Friday, July 10, 2009

Bank Islam Malaysia Al-Awfar Scheme

When I opened the website for this scheme the first thing that I noticed was the big sign that said "DEPOSIT RM100 AND YOU MAY GET RM100,000!"

My immediate reaction was that this was gambling. If you paid some money with the hope of getting a much bigger amount of money through a lucky draw, I would classify it as gambling. Gambling is definitely not permitted in Islam. However reading further, I saw that there is no bet involved because your RM100 is not lost if you do not win, like you would if you buy a lottery ticket.

So the question is what is gambling? Is it the bet or the lucky draw or both? Definitely you will not have a gambling situation if you just have a bet and there is no lucky draw for determining the winner of the prizes. However, in the case of Al-Awfar, there is a lucky draw to determine the winner of the prizes but there is no bet involved. Is this the case?

Normally, lucky draws are done to determine who get prizes that are not substantial financially. For example, lucky draws determine who gets a hamper worth around RM250. If a lucky draw is carried out to determine who would get 1 million ringgit among a million or more hopeful people, this would bring it closer to an act of gambling.

One of the reasons for prohibiting gambling is so that people will work to earn the money and not hope for luck. If I have RM1000 to save, I should deposit it in a bank and hope that the bank will invest the money and I will agree to share some of the profit with the bank, but if I deposit the money in the hope that I will get RM100,000 through a lucky draw which the bank conducts periodically, I feel it is a wrong objective of depositing the money. It would be worse if I do not expect the bank to give me any profit (or I do not mind getting a lower than the normal profit given by the bank for a normal deposit without lucky draws involved), as long as I am eligible for the draw, and I would deposit more money so that my chance of winning the substantial prize is increased.

Looking at it superficially, it seems there is no bet involved because the money you deposited will still be there whether you win the prizes or not. So who pays for the prizes and where is the money obtained from? The bank says that the prizes are paid from the bank's fund and that it does not involve the deposits by the depositors. So where does the bank get the money to pay the substantial amount of prizes from, and at regular intervals?

There is also an explanation that since this scheme is similar to that of Skim Sijil Simpanan Premium (SSSP) of Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN) and that the National Fatwa Council has declared that this scheme is "harus", therefore the Al_Awfar scheme must also be syariah-compliant.

A similar scheme is advertised by Ar-Rajihi bank (i-Zamzam) where lucky depositors can win a free trip to do the Haj or the umrah. I find this scheme very similar to that of the Al-Awfar scheme, the difference being the nature of the prizes.

Lucky draws have been practiced during the time of the Prophet (pbuhahf) but they were not to determine who would win a financial reward that was substantial. They were used mainly to decide who would do some good deeds if there were several people who wanted to do the deeds concerned. In the case of the drawing of lots to determine who (among them Nabi Yunus) should be thrown into the sea, I do not agree that this is a justification for making drawing of lots to make decisions permissible, and thus legitimizing the drawing of lots for winning substantial monetary prizes. The objectives of the two are very different.

I hope the Syariah Advisory Councils appointed by various financial institutions in Malaysia will re-look at this scheme as well as the SSSP, and determine its status with respect to being syariah compliant. I have read many fatwas online that consider schemes like this as similar to gambling. One such fatwa is from Islam-On-Line at

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