Top Saudi cleric declared playing of chess ” forbidden”

Saudi's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh
Saudi’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh
Saudi Arabia’s top cleric has declared the playing of chess “forbidden,” calling it a waste of time and money that creates hatred between players.

In a fatwa, or religious decree, issued in response to a question from a caller to a Saudi television show, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh said that the game was “the work of Satan,” like alcohol and gambling, despite its long history in the Middle East. Chess is played across the Arab world.

A member of the Saudi Chess Association, Musa BinThaily, took to Twitter on Thursday to defend the game, saying that it had nothing to do with gambling and that the association had held 70 events in the kingdom. He posted photos of Saudi players at the group’s events, including one that showed members of the group posing with a prince from the United Arab Emirates.

It was unclear when the fatwa by the grand mufti was issued, but it appeared to garner attention online in the run-up to a chess tournament scheduled for Friday in Mecca. The chess association said it planned to go ahead with the tournament regardless of the fatwa.

Saudi Arabia follows an austere interpretation of Islam, prohibiting socializing between men and women who are not related and bans most forms of music. Though Saudis generally follow such rules in public, many do as they wish in their own homes or when traveling abroad.

In his statement on the show, the grand mufti equated chess with gambling, which is forbidden in Islam.


“It makes the rich man poor, and makes the poor man rich,” he said. “It causes hostility and wastes time where it should not be spent.”

Still, there was little sign that the fatwa would make the kingdom’s chess players recant, and it was unclear whether the government would enforce the grand mufti’s pronouncement. Fatwas are not considered law, rather they are legal opinions sometimes meant to apply to specific situations or intended as general religious guidance.


To dispel any notion that chess is anti-Islamic, Mr. BinThaily posted an image of a chess set with crescent moons atop the kings.

NY TIMES

  • 5thDrawer

    We already covered this one … Checkmate. :-))

  • MekensehParty

    When Armstrong jumping on the surface of the moon said: “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” he obviously was not including the Saudis (or their neighbors, across the gulf included)