In relation to the activity known as ‘Secret Shaikh” or “Secret Eid”, then it is an Islamized version of a Christian tradition called “Secret Santa”. Recently, Muslims have begun to organize these activities on Eid and they have become quite popular. The Islamic ruling on this activity revolves around a few issues.

First, we have to know the definition of Secret Santa. It is defined as “a system whereby each member of a group chooses at random another member of the group for whom to buy a Christmas present at an agreed cost, so that each member buys one present and receives one present”. End. [Reference].

In this activity, each member of the group gives another member of the group a gift with the expectation of receiving a gift in return. In Islamic Fiqh, this dealing is considered an exchange of compensations (الْمُعَاوَضَةُ). More specifically, it is called a gift with the condition of compensation (هبة بشرط العوض), or a gift in exchange for compensation
(هِبة مُقابِل عِوَض), or a gift in exchange for a reward (هِبةَ الثَّوابِ). In this kind of transaction, the gift and the compensation that will be given in return must be known to both parties as mentioned by the majority of scholars [See: al-Mowsoo’ah al-Fiqhiyyah al-Kuwaitiyyah (42/140)]. It is just like any other business transaction in Islam in which both items of exchange are clear and known before the transaction occurs.

When it comes to Secret Santa activities, someone gives a gift in exchange for another gift which is unknown to them until after the exchange. The gift-giver does not know beforehand the type or value of the gift they will receive in return. Hence, the compensation is unknown during the process.

The scholars differed on the ruling of giving a gift in exchange for compensation which is unknown. One group of scholars say it is permissible, which is the Mathhab of the Malikiyyah [Mawaahib al-Jaleel (8/29)], and a view of some Shafi’ee Scholars [Mughni al-Muhtaaj (2/405)] and some of the Hanaabilah [al-Insaaf (7/89)].

Another group of scholars say it is impermissible, and this is the Mathhab of the Shafi’yyah [Minhaaj at-Talibeen (pg. 172)], the Mathhab of the Hanaabilah [Kashhaaf al-Qinaa’ (4/300)], and the view of some of the Maliki Scholars [ash-Sharh al-Kabeer (4/114)]. Each group of scholars has their proofs and reasoning.

However, if giving a gift for a compensation takes the ruling of a transaction, then in Islam the item and the compensation must be clarified beforehand in order to prevent Gharar (uncertainty) which is prohibited in transactions [Saheeh Sunan Abi Dawood (no. 3376)]. It is possible that someone purchases a very expensive gift for a friend only to receive a very inexpensive gift in return. This type of uncertainty, according to the scholars, resembles gambling in which a person is not sure if they will gain a lot out of the transaction or gain very little.

For those reasons, our contemporary Scholars have ruled this form of gift giving as being impermissible. From those Scholars are:

  • Shaikh Abdullah ar-Rukbaan, a Senior Scholar from Saudi Arabia, (may Allah preserve him) [Reference]
  • Shaikh Abdurrahman al-Barrak (may Allah preserve him) [Reference]
  • Shaikh Sa’d al-Khathlaan (may Allah preserve him) [Reference]
  • and others

In order to avoid this uncertainty, Secret Santa activities usually have a price limit to ensure each participant will receive a gift of equal value. In this form of the activity, each participant will receive a gift of equal price in return, although they still do not know what type of gift it will be until afterwards.

The scholars differed on the ruling of this exchange with this condition. Some scholars permitted it, like Shaikh Abdurrahman al-Barrak [Reference] and Shaikh Sa’d al-Khathlaan [Reference].

However, other scholars objected arguing that even though the cost of the gifts is agreed upon, it does not necessitate that the gifts bought at the same price point will be of the same value. It is possible that all participants agree to buy gifts worth $50, for example, but one person is able to get an item worth more than that for $50 at a specific store, which the other participants cannot get etc. Hence even though each participant spent $50, the true value of the gifts bought may vary widely.

Added to this, some of the scholars mentioned that this activity does not truly embody the Islamic ethic of gift-giving because in Islam, gifts are given purely out of love and seeking reward from Allah without intending anything in return. As the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Give gifts and you will love one another” [Saheeh Adab al-Mufrad (no. 594)]. But giving a gift with the condition or expectation of a gift in return opposes the aforementioned wisdom of gift-giving [See: al-Bayaan fi Mathhab al-Imaam ash-Shaafi’ee (8/133)]. Not to mention that a person may receive a gift in return which they do not truly want because it came from someone randomly who does not know the person’s interest etc.

Finally, we do know that this activity originated from the Christians and there is concern about imitating them. However, I have found that when our scholars speak about the issue, they discuss the actual activity and its ruling and they do not mention it as being an imitation of the disbelievers. It is possible that the activity is no longer specific to them or it is done by others outside of Christmas. Allah knows best.

In summary, it is best to leave off this activity due to the aforementioned reasons. The best thing is to exchange gifts purely out of love without any condition or expectation of receiving a gift in return. This is the Sunnah and the best way to generate love and brotherhood/sisterhood among friends and families.

And Allah knows best

Faisal bin Abdul Qaadir bin Hassan
Abu Sulaymaan