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Saudi Chess Association replies on ban

by Albert Silver
1/24/2016 – It made the news around the world: Saudi Arabia’s top cleric declared chess “the work of Satan”, and issued a religious decree, a fatwa, forbidding the evil game. Obviously the consternation and worry on what that might behold for the game echoed around the world, and the Saudi Chess Association has published a letter to assuage concerns.
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News of the flabbergasting declaration reverberated around the globe, and not just in chess sites such as ChessBase. All the major media outlets picked up on the story and ran with it, discussing not only the curious contradiction of a culture that has embraced the game longer than almost any in the world, both long in the past, but well into the present.

The New York Times reported on the event. You can read the full article here.

British newspaper The Guardian also covered it, as did so many others. You can
read the full article here.

Another obvious question was what had brought about the religious leader’s attention to the game in particular, and singular ire that would warrant such a decree in the first place. In other words: why chess?

Whatever the answers, if indeed they come to light over time, the immediate concern is on what this might mean for the game in countries subject to his religious authority: notably Saudi Arabia itself, as well as other Muslim nations in the vicinity. They have been advancing the use of chess in education, showing forward thinking in how it can be used to develop abilities in their children that can translate to increased competitiveness in the modern world, and let's not forget the fantastic events they have brought to the chess calendar such as the Dubai Open, the Abu Dhabi open, the Al-Ain Open, and need we mention the recently held Qatar Masters that had us riveted to our computers during the end-of-year holidays.

In response to the growing disquiet, and as a means to assuage concern that this might mean the end to this, Yaser Al Otaibi, the General Secretary of the Saudi Chess Association, sent a letter to FIDE republished below.

Letter from Saudi Chess Association

official logo

Saturday, 23 January 2016 09:10

To : FIDE Executive Director Mr. Nigel P.B. FREEMAN

Greetings from Saudi,
We thank our friends all over the world who showed concern regarding chess in Saudi Arabia. It is worth mentioning here that, in general, and for us as Muslims, all sports can fall into being religiously illegal once it involves gambling, directing players away from religious practice (prayers, etc.) and of course if they lead to creating hatred between players. 
The Saudi Chess Association (SCA) is officially recognized by the Saudi Olympic Committee and is a full member of FIDE, the Asian Chess Federation as well as the Arab Chess Federation.  Many local events and seminars are being organized and run as scheduled in all the cities of the Kingdom with an increasing number of participants from all ages. Also, the SCA is scheduled to take part, once again, in the next World Chess Olympiad as well as other regional and international FIDE events.
Moreover, the Saudi Chess Association is currently in the last stages of implementing the Chess in Schools program aiming to widen the grass-roots in exploring local chess talents. 
Many thanks and best regards,
Yaser Al Otaibi
General Secretary

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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Topics fatwa, ban

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NJD NJD 1/24/2016 06:58
Unless there is a severe attitude shift, you gotta be concerned about the ability of SA to safely hold any international chess tournaments in the foreseeable future...
karavamudan karavamudan 1/24/2016 07:02
All games are prone to rouse hatred - but cricket, the great waster of time and money is used in some warring countries to promote friendship.

Chess players at the highest level are highly arrogant (Garry K.), taciturn (Magnus C), irritating (Topalov) etc. but none of them are to be taken seriously beyond the game arena, even though the West hangs on every word against Putin said by GK.

Is it the work of Satan? How can a sport which increases the children's academic skills in schools be the work of the Satan? Then should schools be banned?

Maybe the cleric might have called on a public discourse or best to try and successfully solve one chess puzzle. After solving one chess puzzle he would have simply raided a shop for board, pieces and books, sending mails in chessbase
Phillidor Phillidor 1/24/2016 07:28
I wonder what Arabia's player El-Yanov, who currently plays at Tata Steel, has to say.
scoobeedo scoobeedo 1/24/2016 07:49
I better do not write what I think about this gentleman.
sxb103 sxb103 1/24/2016 08:39
Music and chess are vices ? Wake up Saudi Arabia, you're stuck in the 7th century
PhythonMython PhythonMython 1/24/2016 09:29
Looking forward to the day when the Grand Mufti forbids himself.......
doodad doodad 1/24/2016 09:40
Chess is evil. Beheadings are fine. What a religion.
luishon luishon 1/24/2016 10:09
God want his children to be intelligent
in order for them to understand better his testament or Koran or Torah
and any other scripture he has giving us to obey
Chess is here because God has given it for us to be a better human being
the last thing God wants for his children is to be ignorant and hide in a cave
dysanfel dysanfel 1/25/2016 01:07
Since chess increases children's academic skills, decision making, critical thinking, and planning then these must be skills that the Cleric does not want children to have.
dysanfel dysanfel 1/25/2016 01:09
Also, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Anything that puts chess in the global conversation only helps the game, so perhaps we should be thanking this cleric.
algorithmy algorithmy 1/25/2016 01:31
Is it a war against Islam??? someone said the game is forbidden, so what??? look at all of these comments full of hatred. this world is full of mentally disturbed people.
there is no single verse in the Quran or Islamic teachings that says chess is satanic game, the man is free to think that it's satanic game so what??

