What is a sport and what is a game? A question we have often asked on the show. One guest defined it thus, a sport is when the participant works up a sweat.
Some may say that some mental games can result in the competitors working up a sweat, and one that would fall into that category would be chess; A contest that rumour has it was vying for Olympic inclusion.
If that was indeed the case its bid may well have taken a serious blow in the past few weeks with Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti ruling that the game is forbidden in Islam “as it encourages gambling and is a waste of time.”
Sheikh Abdullah al-Sheikh appearing on a television show justified his ruling by referring to the verse in the Quran banning ‘intoxicants, gambling, idolatry and divination.’ He claimed the game caused hatred and enmity between players.
This is not the first time that the game has suffered such a ban. Back in 1979 the Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistine head of Iraq’s supreme Shia religious authority banned the game from being played in public following the Islamic revolution. Again the reason was it was associated with gambling.
However in 1988 Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini lifted the ban but with the proviso that the game was not used for gambling. Iran now has a very strong confederation and sends its top players to International tournaments.
However most Muslim scholars do place Chess in the same category as games of chance such as ones involving dice, as Chess is regarded as a skill-based game. The placing of best on games however is forbidden.
British Grand Master Nigel Short was quoted as saying “I don’t consider chess to be a threat to society. It is not something that is so depraved as to corrupt morals.” He said. “Even Ayatollah Khomeini came to the conclusion that he’d gone too far and repealed his own ban.”
Chess’s origins are believed to come from Eastern India and the game spread through the trade routes, especially the Silk Road. Ironically the oldest known chess manual was in Arabic and dates to 840-850, and was written by al-Adli ar-Rumi (800-870), a renowned Arab chess player, titled Kitab ash-shatranj (Book of the chess).
IN addition the earliest evidence of chess is recored as being found in Sassanid Persia around 600, where the game came to be known by the name chatrang. Chatrang was taken up by the Muslim world after the Islamic conquest of Persia (633–44), where it was then named shatranj. It therefore seems sad that a game that has its routes in this region of the world long before it spread to the Western World should be banned and caught up in such controversy.