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#Arabic Twitter Users Bite Back Against #Saudi Cleric Who Forbade #Chess


When you make any kind of declarative, sweeping statement and it ends up online, you have to expect some kind of retaliatory response, but in many cases the reaction has a delayed fuse. In December, a video went online featuring Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, saying that chess caused 'enmity and hatred' between people, and effectively declaring it haram (forbidden), under the laws of Islam.

Said statement wasn't the focal point of the video, it was just something that came up while Abdullah was taking questions on his weekly television show, and it doesn't equate to a genuine legal ban on the game, but any statement Abdullah makes against a particular thing can still be regarded as a fatwa. Nothing really came of it at the time, but lo and behold, weeks later, the video has started circulating and people have started to register their criticisms.

Most of the reactions have been characteristically mocking, using the news to raise issues about other current events, or making the point that the game actually originated on Saudi Arabia's doorstep in the 7th century. Others took a more aggressive line, suggesting that Abdullah was rallying against the game because it's intelligent.

This is the kind of response that you simply would not have seen in Islam before social media rose to prominence, and it's changing the fabric of the religion for many people. Abdullah isn't the first to sanction chess, Iran's Grand Ayatollah - Ali al-Sistani, also previously denounced it, largely because it can be used to gamble, which is most certainly not allowed in Islam. Other games like backgammon and cards have also been discouraged, but still remain popular in many parts of the Middle East.

Whilst some have also spoken out online in support of Abdullah's statement, nobody is taking it particularly seriously, especially not those who are directly associated with chess in Saudi Arabia. Amidst the criticisms and mockery, Musa Bin Thaily, the secretary of the Saudi Arabian chess association, said that although the fatwa had legitimacy, it would have no effect on the planned chess tournament in Mecca. Thaily also tweeted a series of images of young Saudi chess players and previous tournaments, making the point that in the 40 years since any Muslim religious figure spoke out against chess, it has carried on without incident.

Support for Saudi chess players also came from overseas, led by British grand-master Nigel Short. Short offered his support to young Saudi players, but also mockingly criticised the decision in a tweet which also referenced the fact that women still aren't allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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#Arabic Twitter Users Bite Back Against #Saudi Cleric Who Forbade #Chess Reviewed by Unknown on Sunday, January 24, 2016 Rating: 5

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