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Older than Islam…
The mufti of Saudi Arabia has upset all the chess enthusiasts who like to play some chess games. According to him, “chess is a diabolic game” and, thus, it is reprehensible.
But is this new? Have we forgotten Jomeini and his disapproval? What are we surprised about?
Meanwhile, the petrodollars fly, even in its down times, the enshrined soccer players ended up wrapped in gold, their careers in the Persian Gulf and the chess openings of Arab countries were covered with glory and tinsels, attending to them a worldwide champion and the “crème de la crème” of world chess. But the game of Caïssa is diabolic and reprehensible, what a surprise.
Just like the great British historian and orientalist H. J. R. Murray (nothing less than over a century ago) explained to us during his time, in his monumental work, ‘A History of Chess’ – in Muslim law all the actions are inscribed in five classes, from which the worse is the haram, or prohibited actions, and which implementation must be punished by law.
The criteria vary according to the schools, but they all agree that the final criteria are ruled by the Koran, followed by the evidence of an authentic tradition. In the Koran, chess is not mentioned but for the principle of analogy, it can be established an indirect relationship with the same and many have considered illuminating these verses of Sura V.92:
“O, true believers! Surely wine and maisir and stone pillars and divining arrows, are an abomination, of the work of Satan, therefore avoid them, that ye may prosper.”
The chess games…
By extending the condemnation to games of chance (maisir) and divining arrows (ansab) there was a clear tendency to condemn chess and its practice. But there were many dissents among the jurists and interpreters of the law. The Hanbalite ben Taimiya (d. in 1328), for example, established a sensitive difference explaining that chess is maisir (a game of chance) only when it is played for money and, in consequence, it is reprehensible.
On the other hand, they have influenced three traditions derived from the attitude of Mohammed about leisure, one of which made emphasis in its hate for games of chance. Moreover, it is implausible that Mohammed heard something about chess. Since Mohammedan jurists have not clearly resolved the question on the legality of the illegality of chess. (In the own words of the prophet.)
The first tradition which related a caliph with chess made reference to Omar b. al-Jattab (d. in 643), the political father of Mohammed. It has been told that once he was asked about the legal stance of chess. His answer was: “What is chess?” Once it was explained to him, he answered: “There is nothing wrong with that. It is about war”.
It seems, anyway, that chess survived the cyclical and ambiguous condemnations or prohibitions of Muslim legislators, given that in the following centuries it had proliferated and was practiced throughout Islam.
This is not only about the Arabic or Muslim world. It is about ignorance and religious prejudices. The Catholic Church has also condemned and prohibited chess many times. It is even boring to remember. But chess will move forward without looking back. The chess game has started.
The verses of Omar Jayyam cannot be overemphasized:
“It is said that those who love wine pleasures
condemned are to eternally wander in hell
empty should be the paradise!”