Maisir - Gambling Game

Translated from German by Steve ThorsTen (2019)

Maisir has interesting roots and goes back to the beginning of Islam as a religion. It is a game that was popular in the Muslim world in the early years of the religion, although for a fair while, the game was banned by the religious leaders. The reason behind the decision was simple as Maisir was often used to wager livestock that went to the winner and thus putting other participants at a disadvantage.

Another reason for the rather hostile approach of Islam leaders towards the game is the meaning of the word "yassara", which means to be lucky, and the game itself loosely translates as "lucky success," and hence the gambling involved. Lastly, and possibly more importantly, the game was forbidden by the Holy Qur'an.

History and Overview of the Game

The game has come a long and interesting way. It's origins, they say, date back to a time when ten Arab youths decided to wager a camel by first splitting it into ten pieces and then playing a darts-like game. Interestingly, the Holy Qur'an has banned the game due to its hazardous nature. The meaning of the ban has been extrapolated to apply to any sort of gambling activity today.

However, there is a popular argument that is still ongoing in the Muslim world which raises the question whether wagering livestock is really considered a disadvantage to the losing party. In essence, the religion prohibits gambling on the basis that one man's gain is another man's loss, which is the essence of the activity.

Interestingly, a popular line of thought has emerged whereby if the meat is halal, then the activity itself is considered a "long-term investment", as opposed to a pure form of gambling. This interesting interpretation has offered Maisir some leeway and allowed the game to exist, although sometimes challenged by imams and societal mores.

Now, the other twist comes from the personal interpretation of the player. In other words, the game allows the believer (player in less religious terms) to make up his mind as to whether their wager is indeed a speculation/gamble or it is a long-term investment that is no different than the stock market. This is yet another reason that has given Maisir a chance to be more widely spread without players suffering repercussions.

State of the Game Today

To this date, in Islamic contracting zero-sum games are frowned upon, and unlike the west where gambling is far more spread, in Islam, gambling is under strict regulations or placed under outright ban in order to prevent "the weak" from being exploited.

Maisir is still played today, but the game isn't very popular in the sense that it's advertised. Instead, Maisir players keep to themselves and don't advertise their hobby as the activity creates no societal value. The wagers today have changed and while in some places people still use livestock and other objects to place as wagers, the most common wagers used is money.

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