January 22, 2016

"Saudi Arabia’s top cleric has declared the playing of chess 'forbidden'... a waste of time and money that creates hatred between players."

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh called it “the work of Satan.”
“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.”
What's wrong with making the rich man poor, and the poor man rich?

What's the history of chess? Where is it from? Probably originally from China, and then from India to Persia. After the Muslim conquest of Persia in 651, it spread through the Arab world.

From "The Immortal Game: A History of Chess" by David Shenk:
From the very first exposure to the game, there had been a serious and recurring question as to whether chess was allowable under Islamic law. The Koran—the sacred text of revelations received by Muhammad—did not mention chess by name, but did explicitly outlaw the use of both “images” and “lots.”... [M]any first- and second-generation Muslims considered the game altogether tainted and plainly illegal. Others regarded chess as having no purpose other than recreation....

But chess did have a purpose, a deadly serious one, according to many proponents at that time. It not only broadly sharpened the mind, but also specifically trained war strategists for battle. “There is nothing wrong in it,” proclaimed Muhammad’s second successor, the pious and austere Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab. “It has to do with war.” Eventually, a general consensus found the game acceptable in the Islamic world under certain conditions:
no wagering
no interference with religious duties
no displays of anger or improper language
no playing in public
no representational pieces   
This last item came out of the Koran’s prohibition against images. It is said that Ali ibn Abu Talib, Muhammad’s cousin, son-in-law, and the fourth caliph (caliph means “deputy of the prophet”), passed by a game in progress one day and asked, disapprovingly, “What images are these upon which you are gazing so intently?” By Indian and Persian tradition, chess pieces had vividly represented the mechanics of war, depicting tiny soldiers, elephants, chariots, horses, and so on. Islamic law forced a complete reconception of chess’s aesthetics. Muslim craftsmen abstracted the explicit Persian figures into elegant, hand-carved, cylindrical or rectangular stones with subtle indentations, bumps, and curves to symbolize a throne or a tusk or a horse’s head. They created symbols, that is, of symbols. The severe abstraction made the game acceptable to most religious authorities.... 

“A Muslim philosopher has maintained that the inventor of chess was a [believer] in the freedom of will,” wrote medieval Islamic historian al-Mas’udi (appropriating the earlier Indian legend), “while the inventor of nard [a Persian board game similar to backgammon] was a fatalist who wished to show by this game that man can do nothing against fate.” In the history of intellectual progress, the embrace of free will over fate was a critical step. The realization, both personal and institutional, that people could help shape their own destiny helped lay the foundations of all modern science, philosophy, economic development, and democratic culture. Chess may have helped fertilize the concept, and certainly helped some people comprehend it.

With such weighty associations, chess from the very beginning was intuitively understood by Muslims to be more than a game, and its most expert players to be engaged in more than simple recreation....

57 comments:

rhhardin said...

The queen is always being groped, though.

Triangle Man said...

Outlaw love! It make a one man weep, make another man sing.

Chris said...

"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."

So you better go back to your bars, your temples, your massage parlors...

sydney said...

The Grand Mufti must have lost a few too many chess games.

mikee said...

There are differences between games of chance and games of skill. There are also differences between religions that govern every aspect of life and those that are concerned with the state of one's soul.

I, for one, enjoy playing both roulette and chess. And as a child in a Roman Catholic household I had tuna casserole and fish sticks for dinner on Fridays. I like fish sticks. I am a gay fish. And a lapsed Catholic.

mccullough said...

Since Obama is the Grand Mufti of the United States, given his pronouncements on what true Islam is and is not, I eagerly await his fatwa on chess.

Paddy O said...

"What's wrong with making the rich man poor, and the poor man rich?"

The Grand Mufti Sheik isn't getting his cut.

(I suspect the Grand Mufti lost a game of chess recently)

Mitch H. said...

Uh, isn't free will anathema to orthodox Muslims? They're pretty heavily into predestination and surrendering to the will of Allah - Islam meaning submission and all that. I would think that describing chess as an exercise in free will would be a serious mark against the game in the orthodox context.

That being said, dumping on chess when it had been endorsed by the second caliph sounds like a mug's game. But then, Wahhabi clerics seem to specialize in being more Islamic than the Prophet, so YMMV.

bgates said...

