Thursday, January 28, 2016

Saudi Grand Mufit says chess is "the work of Satan" and is forbidden

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh responded to a question on a Saudi television show saying that chess was "the work of Satan," as were alcohol and gambling.

Chess is believed by many scholars to have originated in India in the sixth century AD. It spread to Persia and when the Arabs conquered Persia, they adopted the game and the game spread throughout the Muslim world and from there to southern Europe. During the Cold War, Russia was dominant in the game except for a period when the American,Bobby Fischer, became a U.S. hero for a time beating the Russians. He beat the Russian Boris Spassky in 1973 in a tournament held in Reykjavik Iceland. He refused to defend his title when chess authorities refused to meet his demands. Later he became anti-American and ended up in Iceland where he died in 2008:
 During the 1990s and early 2000s, Fischer lived in Hungary, Germany, the Philippines, Japan, and Iceland, and made increasingly anti-American and anti-semitic remarks on various radio stations. Possibly, as a result, his U.S. passport was revoked.[15][16][17] Unaware of the revocation, Fischer traveled to Japan, where he was arrested by Japanese authorities[18] and detained for more than eight months[19] under threat of deportation. In March 2005, Iceland granted Fischer full citizenship,[20] leading Japanese authorities to release him from prison.[21] Fischer flew to Iceland, where he lived until his death on January 17, 2008.[22]Fischer was arguably one of the best players ever.
Chess is still widely played across the Arab world even in Saudi Arabia. In spite of the danger of crossing religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, Musa Bin Thaily, a member of the Saudi Chess Association defended the game against the cleric's charges saying that the game had nothing to do with gambling and that the Association had held 70 events in Saudi Arabia. He even included photos that showed players posing with a UAE prince. Bin Thally also posted a photo of chess pieces that had crescent moons atop the king rather than the cross that is standard on the Staunton pattern often used in the west.
The Grand Mufti issued a fatwa, or religious decree, to the effect that chess was forbidden. Nevertheless, it appears that the Saudi chess association will go ahead with a chess tournament in Mecca. In his association of chess with gambling, the Mufti said: “It makes the rich man poor, and makes the poor man rich. It causes hostility and wastes time where it should not be spent.”
It is not clear how chess makes the rich man poor and the poor man rich. although if it did. that sounds to be not such a bad idea. As for wasting time and causing hostility, it could be argued that almost any competitive game could have these effects on some players. It remains to be seen whether the royal rulers will enforce the fatwa. Fatwas are not considered law but legal opinions or religious guidance.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Iraqi Shia religious authority, beat his Sunni counterpart to the punch by previously issuing rulings against the game. Indeed Christian churches and a number of authorities throughout its history have sanctioned chess: By the late 15th century, it had survived a series of prohibitions and Christian Church sanctions to almost take the shape of the modern game.
After the 1979 Iranian revolution chess was forbidden by senior clerics for the same reason as the Saudi Grand Mufti gave that it is associated with gambling. In 1988, Iran’s then supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, lifted the ban and said it was permissible as long as it was not a means of gambling. Iran now has its own confederation for playing chess. It regularly sends players to international tournaments. While many Muslim scholars distinguish chess from gambling in that it is a skill-based game, they are concerned that playing chess might distract players from religious duties. Placing bets on a match is strictly forbidden.


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