Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah, has issued a fatwa banning chess for Muslims, stating he thinks it is a waste of time.
His statement, which was circulated on social media Jan. 21, does not mean chess is banned in the country since his rulings do not have the force of law, Middle East Eye reported.
The grand mufti, who is a powerful religious figure in Saudi Arabia, made the comments while answering a viewer’s question on his weekly TV show, With His Eminence The Mufti.
“The game of chess is a waste of time and an opportunity to squander money. It causes enmity and hatred between people,” bin-Abdullah declares in the clip, according to Middle East Eye.
Bin-Abdullah justified forbidding chess according to Islam by citing a passage in the Koran banning gambling.
Reports suggest the broadcast may have taken place as early as 2014, but it gained prominence ahead of a chess tournament planned in the Saudi city of Jedda Jan. 22.
Musa BinThaily of the Saudi Chess Association said the tournament would proceed in spite of the mufti’s fatwa, according to Daily Mail. He also downplayed the significance of the ruling.
“For example, the religious society view, bans the public musical festivals, but they are everywhere, The view isn’t enforced by the law,” he wrote on Twitter.
BinThaily also pointed out that players did not generally bet on the outcome of games.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the supreme religious leader of Shia Muslims in Iraq, has previously issued a fatwa declaring chess “haram” or forbidden, according to the Guardian.
The game was also banned for some years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. But by 1988, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overturned the ruling, declaring the game legal as long as bets were not placed on its outcome.
Chess is believed to have been invented in India in the sixth century. It was made popular by Muslims who ruled over Persia before subsequently being exported to Europe.