Big News Network.com
Friday 22nd January, 2016
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia has ruled that playing chess in un-Islamic because it promotes gambling and wastes time, provoking a heated debate and widespread online criticism.
In a 44-second video clip, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh is heard saying "the game of chess is forbidden" in Islam. To back up the decree, he refers to a verse in the Quran that bans gambling, intoxicants, divination and idolatry.
It is not clear when the fatwa was delivered but the clip was shared on YouTube in December and gained traction only recently on the social media.
Answering a question posed to him by a viewer on the Saudi religious Almajd network, the mufti says chess "wastes time and money and causes rivalry and enmity" because it makes rich people poor and poor people rich.
The Saudi mufti, who like most of Saudis adheres to a strict Sunni Islamic ideology known widely as Wahhabism, is not the only Islamic scholar to have issues fatwa against the mind sport.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s supreme Shia religious authority, has previously issued rulings forbidding chess.
After the 1979 Islamic revolution, playing chess was banned in public in Iran and declared haram, or forbidden, by senior clerics because it was associated with gambling.
But in 1988, Iran’s then supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, lifted the ban and said it was permissible as long as it was not a means of gambling. Iran now has an active confederation for playing chess and sends players to international games.
Saudis have adopted the strategy game, which is believed to have originated in India some time before the 7th century, and spread to Persia. When the Arabs conquered Persia, chess was taken up by the Muslim world and subsequently spread to Europe. Muslim scholars tend to place chess, a skill-based game, in a different category from games of chance, such as dice, but frown upon it if it distracts a person from performing the five daily prayers. Placing bets under any circumstances is forbidden.
Nigel Short, the British chess grandmaster, told the BBC that forbidding chess in Saudi Arabia would be a "great tragedy".
"I don’t consider chess to be a threat to society. It is not something that is so depraved as to corrupt morals," he said. "Even Ayatollah Khomeini came to the conclusion that he’d gone too far and repealed his own ban."
It is unlikely that the new ruling of banning the sport will be enforced. More plausibly, chess will be relegated to the status of other minor vices, such as music, which many in the clerical establishment frown upon.
Moreover, since the ruling was in response to a specific question, it was probably meant as an advisory opinion rather than a formal edict.
"I bet it has more to do with chess being a Persian thing," a user on an online forum said.