.
What then serves as evidence [here] is that playing with these cards without gambling is not free, at the very least, [of being considered something detested in Islam] because of what there is in it of using these images [of living, animate beings] and becoming involved and bending over engrossed with interest in playing with them, as is seen from players.
And this reminds me of a report that’s been narrated as coming from ʿAlī—and I mean what I say when I say, “been narrated,” because the [statement] “been narrated” is an indirect way of indicating [that the narration] is considered weak—so it’s been narrated from ʿAlī, may Allāh be pleased with him, that he passed by some people who were playing chess, bending over and deeply engrossed in it, so he said to them: “What are these idols that you are keeping yourselves to out of devotion?” (Al-Anbiyāʾ 52 extracted, English meaning) So he pulled out this verse on them, why? Because chess really does have figures [or idols] in it: it has a horse, it has an elephant [in some versions], it has a king, and so on. And these [players] were bending over, completely engrossed in it. So he used that as proof against them, denouncing this avid interest [of theirs] and [their] bending over [it] with [so much] absorption, even though they weren’t, without any doubt, intent on the idols—they were intent on the game and charging up their abilities to memorize or remember things and things like that. But this despicable outer appearance of bending over, engrossed with figures [or idols], it’s from this angle that I hold playing with these cards to be something detested [in Islam], due to what’s in them of images that represent the disbelief of those who invented these cards.
Then after that, playing with these cards is of different kinds. Some [games] are based on working one’s ability to remember or memorize things; some are based on what they call “luck.” It’s this latter kind that has a similarity to dice, about which the explicit, authentic text has come [to us] in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim from the Prophet ﷺ, [in which] he said that one who plays with dice is like one who dips his hands into the flesh and blood of pigs. Similarly, he prohibited in the ḥadīth of Abū Mūsá Al-Ashʿarī … the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ prohibited [the use] of dice. Dice [rolls] are based on luck, and it’s because of that you find [among] people playing with them [those who] call out, “[C’mon], dice” … “[C’mon], luck” …. This kind of playing with cards takes the same ruling of dice, which has been forbidden [explicitly] in textual form.
As for those types [of games] that are from the angle of sharpening the memory, the ruling on [those] is the same as the Islamic ruling on chess with an exception [that must be noted] …. So I’m saying its Islamic ruling is the same as the ruling on chess in view of there being some use of the intellect in it, but we’ve noted as an exception these figures [of animate beings], and that it’s not allowed to become engrossed with them. It’s for that reason, we advise those who’ve sometimes been put to trial by these games to cut off the heads of these small figures so that it becomes allowed to keep them for this game.
And it’s in this way this [whole] discussion can take various forms and involve various details; it could take a long time to delve into them. But the guideline to follow is only that any game that has figures [of animate beings]—has images—it’s obligatory to stay away from it. As for [those games] that don’t have any of that, it’s allowed to play with them from time to time, from the angle of giving oneself a break. As for making it a habit, where it takes up all one’s time and all one’s thoughts, and maybe one forgets one’s prayers and worship, and maybe one forgets his wife and children, then at this point, this would be considered like alcohol, which keeps [people] from praying and remembering Allāh.
So becoming occupied with these games from time to time, as a form of recreation or giving oneself a break—there’s nothing wrong with that. As to what concerns some [games—ed.], as it happens, I don’t know their names because I’ve never heard of them before just now, then if it’s enough to answer [the question with something] like a general principle, it’s possible for things to become clear [for the one asking] from this [following] description: whichever games have images or forms [of animate beings] in them, it is obligatory to stay away from them, and whichever don’t have anything of that in them and aren’t games based upon luck, but only upon memory and using the intellect, then it’s allowed on the final condition that it not keep [one] from praying and remembering Allāh.
Asʾilah wa Fatāwá Al-Imārātiyyah, no. 5 (00:46:33), as quoted in Jāmiʿ Al-Turāth Al-Albānī fī Al-Fiqh, vol. 16, pp. 418-20.