Islam vs Chess (yes, really!)

by Gramfan on November 9, 2013

in Gramfan (team member), Shari'a, sports

Heaven forbid one could use the brain for other than destructive purposes!

QWire has the story:

DOES ISLAM BAN CHESS?

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)

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.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zenster November 10, 2013 at 4:34 am

Chess ranks as one of the most brilliantly devised contests of wits among all in human history. It is not a game. Chess represents a battle of wits at the most fundamental levels of human consciousness.

Nearly all games are a matter of chance. A proper chess tournament eliminates almost all chance so that the outcome represents a measure of skill and nothing else.

A quick examination of the skills that chess imbues is nothing short of impressive:

• The ability to project forward in time a very complex and interactive construct.

• A careful husbanding of resources whereby even the lowest ranked piece (a pawn) can be promoted to a queen. Of even greater complexity is how winning positions have been obtained by merely exchanging the pawn’s status for a knight or bishop, thus gaining the checkmate.

• As mentioned in my most recent post, chess demands that players always expect their opponent to make the best move. This one guideline is priceless in terms of life strategy and making the best of a situation.

• Not to “telegraph” moves by touching a piece in anticipation of moving it. In fact, tournament chess mandates “touch moves” whereby touching a piece demands that it then must be moved.

• We won’t even go into timed play where clocked moves dominate ranking. Curiously, computers come to the fore in “speed chess”. Something I still have difficulty accepting.

The lessons and methods that chess teaches are manifold. One of my favorites being discovery. Neither go nor backgammon can remotely approach chess in terms of complexity and depth of strategy. For all of a half-dozen piece variants and a mere 8 x 8 checkerboard configuration, there is little hope of any other game supplanting the role of chess in training minds for the real-life challenges that living presents to us.

That—just as with performing non-liturgical music—Islam forbids playing chess is of no surprise. It is a succinct explanation for the septic stagnation of all Muslim cultures and represents nothing more than the just desserts that all of Mohammad’s followers deserve.

2 gramfan November 10, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Good post, Zenster!
I haven’t played in years but it certainly isn’t a game of chance. It’s a brain game.
It takes a lot of thinking, in advance, and strategy to come even close to winning!

3 Always On Watch November 10, 2013 at 4:51 pm

Good grief! Is this weird or what?

Ah, well. I shouldn’t be surprised. Islam is noted for its weirdness.

4 Juan Eduardo November 11, 2013 at 6:47 pm

It seems that I don’t live a month without hearing something stupid about Islam. I know there are good Muslim people on this earth, but the Islamic ideoligy is not only barbaric, it’s also insane. See new YouTube video BRAND NEW LEATHER JACKET. This video gives a perfect explanation why Islam is not good for instrialized countries.

5 CzechRebel November 13, 2013 at 10:22 am

Funny how so many Bosnian Muslims become strong chess players just like their Serbian neighbors. Since Mohammad didn’t like chess, maybe it is time that they try Orthodox.

6 Cagri September 10, 2014 at 9:12 am

An article written in prejudice against Islam. Boko Haram and ISIS etc. are organizations disapproved by the majority of Muslims.There is a ‘concensus’ among Muslims that they are on the wrong way.So,giving their example to blame Islam shows your wrong point,not of Islam’s. Nobody is imprisoned for watching sports on TV(recently Iran’s president watched football match of Iran national team in world cup.),or listening to music or dancing.

The prohibition in Islam you told about chess is a narration and some Islamic scholars said that it is not autenthic hadith(the Prophet’s saying) since the chess was not known in Arabia until the Prophet Muhammad(peace be upon him) dies. It was about 20 years later that chess came to Arabia after Iran(Persia) was conquared. Chess is a contreversial topic in Islam since then.

Some scholars did not see it as legal because of reasons such as being absorbed in game that often occurs and prevents you from doing good deeds you might have done in time you spent playing chess.(Often you might not find enough time for study or miss prayers).It may be argued that this absorption depends on the person itself but by not playing it you stay on the safe side which looks better.

The scholars who let playing chess gave a permission under the circumstances that your religious and worldly affairs are not hampered by chess. So the decision is yours whether to stay on the safe side or take the advantage of the permission given by the other school of jurisprudence.

Sadly,the information about the Islam that the blogger possess is very limited and I would be happy to help you in Islamic issues,just e-mail me dear blogger!

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