Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, has ruled that chess is forbidden in Islam, saying it “encourages gambling and is a waste of time”. The fatwa was issued during a television show in which the grand mufti answered questions of religious matters.
He added that chess was: “a cause for hatred and enmity between players”. As to justify his ruling, Abdulaziz al-Sheikh refered to a verse in the Quran which bans “intoxicants, gambling, idolatry and divination”.
Whether chess falls under these categories is a source of much debate among Islamic scholars. formerly, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, largely regarded as Iraq’s most prominent Shia-religious figure, issued rulings which also deemed chess un-Islamic and as such forbidden. Furthermore, chess was declared haram in Iran from 1979 until 1988. However, in 1988 the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, lifted the ban and said it was permissible as long as it was not a source for gambling. Iran now has an active chess confederation and sends players to international games.
Remarkably, chess is actually an Arab invention which was exported by Muslims from Persia to Europe during the Islamic Golden Age from the 7th century onwards.
The Gulf region is no stranger to seemingly weird fatwas. For instance, in 2001, Saudi Arabia banned Pokemon. Let alone that, the United Arab Emirates also issued a ruling during the world cup of 2010 in which made the use of the vuvuzela horn forbidden.