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Saudi Arabia to place a ban on playing chess?

The nation's Grand Mufti has placed a fatwa against the sport as it 'encourages gambling' and is a 'waste of time.'

In a shocking development, chess – one of the most popular sports all across the globe, may soon be banned in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The nation’s Grand Mufti Shiekh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, who is the highest official of religious law, has ruled in a fatwa that chess is forbidden in Islam as it ‘encourages gambling and is a waste of time.’

This happened during a television show where the Grand Mufti was resolving queries and issuing fatwas on daily matters that viewers could ask across the telephone. According to the Guardian, he quoted the verse in the Quran that bans ‘intoxicants, gambling, idolatry and divination’, and said that chess is on the same lines  since it was ‘a waste of time and money and a cause for hatred and enmity between players’.

Interestingly, Persia had a great role to play in the development of the game into its modern form. Chess was first played in India as ‘chaturanga’ in the 6th century, after which it spread to other parts of the world including Persia and the Arab region, where it caught on very quickly and consequently reached Europe through the Islamic Arabian empire.

But this is not the first time the sport has been outlawed by an Islamic government. Iraq’s supreme religious authority has previously issued rulings forbidding chess and after the 1979 revolution, playing chess in public was forbidden in Iran by senior clerics because of its supposed associations with gambling.

But in 1988, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini, lifted the ban and said playing chess was acceptable as long as it was not used as a means of gambling. Currently, Iran has an active chess federation and sends quite a few players to tournaments all over the world.

Nigel Short, the legendary British Grandmaster, caused a storm on Twitter after he expressed his dismay and displeasure at this decision. Initially, it was thought that the ban through the fatwa was enforceable immediately, but later it was made clear that the Grand Mufti’s words were merely a suggestion and that it was unlikely that the sport will face such a harsh punishment.

The tweet that caused panic all around the world:


Short certainly did not stop there.


The situation was later cleared up and Short clarified:

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