Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Issues Fatwa Against Chess

Chess is the 'work of the devil,' kingdom's highest Muslim cleric says in binding religious edict, accusing game of stirring enmity among people.

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DPA  - Saudi Arabia's top Muslim cleric has said the game of chess is prohibited in Islam, calling it a "work of the devil."

The conservative kingdom's grand mufti, Sheikh Abdel-Aziz al-Sheikh, has said in a fatwa (a binding religious edict) that chess wastes time and stirs enmity among people.

The cleric has announced the controversial fatwa in several TV broadcasts in recent months, the last being on Thursday.

"Chess is like alcohol and gambling that God has forbidden," he said, responding to a question on the Saudi religious television station Almajd.

Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheik Abdul Aziz Al Sheik in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 9, 2010. Credit: AP

The non-governmental Saudi Chess Association said it was disappointed at the fatwa.

"The mufti has no good background about chess and its modern systems," said Mousa Bandr, an official in the association.

He told dpa that no gambling is involved in the practice of the game.

"This fatwa could open the door for the religious police in the kingdom to have a legal reason for stopping us from organizing chess tournaments."

Bandr said that a scheduled chess event started Friday in the Saudi holy city of Mecca without any problems.

Saudi Arabia follows a very strict version of Islam known as Wahhabism, and the grand mufti's fatwas are highly influential among the judiciary. 

A YouTube video of al-Sheikh's opinion has triggered heated debate on social media.

Chess is popular in the Arab world where it is played at home and in coffee houses.