Wa `alaykum as-salamu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Dear brother in Islam, we would like to thank you for your confidence and your keenness on getting acquainted with the teachings of Islam.
Time is life. It is too precious to be wasted. Thus, a Muslim should always be cautious about the way he spends his time, for he will be held accountable for this on the Day of Judgment.
People in jail should make use of their time in beneficial activities such as reading, learning skills, etc. In addition, they can enjoy some permissible entertaining games.
Responding to your question, the Permanent Fatwa Committee of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) issued the following fatwa:
Playing cards may involve betting on money or be merely done for entertainment and passing time. If the players play cards for a sum of money assigned for the winner, then this is considered gambling, which is prohibited by Allah and His Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). This is evidenced by the fact that one party will win and the other will lose, and such a game is prohibited according to the consensus of Muslim scholars.
However, if money is not involved, the following details must be put into consideration. All games that depend on dice are unanimously prohibited as the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “He who plays with dice is like the one who dips his hand in the flesh and blood of a pig”(Muslim). This is due to the fact that this kind of games depends in general on luck and risk rather than on skill and cleverness.
The same holds true for playing cards, as it is closer to relying on luck and risk than on skill and fighting strategies. This is why some scholars of Fiqh deemed playing chess permissible or at least not prohibited because it entails skills and fighting strategies.
Nevertheless, playing chess is a bone of contention among scholars. The texts adopted by some scholars as evidence of prohibiting it are not strong enough, because it was not known during the lifetime of the Prophet and because it depends on skill and cleverness rather than luck and risk. While some scholars deemed it permissible, others saw otherwise.
We believe that it is basically permissible unless it is accompanied by other prohibited, sinful deeds, such as taking false oaths or making players delay Prayers or consume much of their time, and so forth. Thus, playing chess is not prohibited for its own sake but for such considerations.
It is recommended for a Muslim not to spend his time in such things but rather in doing things that would please Allah and His Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), as every person will be asked on the Day of Judgment about his life and how he spent it; his wealth — from where he acquired it and on what he spent it; and his youth and how he wore it out. These are three things: life, wealth, and youth.
Almighty Allah knows best.
Source: Excerpted from www.amjaonline.com.