“There is nothing wrong in it,” proclaimed Muhammad’s second successor, the pious and austere Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab. “It has to do with war.”

Obviously by "war" he meant the peaceful internal struggle for self-control and personal growth. That or Muhammad's second successor, the pious and austere Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab, wasn't really a Muslim.

Shawn Levasseur said...

Lemme guess... the Grand Mufti lost a few too many games of chess, and this is the ultimate tantrum.

And to follow on from Chris...

I don't see this guy rating the kind of mate I'm contemplating...

Bay Area Guy said...

The bass-ackwardness of "peaceful" Islam is almost too breathtaking to mention. They'll be banning checkers next.

Mingus Jerry said...

So, not a Religion of Pieces?

exhelodrvr1 said...

So chess sets will be banned for US military personnel stationed in Islamic regions?

Curious George said...

Well if you're looking for Bobby Fischer you can eliminate the Kingdom.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x22lcl_murray-head-one-night-in-bangkok_music

David Begley said...

I declare the eternal Sunni v. Shia war to be insane and a waste of time, money and life.

We need to disassociate the West from those people.

And considering we could energy independent with fossil fuels TODAY, it is insane we still buy 1/3.of our oil from non-NA sources.

steve uhr said...

Takes valuable time that could be better spent making suicide vests

Steven said...

Mitch H. -

Certainly. Al-Ghazali, titled the Hujjat al-Islam ("The Proof of Islam"), the undisputed Mujaddid (Reviver of Islam) of the Fifth (Islamic) Century, taught us indeed that humans do not have free will. Allah decides all things, at each and every moment.

It is true that, Ibn Rushd, a student of Aristotle, disagreed with Al-Ghazali, and claimed Allah established regular laws of nature, and allowed the stuff of the universe to act according to these laws. But he was exiled to live among the Jews for his heresy, and not one Muslim scholar of note ever followed in his footsteps. He is only recalled by history because of his influence on the infidel St. Thomas Aquinas.

traditionalguy said...

The legalists are always stuck on stupid. They must desperately make lists of new sins that are sort of like something that is already a sin, but strangely are all are fairly easy to keep and give a guilty assholes a hit of Self Righteous pride COMPARED to others like Infidels.

And that includes the Legalists of Conservative Sins over at National Review.

The Gospel is called good news because it ends that priestly insanity when it is believed.

David said...

Mingus Jerry said...
So, not a Religion of Pieces?


Funny. Well done.

Nichevo said...

Ali ibn Abu Talib, Muhammad’s cousin, son-in-law, and the fourth caliph


Says it all, doesn't it?

buwaya said...

"It makes the rich man poor, and makes the poor man rich,”

This is a bad thing to a degree in Arab countries, or some of them anyway, because they have a great respect for lineage and social standing. The nouveau riche are looked down on, especially if they lord it over their betters. So social mobility is not a good thing. Its OK if everyone gets better off, but the structure of society must be preserved.

Yea, these many years ago my good buddy in Grad School was a Saudi, son of a self made man, a doctor, had a lot to say about who was looked down on and up to.

Sebastian said...

Good thing this has nothing to do with Islam. As the resident theologian at UW law school would say, it's just a function of people living in closed cultures. Could happen anywhere.

Eustace Chilke said...

Islam is, to borrow a phrase (used to insult a conservative woman, of course) from D. Wasserman S., an onion of crazy. The more attention you pay to the details the more you realize that its crazy reserves are bottomless. The enduring puzzle to me is why atheist-leaning leftie intellectuals cozy up to the crazy so eagerly. They hate their own culture, of course but, dude, that much? I don't get it.

Ken B said...

"It makes the rich man poor, and makes the poor man rich,”

Allah has made the rich man rich, and the poor man poor. Who are we to interfere?

William said...

Although you can't overthink a chess game, you can overthink thinking about the game of chess. This is pretty silly and reminiscent of those who seek to parse the fine degrees of micro aggressions and political correctness. People of color have proclaimed the phrase "colored people" halal. You have to study these things to stay religiously and/or politically correct..........Queen Victoria thought that too many flowers and too much linen on the altar were the symptoms of creeping Papistry in the practice of the Anglican faith.. She crusaded against these vile abominations. It's not just Muslims and college radicals. The world is crazy.

lgv said...

