Islam vs Chess (yes, really!)

Y Veritas
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In Honour of the World Chess Championship Playoff beginning 9 November.

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

 Islam flag.png     VS     Playing chess.jpg

OK, I concede that this particular aspect of Islam may not appear to be the biggest issue facing western democracies. But it does provide an interesting and unusually amusing illustration of some of the different priorities inherent in Islamic thinking.

Some prominent political/cultural clashes have occurred over the chess board. Most famously during the cold war the contest in 1972 between Bobby Fischer (USA) and Boris Spassky (USSR) captivated attention. On 9 November 2013, the World Chess Championship playoff tournament begins between defending champion Viswanathan Anand (India) and challenger Magnus Carlsen (Norway). Anand defended his title in 2012 in a very tight contest against Gelfand, Israel's top player, but this year is the underdog.

Of course most chess is not played at the elite level. It is played at an amateur level in homes, clubs and is very popular in schools. It is said to benefit participants by teaching concentration, focus, planning, strategy and tactics. In older years there is evidence that the brain, like other bodily parts, also abides by the "use it or lose it" principle and medical studies have shown a reduced incidence of dementia amongst chess players.

So why on earth is Islam opposed to chess? What is it about chess which so offends Islam?

You can find many Islamic authorities espousing the evils of chess:

Some people claim that the game of chess increases ones wit and intelligence, and it assists one in learning the ways of battles. This claim is unreasonable. Chess has nothing to do with wit or intelligence; on the contrary intelligence suffers a derangement by this game. The player of chess becomes so absorbed in this game that he has no care or concern for anything else. Yes there is no surprise in the fact that by constant playing, one's ability to manoeuvre the various ways and moves of the game improves. But then what is the benefit of this gain? Similarly this game has no relationship with the strategies of battle or war. The act of the game is limited to its technical or ordinary manoeuvres e.g. the knight moves so and the elephant moves so. In true and real battles these are not the moves to be found. The manoeuvres of war are totally distinct and separate. In short both these claims are absurd. (Inter Islam, prohibitions)

So we have here two justifications:

-           that chess causes a mental derangement; it seems Islamic values can contradict western scholastic and medical research

-           Chess lacks the proper training for a Muslim to apply directly in acts of war or jihad. The connection between the chess board and being able to carry out violence cannot be established.

If chess did provide skills to facilitate jihad then presumably Islamic authorities would advocate playing chess, but alas, it is quite the non-violent game.

Many of the great Muslim scholars have clearly stated the prohibition and non-permissibility of chess. Imam Malik RA said that it is worse than the game of nard (backgammon, which is also haram) and more destructive than gambling.

Hadhrat Ali also said:
"Chess is gambling of the Ajam people (non Arabs)"

The prophet said: He who plays Backgammon has disobeyed Allah   Ta'ala and His (Rasool)  

Absorption in this game (chess) is so much, that we seek the protection of Allah Ta'ala. The truth of the matter is that when someone becomes rooted in some practice and this practice penetrates his very blood and veins, then until death it remains overpowering, and in this very practice a man finally dies.

So here's another Islamic justification namely that Muslims need the protection of Allah from being absorbed and overpowered by the game of chess. We see this theme repeatedly and occasionally it goes further:

When chess distracts us from what we are obliged to do both inwardly and outwardly, it is haraam according to the consensus of the scholars - such as when it distracts from an obligatory duty such as prayer or anything that is necessary ... or any obligations connected to positions of authority or leadership, etc. In this case it is haraam according to the consensus of the scholars. Similarly, if it involves anything that is haraam such as telling lies, swearing false oaths, cheating, wrongdoing or helping in wrongdoing, or other forbidden things, then it is haraam according to the consensus of the Muslims." (Adapted from Majmoo' al-Fataawa, 32/218, 240). 

Al-Qurtubi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: "This aayah indicates that it is haraam to play dice or chess, whether that involves gambling or not, because when Allaah forbade alcohol He explained the reason for that, which is 'Shaytaan (Satan) wants only to excite enmity and hatred between you with intoxicants (alcoholic drinks) and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allaah and from As-Salaah (the prayer).' So every kind of game in which a little leads to a lot and stirs up enmity and hatred between those who are devoted to it and prevents them from remembering Allaah and praying, is like drinking alcohol, which implies that it must be haraam like alcohol." (al-Jaami' li Ahkaam al-Qur'aan, 6/291). 

Chess it seems is bad in Islam thinking because it:

  1. Causes mental derangement
  2. Does not really train for war or jihad
  3. May distract from prayer, remembrance of Allah or other Muslim duties
  4. Somehow stirs up enmity and hatred!

Perhaps summarised best by this classic: 

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

Well, we could stop here and just regard this as a silly peculiarity of Islam. But we also see this pattern of thinking applied in extremely harmful and dangerous ways by some Islamic groups.

We may laugh at the above response to chess. But in orthodox Islamic communities Muslims and non-Muslim may be punished with imprisonment and the lash for drinking alcohol, music or dancing or watching sport on TV. These activities offend the above principles (proscribed under sharia law).

Even worse, mass murders of innocent children by Muslim gangs have occurred using similar principles as the basis of their actions. So when Boko Haraam attacked school or college students in Nigeria, shooting them while they sleep in a dormitory or burning them alive, the stated reasons were because getting a western education distracts them from the Quran, Islamic prayer, Muslim duties etc.

Generally in western society a "live and let live" approach is advocated, provided you don't harm others, and you can freely pursue whatever hobbies or pastimes you wish.

In Islam, there is no such principle and your choice may attract retribution.


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You know nothing about Islam.

Yes, is there is any higher supreme deities at all like the DEVIL he definitely rule the Muslims via his tool ISLAM! Hell on Earth starts with Islam everywhere! Chess or no dance etc. the worst of all crimes of ISLAM is how Muslim men treat their female companions in life. All else is second to this cruel Muhammadan insanity towards woman.

