01/02/2016 8:27 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

3 Reasons Why Chess Makes Some Clerics See Red

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Is chess forbidden in Islam? Yes, if one were to believe the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh of Saudi Arabia.

In an interview given to a religious TV channel Almajd, he said that chess was akin to gambling and, therefore it was a "haram" (forbidden or proscribed by Islamic law). Moreover, the Mufti professed his belief that chess promotes enmity between players, adding that the game was a complete waste of time, and deterred people from offering prayer five times a day.

He's not the only one with a grudge against chess.

In Iran, the Ayatollah banned the game after the 1979 Islamic revolution for its perceived associations with gambling. This ban was subsequently lifted in 1988 by the then Iran's then supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, on the condition that it should not be a means of gambling. Today, chess is very popular in Iran and the country has produced some players of international repute.

Chess players, who generally have an above average IQ , may develop a mind of their own and may not blindly follow the clerics.

The game of chess originated in India as "Chaturanga" and it spread to Persia where it got the name Shatranj. After the conquest of Persia by Arabs, it spread to all Arabian countries and from there to Europe. In the original version, there was no concept of a queen. Perhaps, "she" was introduced in Europe as a cultural marker to distinguish the Western and Eastern civilisations.

So, back to the Grand Mufti. Surely, there must be more to his distaste for a game that is widely acknowledged to exercise the brain cells and one that can hardly be qualified as "gambling".

There are three possible reasons for calling a ban on the games.

The first, I suspect, has something to do with the Saudi clergy's notoriously anachronistic views on women. One, in chess, the queen has more mobility than the king, which can move only one step at a time. As in Saudi Arabia, women have limited powers, the clerics were perhaps unhappy at how the queen could cheekily move diagonally and horizontally. Probably didn't set a good example for the real world as they see it.

Second, chess players, who generally have an above average IQ , may develop a mind of their own and may not blindly follow the clerics.

Third, it is the monarchy that is all powerful in Saudi Arabia and how could one even think of situation where the king is checkmated!

The Grand Muftis, Ayatollahs, and other clerics should understand that their frequent comments on subjects on which they have no or little knowledge can make them objects of ridicule. Moreover, their utterances on music have had no impact in Islamic society, where music continues to be popular. Similarly, the game of chess is also likely to flourish despite the fatwa.

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