Saudi Arabia Denies Renewing Fatwa Against 'Zionist' Pokemon

Council of Senior Religious Scholars contradicts earlier report, says on Twitter that 15-year-old edict declaring that Pokemon is un-Islamic has not been renewed.

A 'Pokemon Go' character is seen on a mobile phone during a gathering of players in San Francisco, U.S., July 20, 2016.
Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP

REUTERS — Saudi Arabia denied on Thursday that the conservative kingdom's top clerical body had renewed a 15-year-old edict declaring that the Pokemon game was un-Islamic. 

Saudi media reports said on Wednesday the Saudi General Secretariat of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars had revived a 2001 decree against a Pokemon card game in response to queries from Muslims, although it made no mention of the new Pokemon Go mobile game. 

The 2001 fatwa said the card game contained elements prohibited by Islamic law such as gambling, and promoted Japan's Shinto religion, Christianity, Freemasonry and "global Zionism."

Users of the game walk around their real-life neighborhoods in search of scores of "pocket monsters", which emerge superimposed on the phone screen via its camera. 

However, Saudi authorities said the social media reports were unfounded. 

"The Council of Senior Religious Scholars denied that it issued a new fatwa about the Pokemon game, and the media reports of that are not accurate," said Abdulmohsen Alyas, undersecretary for international communication and media at the Ministry of Culture and Information. 

"We ask international media to call the ministry to verify information for their reports." 

On its Twitter account, the Council said no fatwa had been issued for the new Pokemon game. 

In conservative Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's two holiest sites, cinemas are banned and women's sports are discouraged as promoting sin. 

Middle Eastern states are often wary of social media use by their growing youth populations. 

Authorities in Kuwait and Egypt have already warned that Pokemon players might be tempted to point their smartphones at restricted locations such as royal palaces, mosques, oil facilities or military bases.