Saudi Arabia to place a ban on playing chess?
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:
I understand that #chess has been banned in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia today.— Nigel Short (@nigelshortchess) January 20, 2016
Short certainly did not stop there.
Just asked my daughter to reverse the car out while I look at some chess. Thank goodness we don't live in Saudi Arabia! #freedom— Nigel Short (@nigelshortchess) January 20, 2016
The situation was later cleared up and Short clarified:
Correction: the fatwa against #chess by the highest religious figure in Saudi Arabia is not new. Nor has it yet translated into a ban.— Nigel Short (@nigelshortchess) January 21, 2016