Is Chess Without Gambling Haram? A Debate Among Scholars

Playing chess in Islam has been a subject of debate among Islamic scholars. The consensus among them is that playing chess for compensation or involving any haram activity is forbidden.

However, there are differences in opinion regarding playing chess for entertainment without gambling or betting. Here, we will discuss the various points of view on this topic:

Playing Chess as Haram

Some Islamic scholars argue that playing chess is haram because it involves gambling, betting, or other haram activities. For example, missing prayers (Salah) or disobeying parents is considered haram in Islam. 

According to Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, chess is haram if it distracts a person from their obligations, such as praying, upholding ties of kinship, or honoring one’s parents.

Playing Chess as Halal

Another group of scholars argues that playing chess for entertainment without gambling or betting is not haram. They point out that chess is a skill-based game and can be played without engaging in haram activities. 

Some scholars, like Sa’eed Ibn Jubayr and Sa’eed Ibn Al-Mussayyib, have been reported to play chess without any restrictions

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Conditions for Playing Chess

Some scholars believe that playing chess is permissible if certain conditions are met. For example, it is not haram if it does not interfere with a person’s obligations, such as praying or performing other religious duties. 

The Shaafi’ee School, for instance, considers chess dislikeable, but if one is addicted to it, they may not be permitted to testify in court.

General Consensus

The majority of Islamic scholars agree that playing chess is haram if it involves gambling, betting, or other haram activities.

However, there is a difference of opinion regarding playing chess for entertainment without gambling or betting. Some scholars argue that it is haram, while others believe that it is permissible under certain conditions.

What is the Islamic perspective on playing chess for recreational purposes?

In Islam, the permissibility of playing chess for recreational purposes is a matter of differing opinions among scholars.

Some consider it haram (unlawful), citing hadiths and the potential for distraction from religious obligations.

Others consider it makruh (reprehensible) or halal (permissible), emphasizing its nature as a mental exercise and a game of skill and strategy.

Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a prominent Muslim scholar, stated that playing chess is permissible under certain conditions, such as not allowing it to delay prayer, avoiding gambling, and refraining from uttering obscenities or vulgarities.

The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia has ruled that chess is forbidden in Islam, citing its potential to encourage gambling and waste time.

However, it’s important to note that there are differing opinions on this issue, and some scholars place chess in a different category from games of chance, frowning upon it only if it distracts a person from performing religious duties. 

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What are some arguments for and against playing chess in Islam?

The permissibility of playing chess in Islam is a subject of debate among scholars, with varying arguments for and against it.

Arguments Against Playing Chess in Islam

  1. Gambling and Waste of Time: Some scholars, including the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, consider chess to be forbidden in Islam, as they equate it with gambling and view it as a waste of time and money, leading to enmity between players.
  2. Distraction from Religious Obligations: Scholars argue that when chess distracts individuals from their religious duties, it is considered haram (forbidden) according to the consensus of the scholars.
  3. Association with Idols: Some scholars argue that chess consists of miniature idols (pawns, bishops, queen, etc.) and that the act of pondering over the game is akin to meditating over these idols, making it haram.

Arguments For Playing Chess in Islam

  1. Skill-Based Game: Some scholars place chess in a different category from games of chance and consider it permissible as long as it is played for entertainment without involving haram activities such as gambling or betting.
  2. Mental Exercise: Chess is viewed as a game that promotes mental acuity, strategic thinking, and problem-solving, which are not inherently contradictory to Islamic principles.
  3. Differing Scholarly Opinions: Scholars from the Hanafi and Shafi’i schools do not forbid the game of chess, and there are differing opinions among scholars from different Islamic traditions.

How do different Islamic scholars interpret the ruling on playing chess in Islam?

Islamic scholars interpret the ruling on playing chess in Islam differently, leading to varying perspectives on its permissibility.

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Arguments Against Playing Chess in Islam

  1. Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti: Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh ruled that chess is forbidden in Islam, as it is considered a form of gambling, a waste of time, and a cause for enmity between players
  2. Iran’s Clerics: After the 1979 Islamic revolution, senior clerics in Iran declared chess haram and associated it with gambling. However, the ban was later lifted by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, stating that it was permissible as long as it did not involve gambling
  3. Some Scholars’ Views: Scholars from the Hanbali and Maliki schools, as well as some from the Shafi’i school, consider chess either forbidden or dislikeable, especially if it leads to the abandonment of religious obligations.

Arguments For Playing Chess in Islam

  1. Skill-Based Game: Some scholars, including those from the Hanafi and Shafi’i schools, consider chess permissible as long as it is free from gambling and does not lead to the neglect of religious duties.
  2. Entertainment Without Prohibited Activities: Another group of scholars allows playing chess for entertainment purposes, provided it does not involve haram activities such as gambling or neglect of religious obligations.
  3. Differing Scholarly Opinions: It’s important to note that there are differing opinions among scholars, and not all Islamic traditions forbid chess. Scholars tend to place chess, a skill-based game, in a different category from games of chance, such as dice.

In conclusion, the interpretation of the ruling on playing chess in Islam varies among scholars and Islamic traditions, leading to differing opinions on its permissibility.