I always thought that why Muslims don't play chess is the likelihood of them being beaten by a Kuffar or even a Jew. Just imagine the loss of face by loosing to a descended of pigs and apes.

We cannot "let live" people who want to destroy our freedom. We must take steps to oppose them or have our freedom taken from us.

We cannot "let live" people who want to destroy our freedom. We must take steps to oppose them or have our freedom taken from us.

The philosophy is old:"Give me the child and I give you the man!" This religion is functioning in a square. Their followers have to live within and think within. They are not allowed to look at the other side of the coin and since this is partly done through manipulation, many believe it as the whole truth. Chess has to be rejected and music has to be rejected. Anything that shows true human values coming from the 'infidel' societies has to be blocked out. After all, as a Muslim you can't look down on the 'none believers', treat them with contempt, like low dirty creatures, when you get the chance to learn about their values. In a Muslim world you have to look down on the infidels, because if you learn about their human values you can't do your job as a Muslim. Their religion is trying to keep them in that square and we should try to get them out of it. In our open society we play chess with anyone and those Muslims that dare to have a look and try it out- we would give them a chance. Remember we are all equal.

Every Islamic country endorses professional chess players, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. You can check their ratings at the World Chess Federation website,

Thanks for your comment: It is indeed the case that many activities proscribed by Islam are undertaken by some Muslims including in Iran and Saudi such as drinking alcohol, homosexuality, listening to western music, watching internet pornography (high rates) and as you say chess. They are all nevertheless against orthodox Islam rulings. (WV - author)

Sorry, but in my view we are not all equal. I categorically reject the idea that someone who believes that all those with differing religious beliefs are the sons of apes and pigs who must be either subjugated or annihilated, who is comfortable with the mutilation of the genitalia of females and whose only imperative in life is to impose a world caliphate upon enlightened societies is my equal.
In my taxonomy, such a person ranks somewhere between rodents and bats.

That's a false comparison. These chess teams are endorsed by conservative Islamic leaders. Saudi Arabia openly hosts international chess tournaments, but not drinking contests or pornography conventions.

It seems from my research that most rulings are "Chess is okay, just don't play so much that you neglect the other parts of your life". Makes sense.

And you could find "orthodox rulings" of most religions to condone or proscribe most things, including slavery, marital rape or child marriage.

The article is in part based on recognised Islamic authorities. Are you also saying that the various Islamic authorities quoted know nothing about Islam?

John, your statement:Sorry, but in my view we are not all equal...
You are right and I agree with your statement. Perhaps I should have explained it better. Equality is something our society has to offer, but we do expect it in return. Only that will hold the balance of equality. If you now reply that this is wishful thinking- I would give you no argument.

What a qualified comment this is; a bright light in an otherwise cold and dark night!

After some years in the game one learns that one can quote verbatim A to Z from the Saudi Koran, some Muselman will pass by and say this is all wrong. And when you ask what is wrong, he will say something like "unless you reads the Koran with your left foot in your mouth and your right thumb up your rear, you have no clue about the true meaning of Islam."

The issue with Muslams is they won't loose anything. If it looks like they are going to loose they kill the opponant.
Just look at the shootings in Sydney, they even kill their own.
It's all a matter of what they call "honour". Their meaning of honour is you can't look at them, talk about them, they have and abay NO laws only their own. They detest authority.
I could go on but they are not worth the effort.
They will do what they want, to ho they want and unless they are punished hard, they will just keep going hard to invade as many countries as they can, slowly from within.
They are a Virus.

Chess is an intellect game.
It makes you use your mind and has stated that it prevents dementia.
For Islam to make these insane statements about Chess I have come to the conclusion that everything that Islam stands for is so so wrong!!!

Long Live The Game of Chess!!

Down with Islamic Ideology!!

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Actually, the original prohibition of chess was because it was a gambling game, and gambling is forbidden in Islam. People got caught up in it, as we still do with gambling and abandoned their religious and civil duties, and caused strife between gamblers, and also with their families. It's not unreasonable to want to ban such a game. Even today countries put limits on gambling, and we have organizations like Gambler's Anonymous to help people whose lives were literally taken over and destroyed by games and races. The hadith that are quoted are referring to this historical game, and not the modern day one.

In the modern day some very orthodox people will still adhere to the idea that chess is forbidden, but most people recognize that the gambling game of chess that was originally forbidden bears little to no resemblance to the modern day game. Particularly in the West a lot of Muslims are not even aware that chess was ever forbidden.

I would also like to let you know that Inter-Islam is a Tablighi Jamaat website, the Tablighi Jamaat is an offshoot of the Deobandi movement, and they are incredibly conservative. Probably the only equivalent I could think of would be the Salafis in Saudi Arabia. This group has been prohibited in a number of Muslim countries, as well as non-Muslim nations. If you want a more common or mainstream approach to Islam, you might want to find a site not run by a minority sect in South Asia.

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The reason Islam *was* against chess is because 14 hundred years ago in Arabia chess was strongly associated with gambling. Think Poker. Although you can play poker without gambling, today poker is a gambling game. There's a rule in Islam that if something is strongly associated with evil, then one ought to avoind that thing.

These days chess has lost that negative association. This is the reason scholars such as the late Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor Ayatollah Khamenei have ruled that there is nothing wrong with chess. And this is the reason chess is so popular amongst conservative religioug Iranians.


Your supportive Hadith is incorrectly translated. Correct version: 'He who played DICE is like one who dyed his hand with the flesh and blood of swine.' Dice, not chess. Get it right, insha Allah.

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This page contains a single entry by Y Veritas published on November 8, 2013 1:10 PM.

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