Yesterday I ran into a couple I used to know. I say "used to" because they really don't know anything about me anymore. They didn't know I converted to Islam or any of that. When I converted I kind of dropped off the face of the Earth. I had to or I wouldn't have been able to break my bad habits. But anyhow, they asked me why I quit playing poker. I told them that i converted and that it is forbidden to me now. They were at first awestruck but then called me later and we had a nice chat about Islam.
Here's the deal. I used to play poker for a living. Poker players don't consider themselves gamblers and if you play right, it really isn't (except in Islamic terms). Well, I was getting well known for being one of the best players and was making a decent living at it. I was able to pay rent and my bills with it and have money leftover. Not bad for not really working. The fact of the matter is that I could have started playing tournaments for the big money had i wanted to. Many people were willing to "finance" me. Payouts from tournaments range from thousands to a million. The easy life.
Well then I converted and gave it up and people could not believe it because I was so good. But I took my new faith seriously and although I didn't consider poker gambling, it is in Islamic terms because it does "hurt" people and it's not good for us. And it really isn't.
I enjoyed the game immensely though. There's nothing like sitting at a table of ten and figuring out the inner workings of each and every mind, and also calculating probability and odds. It takes brains to play it right and be able to make a living off of it. But I never did like the environment: mostly guys, smoky dark rooms, and a lot of lonliness in the players. I used to combat that by hiking before or after playing to bring me back into the real world. But I did enjoy the game. I'm a number person. I like calculating odds, etc. It's why I like the stock market so much too... I do miss the game - not necessarily the money, but the game.
Why am I saying all of this? I don't know. But what i began thinking about last night after talking to them was that as a convert, we have often tasted much of the things that are now forbidden to us (alcohol, pork, dating, gambling, etc). I realized how strong this makes us. We have been there and done that and were able to turn our backs on the vile and embrace the pure. I felt really good about the things I gave up because in all actuality, I didn't really enjoy the occassional drink, gambling, etc. I missed pork at first but not anymore - that one was the hardest (and eating halaal). I didn't really enjoy dating either. And my life gained a lot of clarity when I gave it up.
Anyhow, my friends liked to watch me play (it really is amusing to see me in action). Friends who never played would occasionally go and watch and were amazed to see me in action. It's the one place in life where i had complete confidence and strength. I played a good game. So my friends have invited me to play penny poker and all money will be returned to the respective players. Just a friendly game for old friends to catch up and give me a chance to play for fun (which was why i liked it).
My question to you guys.... Would it still be haram if there was no exchanging of money?