A general consensus is chess is acceptable in the Islamic world under certain conditions:
Chess develops the mind, improves strategic thinking and problem solving skills, teaches planning and foresigh, encourages perseverance and discipline, and thinking through the consequences of your actions. And rather than encouraing hatred, players build friendships while rivals over the board, learning from each other with each game played.
It may be that your parents, teachers or local religious leaders believe that it is not permissible to play chess. You should always have respect for those in authority over you. The banning of chess comes from a desire to do what is right and protect you from harm. Honour this and perhaps gently encourage them to learn more. The Qu'ran teaches that
"And whoso brings the truth and believes therein such are the dutiful." (Qu'ran, 39:33)
They may wish to discuss this matter and the points raised in this article with their own leaders, as they seek after truth.
The question of chess's permissibility in Islam has been asked since the earliest days of the religion. Notably, one of Islam's first caliphs - and a close companion of Prophet Mohammed - did not condemn the game when Islam's early believers inquired about its legality. "There is nothing wrong in it," Omar ibn al-Khattab responded. "It has to do with war."
There are three reasons why some Muslim leaders believe it is not permissible to play chess:
Several hadith (sayings and actions attributed to the prophet) prohibit Muslims from creating visual depictions of human figures. Traditionally, the concern has been that images may encourage idolatry.
Chess originated in India, but had its greatest development in Persia under Muslim rule during the 7th Century (about 100 AH). It was Muslims that took chess into Europe.
And it is the Muslim influence over chess that is the reason why the pieces used today are so highly stylised. There are no faces. There are no human representations at all. The pieces are symbolic. And that is because of the Muslim design of the pieces which has remained to this day. Yes, it is possible to buy novelty sets that represent characters from Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc, but none of these are allowed for use in chess tournament play. They are not practical for playing chess.
No senior Muslim leader has prohibited Muslims from playing chess because of the chess pieces. Those objecting to chess as promoting gambling and time wasting
It seems that the objections to chess as a form of gambling do not actually know how chess is played. Games that involve chance (eg dice) and gambling are definitely forbidden. Chess has no dice and no chance (luck) involved. Nor is gambling a part of chess.
Some hadith are quoted as being against chess. These hadith contain a word for dice games which is sometimes incorrectly translated as 'chess'. Chess is not played with dice.
So chess may be incorrectly thought to be forbidden because it is grouped with dice games like backgammon where dice, and often gambling, are involved.
Chess is one of the few pure games of skill with no luck whatsoever.
If playing chess once concerned the scholars of Islam, what would they say to us today about our habits of watching television and films and playing videogames, about our endless conversations on cell phones and on-line chatting, or about the hours that we spend surfing the net and reading empty blogs written by people with little to say and less to do? Our scholars' concern was our salvation and well-being, and while Muslims today may see them as zealous or fanatics, on the Day the Debts fall due and we are taken to account for every moment of our lives, those scholars will be seen for the giants they were, and their counsel to us will be a bitter taste of remorse in our mouths.
After the 1979 Islamic revolution, playing chess was banned in public in Iran and declared as haram, forbidden, by senior clerics because it was associated with gambling. But in 1988, Iran's then supreme leader, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, lifted the ban and said it was permissible as long as it was not used for gambling.
Saudi Arabia's grand mufti has ruled that chess is forbidden in Islam, saying it encourages gambling and is a waste of time.
Sheikh Abdullah al-Sheikh was responding to a question on a television show in which he issued fatwas to viewers who sent in queries on everyday religious matters. He said chess was "included under gambling" and was "a waste of time and money and a cause for hatred and enmity between players". But this may have been more advisory than a formal edict.
The Saudi Chess Federation put out a statement, which said, "It is worth mentioning that, in general, and for us as Muslims, all sports can fall into being religiously illegal once it involves gambling, distracting players from religious practice (prayers, etc.) and, of course, if they lead to creating hatred between players."
Saudi Arabia competes in international chess olympiads.
Last updated: 30 September 2019
World Chess Federaton (FIDE) National Instructor