Saudi grand mufti says chess is a 'waste of time'

Saudi Arabia's grand mufti issues a fatwa forbidding chess, claims the game encourages gambling.

Ben Ariel ,

Chess (illustration)
Chess (illustration)

If travelling to Saudi Arabia, leave your chess board at home.

The country’s grand mufti has recently ruled that the popular game is forbidden in Islam, claiming it “encourages gambling and is a waste of time”, The Guardian reported.

Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh was answering a question on a television show in which he issues fatwas (Muslim religious rulings) in response to viewers’ queries on everyday religious matters.

He said chess was “included under gambling” and was “a waste of time and money and a cause for hatred and enmity between players”, according to The Guardian.

The grand mufti justified the ruling by referring to a verse in the Quran banning “intoxicants, gambling, idolatry and divination”.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s supreme Shiite religious authority, has previously issued rulings forbidding chess as well, noted The Guardian.

After the 1979 Islamic revolution, playing chess was banned in public in Iran and declared forbidden by senior clerics because it was associated with gambling.

But in 1988, the British newspaper noted, 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.

In 2010, in fact, Israel broke a Guinness world record previously set by Iran for simultaneous chess games.

Iranian grandmaster Ehsan Ghaem Maghami claimed several months later that he broke the record set by Israel.

As for the Saudi ruling, however, The Guardian predicted that it is unlikely that the sheikh’s ruling will be enforced, and more plausible that chess will be relegated to the status of other minor vices, such as music, which many in the clerical establishment frown upon.