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.
In this fatwa:
1- As for chess, it is a controversial issue among the scholars of the past and present.
2- However, there is no reason to consider it as haram as long as it is free of gambling and does not distract one from fulfilling one’s duties and obligations.
In his response to your question, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:
The issue of Chess has been a highly contentious issue among scholars of the past and the present. While there is a virtual consensus on its prohibition in the following cases:
1. If it involves payment in which case it is gambling.
2. When it is done at the expense of one’s fundamental obligations or priorities.
3. Or when it leads to actions deemed haram or unlawful.
If, on the other hand, none of the above is the case, then the scholars differ in regards to its permissibility:
1. One group declares it as forbidden as attributed to some scholars of pious generations. It is also the general view of Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali scholars.
2. The second group finds no reason to prohibit Chess – as long as it is free of the vices or associations mentioned above – as attributed to some scholars of pious generations; it is also the dominant view of Shafi`i School and that Abu Yusuf; Ibn Hazm also forcefully advocates this view.
As for the reports cited by the first group to prohibit Chess, none of them has passed the criteria of Hadith authentication or attestation; rather, all of them have been judged as spurious or doubtful or weak.
And in the absence of any clear text, they seem to rely on analogical reasoning, as they compare it to gambling or useless distractions or waste of time or laghw (frivolities).
They cite the following verse:
“O you who believe, Wine, gambling, and idols and divining arrows are but a means of defilement, of Satan’s doing. So avoid it, that haply you may prosper.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:90)
There is no doubt that chess involving payment is gambling. However, there is no reason to consider it as such when it is free of gambling element. Hence Imam Shafi`i’s words, “Since there is no clear text to prohibit it, we cannot rule it as forbidden.”
The above view seems to be shared by Ibn `Abd Al-Barr as he qualifies the position of Maliki School by saying, “If someone plays it occasionally – while not gambling – in the privacy of his home with his family, he is excused, as there is no reason to consider it as haram.”
As opposed to the above are those who consider chess as either forbidden or wholly undesirable. Ibn Taymiyyah has articulated this position as follows, “Chess and similar games are associated with numerous vices while they have no tangible benefits whatsoever.”
The above reasoning of Ibn Taymiyyah, however, has been explained as extreme and unreasonable:
– First of all, it is not true that chess is wholly devoid of any benefits – as proven by some scientific studies.
– Secondly, there is no reason to ban it as long as it is free of the presumed vices as mentioned above.
Furthermore, Ibn Taymiyyah himself has often used the original rule of permission to permit things in the absence of clear prohibition.
The above discussions fail to take into account the scientific studies stressing the educational value of chess and its numerous benefits. The benefits associated with chess are said to include the following; “it boosts brain power, improves IQ; enhances arithmetical skills, hones verbal skills, sharpens critical thinking skills, boosts emotional intelligence and preserves mental acuity in the elderly. It is also considered effective in protecting the elderly from neuro-degenerative conditions like dementia and Al-zheimer’s disease. (This part is taken from, http://examinedexistence.com/does-playing-chess-make-you-smarter)
Scholars of the past who expressed highly negative views on chess had no such information. As for the modern scholars who prefer to regurgitate the past rulings, they make the mistake of confusing Shari`ah with the static rulings of fiqh.
If the Scholars of the past had been aware of the scientific studies on the benefits of chess, they would have certainly reversed their decisions.
In light of these, we find no reason to consider chess as haram as long as it is free of the elements of gambling and other vices or distracts one from establishing the remembrance of Allah or fulfilling one’s obligatory duties of religion and contractual obligations.
Islam prohibits only things considered as harmful while it permits those which are beneficial or contributing to human welfare.
Allah Almighty knows best.
Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.