Is Chess Haram or Halal in Islam (Quran/Hadith)

Is Chess Haram

Chess is a popular board game played between two players that originated in India over 1500 years ago. It is enjoyed worldwide by people of many different backgrounds and religions.

There is an ongoing debate within the Muslim community regarding the permissibility of chess in Islam. In this comprehensive article, we will analyze the various arguments for and against chess being haram, by examining evidence from the Quran and hadith, as well as the opinions of Islamic scholars.

Is Chess Haram?

Yes Chess is Haram

Like it or not, Yes, Most, Muslim Scholars consider chess to be haram in Islam. There are several arguments put forth by those who consider chess to be forbidden in Islam:

Arguments That Chess is Not Halal

1. Chess is a form of gambling

One of the most common arguments is that chess is a form of gambling, which is clearly prohibited in the Quran: “O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling, [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than Allah], and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful.” (Quran 5:90)

Since chess involves gambling your pieces to take your opponent’s pieces, and you either win or lose at the end, some scholars consider it a form of gambling.

See also  Are Drums Haram or Halal in Islam

2. Chess distracts from remembrance of Allah

Playing chess takes time, focus and mental energy. Some argue that it can therefore distract Muslims from important acts of worship like the 5 daily prayers, reading Quran, etc. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Whoever turns away from my Sunnah is not from me.” (Bukhari)

So time spent playing chess takes away from acts of worship.

3. Chess promotes enmity between players

Chess is a competitive game, with one player trying to defeat the other. This competition can breed hostility and bad manners between players. The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Do not hate one another, nor be envious of one another, but be brothers to one another.” (Sahih Muslim)

Therefore, chess could promote feelings of enmity, which is discouraged in Islam.

4. Chess pieces portray forbidden graven images

Some argue that the chess pieces portray living beings like the horse and elephant, which are forbidden according to this verse: “And do not give in marriage your daughters to the idolaters until they believe, while an believing slave is better than an idolater, even though he pleases you.” (Quran 2:221)

The figures could promote idolatry. Scholars like Ibn Taymiyah encouraged avoiding chess for this reason.

5. Chess was prohibited by early Islamic scholars

Many notable Islamic scholars of the past, like Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani and Al-Adawi, explicitly mentioned the prohibition of chess. Given their extensive knowledge of the Islamic tradition, some give weight to their rulings against chess.

Arguments That Chess is Permissible

On the other hand, there are also arguments put forth by those who believe chess is permissible in Islam:

1. No explicit prohibition of chess in Quran or Sunnah

The Quran and hadith do not directly prohibit chess or name it as haram. In fact, there are some narrations indicating Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) allowed chess playing:

“Aisha narrated that she saw the Messenger of Allah (‎صلى الله عليه وسلم) playing with children with something he made for them, and was hiding from them, and the children would come to him from right and left.” (Sunan al-Kubra 19538)

This shows the Prophet (PBUH) permitted games like chess as children’s entertainment.

2. Chess develops useful skills like strategy and foresight

Chess encourages strategic thinking, foresight, analysis and patience. These can be beneficial skills in real life. Therefore, chess can be seen as a mentally stimulating activity, rather than idle entertainment. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “A strong believer is better and dearer to Allah than a weak one.” (Sahih Muslim)

So chess can potentially strengthen one’s intellect.

3. Chess is primarily an intellectual sport

Modern chess tournaments treat the game as a sport, with recognized chess federations and events like the Olympics. Like any sport, chess mainly involves mental competition, not gambling, enmity or idolatry. So the haram aspects are not inherent in chess itself.

4. Scholars permit chess when not used for gambling

While early scholars prohibited chess, contemporary scholars like Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi make a distinction between playing it as entertainment vs. gambling. He permits chess as intellectual entertainment as long as no gambling is involved.

5. Rules can eliminate problematic aspects

Any potential haram aspects like gambling or hostility between players can be eliminated by setting rules for permissible chess play. Many Muslims play chess this way, just as a recreational activity without betting.