by the way Albert Einstein had a very negative opinion about chess , so what??
are you people have any brain????
algorithmy algorithmy 1/25/2016 01:31
Einstein had this to say about chess:
"Chess grips its exponent, shackling the mind and brain so that the inner freedom and independence of even the strongest character cannot remain unaffected."

so before you attack Islam, all of you you should attack Albert and many others who had such negative view about chess including former world champion Fischer him self, but apparently all people here who are talking about Islam don't even read.
algorithmy algorithmy 1/25/2016 01:37
Plz every one let's be civilized, you have every right to criticize this man for his negative opinion about chess but you don't have the right to talk out of ignorance about Islam. so let's use good words and argue in a civilized way.

The Quran says:
"Have you not considered how God presents an example, a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches high in the sky. It produces its fruit all the time, by permission of its Lord. And God presents examples for the people that perhaps they will be reminded. And the example of a bad word is like a bad tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, not having any stability. God keeps firm those who believe, with the firm word, in worldly life and in the Hereafter. And God sends astray the wrongdoers. And God does what He wills."
Surat Ibrahim 14, verses 24-27
scoobeedo scoobeedo 1/25/2016 05:09

Your comment is fantastic.

It shows how sick some people are.
bin bin 1/25/2016 07:27
dysanfel Totally agree!! From my experience that is what they want. And that is why they are still ignorant and look like people from the medieval times.
psamant psamant 1/25/2016 10:10
" in general, and for us as Muslims, all sports can fall into being religiously illegal once it involves gambling, directing players away from religious practice (prayers, etc.) and of course if they lead to creating hatred between players. "

I disagree with this completely. When he mentions "in general...", what does he mean? In general, chess in NOT illegal. It is only illegal "in particular" in Saudi because of this cleric's idiotic statement. "Leading people away from religious practices" can be any activity that consumes time. Eating, sleeping, walking, running, any sport, singing, music... you name the activity a human being does and it can be construed to direct people away from religious activity! Chess creating hatred??? This is perhaps the worst slight on the game. Competitive spirit, attention to winning - this is not hatred. This is trying to be better than your opponent. Hatred is killing other humans, not allowing freedom to others to live their ways of life, bombing public places... this is what sane people would term as hatred! Chess teaches you that winning and losing is part of life. One should be able to face both with equanimity and try and learn from them without developing HATRED towards others. But I guess this would be too dense for the cleric.
Gambling has much stronger association with so many other sports that chess would be far in the pecking order. Compared to other sports, very few people manage to earn their livelihood purely through playing chess and the monetary winnings in top tournaments would also be an insult in most other popular sports.

Chess is played only for the love of the game... for the possibilities that the human mind shows and for the creative spirit that chess games show. It is a wonder and my hats of to the creator of the game... notwithstanding anything that medieval clerics say.
coolthing coolthing 1/25/2016 10:34
I'm a Saudi chess player and I have nothing to comment other than what the New York Times story says:
"Fatwas are not considered law, rather they are legal opinions sometimes meant to apply to specific situations or intended as general religious guidance." Simply put the game is not banned and will not be banned in Saudi Arabia.
hpaul hpaul 1/25/2016 11:57
The pronouncement by the Grand Mufti is yet another example of the evils of superstition. Both the Islamic and the Christian superstitions have led to unspeakable horrors through the centuries of their dominance. It may yet take a while, but we can look forward with hope to the more reasonable lives lived in a post-superstitious world.
rluben rluben 1/25/2016 04:43
Hey when you live your life based on mythology then some bearded doofus gets to tell you what to do.
NJD NJD 1/25/2016 06:10
The cat is out of the bag. Now you never know if some crazies are gonna take the guy seriously and do serious harm to someone. It's really nothing to laugh about, it's very serious.
The guy seriously needs to come out with a retraction and make a public display of playing a few games himself...
DPLeo DPLeo 1/25/2016 06:44
"... Another obvious question was what had brought about the religious leader’s attention to the game in particular, and singular ire that would warrant such a decree in the first place. In other words: why chess? ..."

Poor guy, he probably lost a couple of games in less than 20 moves to 7 year old.
Obviously, He hates chess because he cannot play it. Chess players are smart and he therefore find it difficult manipulating them. He cannot analyze and think ahead, because his thinking is limited himself. I dont think he did maths and science at school. Why should such people be leaders in the first place? Too risky following such leaders who make extreme errors and also misleading people. That is a sign of too many errors in law. And a lot of scriptural misinterpretations. Misleading the people in general.