We have previously discussed the wacky views of Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh like declaring that Twitter is “the source of all evil and devastation.” Now the grand mufti has ruled that chess is forbidden in Islam even though Arabs helped spread chess around the world after conquering Persia in the Seventh Century. Yet, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s supreme Shia religious authority, has previously issued rulings forbidding chess. Likewise, after the 1979 revolution in Iran, chess was declared haram, or forbidden.
At first I was not sure if it was the role of a powerful “bishop” or the mixing of genders with the Queen intermingling with knights and other non-family members. It turns out that the grand mufti believes that chess can encourage gambling and is a waste of time. That is appears is enough to declare it an affront to Islam.
Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh appears to play a pretty hard core version of the game. He insisted that chess is “a cause for hatred and enmity between players.” I am not sure how chess differs from any competitive sport. However, he declared that chess runs afoul of the Qur’an’s ban on “intoxicants, gambling, idolatry and divination”.
Given his position in Saudi Arabia, the announcement could have a substantial impact on chess players in the Kingdom — an association that has existed for centuries. Most people would view declaring a game like chess as anti-Islamic to be rather unhinged but the grand mufti is not just some guy raving about chess in the subway. These declarations are expected to be followed by faithful Muslims regardless of the absurdity of the suggestion. Of course, given the rise of online gambling in Saudi Arabia, there appears to be many Muslims who do not hold with such fatwas against fun.