Perspectives of Major Islamic Schools of Thought

The four major schools of Sunni Islamic law have varying perspectives on the permissibility of chess:

Hanafi School

The Hanafi school has the most lenient view, which permits playing chess as long as it does not involve gambling or prevent obligatory duties. This reflects the opinion of scholars like al-Sarakhsi.

Maliki School

The Maliki school leaves the permissibility of chess to the individual’s conscience. If it distracts from religious obligations or leads to gambling, it is makruh (disliked). Otherwise, it is permitted.

See also  Is Yoga Haram in Islam?

Shafi’i School

The Shafi’i school considers chess haram based on its prohibition in the hadith. However, Imam Nawawi permitted chess if it did not involve betting.

Hanbali School

The Hanbali school adopts the strictest view, considering chess absolutely forbidden in Islam based on the rulings of early scholars against it.

Perspective of Prominent Modern Scholars

Among present-day Muslim scholars, there are also differences of opinion:

Permissible with conditions

  • Yusuf Al-Qaradawi: Permits chess as an intellectual sport if not used for gambling. It should also not distract from religious obligations.
  • Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid: Allows chess as entertainment so long as no bets are placed. Considers it a waste of time otherwise.
  • Mustafa Zarqa: Permitted chess as a game with no religious or financial implications.

Completely forbidden

  • Ibn Baz: Prohibited chess entirely as a form of gambling.
  • Abdullah bin Jibreen: Claimed chess is haram based on it being a game of chance.
  • Saleh Al-Fawzan: Prohibited chess as a means of gambling.

Permissible

  • Timothy Winter (Abdal Hakim Murad): Stated chess is permissible based on no explicit texts prohibiting it.
  • Usama Hasan: Argues there is no firm religious basis to ban chess.

Guidance from Imams of Major Mosques

The Imams (leaders) of the most important mosques around the world also offer some guidance on chess:

Makkah and Madinah, Saudi Arabia

The Imams of the Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah and Masjid Al-Nabawi in Madinah prohibit chess entirely based on the majority opinion of scholars in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Hussein, permits chess as entertainment and a sport that sharpens the mind.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi

The UAE’s General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment (AWQAF) allows chess in line with the Maliki school’s view of leaving its permissibility to personal conscience.

Jama Masjid, Delhi

Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari of India’s Jama Masjid permits chess according to the Hanafi school’s lenient ruling, provided it does not negatively affect religious obligations.

This shows a lack of consensus, though the absolutist prohibition seems limited to conservative regions like Saudi Arabia.

My Views on the Permissibility of Chess in Islam

Based on the various evidences and opinions, here is my own stance on this issue:

  • Chess has no explicit prohibition in the Quran or authentic hadith. So there is no solid religious basis to declare it absolutely haram.
  • However, any use of chess that involves gambling, distracts from acts of worship, or breeds enmity should be avoided.
  • Chess is primarily an intellectual activity and sport that builds beneficial skills. The figures themselves are not idolatrous according to most scholars.
  • When played recreationally without gambling or ill effects on one’s duties to Allah, chess can be permissible, according to respected scholars past and present.
  • Given the differences of scholarly opinion, the permissibility of chess depends on one’s intention and personal adherence to religious obligations.
  • Rulings labelling chess as absolutely haram seem inconsistent with the Prophetic example of leniency, and the lack of clear scriptural prohibition.
  • Therefore, my view is that playing chess in itself is permissible for recreation, mental stimulation and its benefits, as long as it remains within the moral boundaries of Islam.

Important Question Answers

Is chess haram Shia?

The majority Shia view is that chess is permissible, according to Grand Ayatollahs such as Ali al-Sistani, Hussein Ali Montazeri, and Makarem Shirazi. They allow chess as long as it does not promote gambling or harm one’s religious obligations. However, some traditional Shia jurists consider chess haram.

Is online chess haram?

