DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – A video clip of Saudi Arabia’s top cleric saying that the game of chess is forbidden in Islam because it wastes time and leads to rivalry and enmity among people has provoked heated debate — and widespread criticism — among Arabic Twitter users.
The clip was shared on YouTube in December, gaining traction in recent days on social media. Some Twitter users mocked Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdelaziz al-Sheikh, saying chess is an intelligent game and that is why conservative clerics decry it. Others defended his religious advice, saying that many other Islamic scholars have also warned that the game can be addictive and cause people to lose focus from their daily prayers and remembrance of God.
Saudi Arabia’s influential religious establishment adheres to a strict Sunni Islamic ideology known widely as Wahhabism.
Similarly, Shiite Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani previously declared that chess is religiously prohibited because it could be used for gambling, which is not permissible in Islam.
In the 44-second clip, al-Sheikh says “the game of chess is forbidden,” backing up his statement by referring to a verse in the Quran that bans gambling, intoxicants and idolatry. Answering a question posed to him by a viewer on the Saudi religious Almajd network, the mufti says chess “wastes time and money and causes rivalry and enmity” because it makes rich people poor and poor people rich.
Despite some top religious scholars frowning upon chess, the Saudi sheikh’s opinion is not seen as a formal edict that could lead to a ban on the game in the kingdom. Games such as backgammon and cards are popular among men in the Middle East.
Muslims, who introduced chess to Europe, have been playing the game since the seventh century in Persia.