Top Saudi cleric calls for ban on chess

1/22/2016 – The game originated in India around the 6th century AD. "Chaturanga", or "Shah!" in Persian, was taken up by the Muslim world and subsequently spread to Southern Europe – for which we are thankful. Now (once again we may add) there is an effort to ban it for religious reasons. The fatwa by a one of Saudi Arabia's top clerics has led to hundreds of broadsheet articles and a Twitter storm, including some famous chess players.

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A brief historical note

It would probably not be very inaccurate to say that chess was invented in 570 A.D. somewhere in the north-eastern part of India. In manuscripts from the early 7th century a game called “Chaturanga” (which later changed to “Shatranj”) is suddenly mentioned, a precursor of chess as we know it today. Naturally we cannot be sure that there were no earlier forms, but the evidence seems to suggest that the game was invented from scratch by a single person in this area of the world at around this period of time.

Arab Chess – painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema [Source: Wikimedia]

Now to the news story that is electrifying the international press.

Read the full New York Times story here. It goes on to say:

... there was little sign that the fatwa would make the kingdom’s chess players recant, and it was unclear whether the government would enforce the grand mufti’s pronouncement. Fatwas are not considered law, rather they are legal opinions sometimes meant to apply to specific situations or intended as general religious guidance.

In another story the NYT reminds us that games such as backgammon and cards are popular among men in the Middle East. "Muslims, who introduced chess to Europe, have been playing the game since the 7th century in Persia."

The original televised ruling by Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh can be watched in Arabic:
مفتي السعودية يحرم الشطرنج, with an explanation available here.

Read the full story in The Guardian here

Full story in the Times of India here

Full report in the Hindustan Times here

Musa BinThaily, a member of the Saudi Chess Association, took to Twitter on Thursday to defend the game, saying that it had nothing to do with gambling and that the association had held 70 events in the kingdom. He posted photos of Saudi players at the group’s events, including one that showed members of the group posing with a prince from the United Arab Emirates.

Garry Kasparov started a lively discussion on his Twitter page

Nigel Short led a discussion of the subject in Facebook

Enough of this already? If, however, you want to read more here are over 100 articles in the news.



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