Lemme guess... the Grand Mufti lost a few too many games of chess, and this is the ultimate tantrum.

He always preferred the lesser requirements of checkers.

I wonder where he stands on Risk. I mean, it's all about world conquest. That's not a waste of time to a Muslin cleric, is it?

coupe said...

He's also in favor of circumcising women.

The nice thing about Muslims, is they are easily killed in battle.

Paul Zrimsek said...

If we changed the rules so that the queens are covered with bags and have to stay on d1 and d8, would chess be OK then?

ALP said...

For fuck's sake, are there really that many people so deluded they really eat up all these arbitrary rules issues from the mouths of these clerics? I swear these guys could come up with a reason for Muslims to not drink water or breath the oxygen available to them - it could be tainted by INFIDELS!!!!

n.n said...

Cultural dissonance. Caliph takes King.

exhelodrvr1 said...

"Knight jumps queen! Bishop jumps queen! Pawns jump queen! GAAAAANG BAAAAAANG!! "

They don't need to play chess for that, they just wait for New Year's Eve in Germany.

JaimeRoberto said...

You know what really causes hatred? Blowing people up. Cutting off heads. Taking slaves.

Tibore said...

“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.”

WTF kind of chess is he playin'? I've yet to play a game that would make someone else rich at my expense or vice versa. Although I do admit I avoided World of Warcraft on purpose...

walter said...

Yeah Jaime..that's usually the time to finish your drink and leave the party..with your chessboard.

Tibore said...

"In the history of intellectual progress, the embrace of free will over fate was a critical step."

And in the Arab world: maktub ("It is written"), qisma ("fate foreordained by God"), and insha'Allah are more than statements, they're expressions of shared cultural fatalistic outlooks. Not all there subscribe to this philosophy on life, but enough do to where this difference explains a lot.

Michael Edward McNeil said...

It isn't just Sunni Islam, but also Shia. The problem appears to be that chess is (nonsensically, best I can tell) regarded as a game of chance, i.e. gambling, which is verboten, even if there's actually no chance in it and no betting on it is performed. (But what is the rationale regarding the violin? See below.)

The most esteemed Shia cleric in Iraq, known as al-Sistani (or, as his website expresses it: His Eminence Al-Sayyid Ali Al-Husseini Al-Sistani) puts it thus, in a series of questions and answers concerning what is allowed or disallowed (haraam) under Islam:

Question: What games are haram to play?
Answer: Playing in gambling tools, such as chess, dominoes, backgammon, and betting on them is haraam; even playing chess and backgammon [and the like] without betting is haraam.

Question: Is selling gambling tools allowed?
Answer: Selling gambling tools and equipments and instruments of forbidden amusement, such as violin, is haraam.

Question: Some permissible games use dice in them. So is it allowed to play with it?
Answer: If the dice is not from the tools that are exclusively for gambling, then there is no problem in using it in non-gambling games.

Question: Is it permissible to play games of chance of all kinds on electronic machines (computers) without betting or with betting?
Answer: It is not permissible, and it is treated the same as normal [non-electronic] gambling instruments.

Question: Some people play with gambling instruments other than chess and backgammon for enjoyment and without placing a bet.
Answer: [It is prohibited to play with all that is considered a gambling instrument even without placing a bet].

Question: What is the ruling on playing chess by using the customary pieces? Is the ruling any different in the case where the game is played by computer which employs symbols and shapes instead of the customary pieces?
Answer: Playing it (chess) is absolutely forbidden even without placing a bet. And there is no difference in this, whether it is (played) with customary pieces or by computer.

Question: (Is it permissible) to play chess and backgammon without placing a bet?
Answer: It is not permissible to play them.

Question: What is the ruling on playing chess using the commonly known equipment? Is the ruling different if the play is conducted on a computer, using symbols?
Answer: Playing chess is haraam mutlaqan (absolutely or under any circumstances {forbidden}), even though betting is not used. There is no difference between the two methods of play.

(/Unquote)
{} note and boldface emphasis added (the latter just because it's kind of an eye-opener).

Tibore said...

"Chris said...
"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."

So you better go back to your bars, your temples, your massage parlors..."


I'd let him watch. I would invite him. But the queens we use would not excite him...

walter said...

Ah..how long before Vegas takes a hit?

buwaya said...

Here's the relevant bit re Chess - its a nono in a Hadiths with extra mojo -

Sahih Muslim Hadith 5612 Narrated by Buraydah ibn al-Hasib
Allah's Messenger (saws) said: He who played chess is like one who dyed his hand with the flesh and blood of swine.

Also - less mojo, but

Al-Muwatta Hadith 52.7
Yahya said that he heard Malik say, "There is no good in chess, and he (the Messenger of Allah (saws)) disapproved of it." Yahya said, "I heard him disapprove of playing it and other worthless games. He recited this ayat, 'What is there after the truth except going the wrong way.' " (Sura l0 verse 32).

MathMom said...

“It causes hostility and wastes time where it should not be spent.”

As a long-term former resident of the Magic Kingdom, I can say with authority that time that not spent on chess is to be spent censoring magazines by tearing out offensive pages, or by covering pornography with a black marker, such as the time they put pants on Nadia Comaneci on TIME Magazine (I kid you not).

jaydub said...

Islam is proof that God has a sense of humor.

dc said...

This ruling gives Muslims one more reason to kill people.

wildswan said...

I wondered what games using dice could possibly be non-gambling. I think table top gaming or role playing game (RPG) is meant or so says Google. But why is Dungeons and Dragons OK? It uses images extensively - don't they all? "Role Playing" - what is that but "image playing?" Unless the mullahs were misled by RPG into thinking that was a part of jihad and OK. But gender in University English departments is, according to the latest fad, also an RPG.

Globalization is very difficult since words change meaning based on history but also based on fads. I mean - how can Hillary be the first woman President when her RPG - "stand by your rapist husband" and "get the sluts" - does not correspond to any currently fashionable RPG of "woman" Yet it is merely a dated RPG, not acceptable to English department mullahs, but OK to Democratic Party leaders. It's all so hard.

Big Mike said...

I much prefer bridge to chess, and no doubt the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh does too.

Drago said...

Islam is anti-chess but what about the Crusades? Lets not get on our high-Knights and certainly not to QB3...or was that QBVII starring Ben Gazzara...as a Jew!
I hope that clears it all up but I will have to defer to laslo

rightguy2 said...

Beware of people with concrete ideation who have no sense of humor.

cubanbob said...

Perhaps way back when Jews were among the champion players. It would be blasphemous for a Muslim to lose to a Jew.

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crimso said...

Don't nobody tell him about Eve.

Michael K said...

" isn't free will anathema to orthodox Muslims? They're pretty heavily into predestination and surrendering to the will of Allah -"

Why in the world does anyone want these people here ?

The Saudis are an accident of history and will be gone in another 20 years.

My suggestion, and one Trump might be interested in, is to shut them out and let them kill each other. We don't need the oil and the Europeans are certain they can do better without us. What in the world does the left want another 300,000 Muslims here ?

Everything the left stands for is anathema to Islam. All they share is hatred of America.

elkh1 said...

Their lives are so boring, no wonder they want to blow themselves up.

David Begley said...

@Michael K

Amen, brother.

walter said...

elkh1 said..."Their lives are so boring, "
well..when you can be freaked out by so many relatively normal things..maybe the outrage/mission is exciting...

YJLAW said...

They'll be banning children from tag next...

Char Char Binks said...

I hope they never ban nard.

Kirk Parker said...

"The severe abstraction made the game acceptable to most religious authorities.... "

Go (re-)read T.E. Lawrence's introduction to The Seven Pillars of Wisdom--awesome little account of Arab/Muslim nihilism contained therein.



Tibore,

"... and insha'Allah are more than statements, they're expressions of shared cultural fatalistic outlooks"

Indeed. I used to have to fly occasionally on Sudan Airways (dubbed "Insha'Allah Airways" by the expats.) I gave me great comfort on boarding to look into the cockpit and see a British-looking chap at the controls instead of an Arab-looking one this time...