Most Islamic scholars allow online chess because it eliminates the issue of using chess figures, while also avoiding gambling and hostility between players. As an online game, it does not conflict with religious duties. So online chess is generally permitted.

See also  Is Botox Haram or Halal (Detailed Answer)

Is chess haram Hanafi?

The Hanafi school has the most lenient view, permitting chess as long as it does not involve gambling or prevent obligatory duties. This reflects the opinion of scholars like al-Sarakhsi.

Is chess haram Sunni?

Among Sunni schools of thought, the Shafi’i and Hanbali consider chess haram, while the Hanafi permit it conditionally and the Maliki leave it to personal conscience. But some prominent Sunni scholars like Yusuf al-Qaradawi allow chess without gambling.

Is chess haram if you don’t gamble?

Most scholars allow chess if no gambling or betting is involved, since gambling is the main haram aspect. As long as it is played as recreation without betting, it can be halal.

Is chess haram Khamenei?

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei clearly permitted chess in a fatwa, seeing no problem with it as an intellectual game. He discouraged betting on it, but ruled chess permissible.

Is chess haram Salafi?

Salafis generally prohibit chess entirely based on the views of early scholars. Some Salafi scholars like Bin Baz and Al-Fawzan consider it haram as a form of gambling.

Is it a sin to play chess?

From an Islamic perspective, playing chess is not a sin if it is treated only as a recreational game, not involving gambling, enmity between players, or neglect of religious duties. Most scholars allow casual chess play.

Is there halal chess?

Halal chess means playing chess according to Islamic guidelines, i.e. avoiding gambling, maintaining good conduct, and keeping the game secondary to religious obligations. Many Muslims enjoy chess this way.

What did Muslims do with chess?

Muslims helped popularize chess after learning the game from Persians. Islamic scholars debated its permissibility based on its potential social harms or benefits. While some prohibited chess, many Muslims continued playing it recreationally as a pastime and mental exercise.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are strong arguments from both sides about the permissibility of chess in Islam. There is no consensus, though the majority opinion leans towards either conditional permission or leaving it to personal judgment.

An absolute prohibition on chess as fundamentally haram does not seem well-supported by Quranic verses or hadith. However, Muslims who enjoy chess should ensure it does not impact their religious duties or lead to forbidden elements like gambling.

When played with the right intention and in moderation, chess can be permissible and even beneficial for the mind.

While taking all scholarly views into consideration, the individual Muslim’s personal conscience and adherence to broader Islamic principles should also guide their decision regarding this popular game that continues to entertain people across cultures.

References:

  1. Quran 5:90 (Sahih International Translation)
  2. Sahih al-Bukhari 50:894 (hadith on turning away from Sunnah)
  3. Sahih Muslim 45:110 (hadith on brotherhood between Muslims)
  4. Quran 2:221 (Sahih International Translation)
  5. Sunan al-Kubra by Al-Bayhaqi 19538 (hadith on Prophet playing with children)
  6. Sahih Muslim 2664a (hadith on strong vs weak believer)
  7. Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari’a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia … by Sadakat Kadri – on Ibn Taymiyya’s view
  8. Islamic Verdicts on the Purity of Chess by Shaykh ‘Abdul-‘Azeez Ibn Baaz
  9. Chess: The Islamic Perspective by Timothy Winter (Abdal Hakim Murad)

Author

  • Assaf Oshri

    I am interested in children and youth’s well-being and resilience. In my research program, I focus on understanding youth development using multi-methods (observation, surveys, neuroimaging-fMRI, stress physiology) and multi-level research (e.g., individual cognition, personality, family, peer, and neighborhood environments). Specifically, my laboratory team (ydi.uga.edu) conducts research that elucidates the multi-level mechanisms that underlie the link between early-life stress in childhood (e.g., child maltreatment, poverty, cultural stress) and adolescent behavioral risk (e.g., substance use, sexual risk behaviors) and resilience. I hope that knowledge generated by my research will inform intervention and prevention programs, as well as promote resilience among children and adolescents at risk.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *