Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti, made the proclamation while taking questions during his weekly television show.
“The game of chess is a waste of time and an opportunity to squander money. It causes enmity and hatred between people,” he said, according to a translation by Middle East Eye.
Abdullah reportedly compared it to a pre-Islamic Arabian game called “maisir” which was forbidden by the Koran.
His fatwa does not constitute a ban in Saudi Arabia as it does not carry the force of law, but it was provoking debate in the country today.
Musa Bin Thaily, who presides over the Saudi Chess Association’s law committee, said a planned chess tournament in Mecca would be going ahead on Friday.
Pointing out that the Grand Mufti’s proclamation is old, with a YouTube video showing it put online last month, he referenced a previous fatwa that banned chess being used for profit, gambling or interrupting prayers and other religious duties.
Chess events in saudi pic.twitter.com/PinPctUklQ— Musa BinThaily (@Mousa_BinThaily) January 21, 2016
“Many things are said to be illegal and religiously banned in Saudi,” Mr Thaily wrote on Twitter, sharing photos of United Arab Emirates dignitaries at Saudi Chess Association events.
“The Saudi Chess Association has put great efforts in chess popularity and will continue holding events everywhere unless forced otherwise.”
He noted that many religious prohibitions are not enforced in Saudi Arabia, adding that “religious society banned public music festivals but they’re everywhere”.
But Mr Thaily did raise concerns that the fatwa gave authorities “a window to be taken as justification” to cancel or disrupt events.
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s supreme Shia religious authority, previously issued a fatwa saying chess was forbidden “in all circumstances”, even if a computer rather than real pieces are used and no bets are placed.
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
10 examples of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses
In October 2014, three lawyers, Dr Abdulrahman al-Subaihi, Bander al-Nogaithan and Abdulrahman al-Rumaih , were sentenced to up to eight years in prison for using Twitter to criticize the Ministry of Justice.
In March 2015, Yemen’s Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was forced into exile after a Shia-led insurgency. A Saudi Arabia-led coalition has responded with air strikes in order to reinstate Mr Hadi. It has since been accused of committing war crimes in the country.
Women who supported the Women2Drive campaign, launched in 2011 to challenge the ban on women driving vehicles, faced harassment and intimidation by the authorities. The government warned that women drivers would face arrest.
Members of the Kingdom’s Shia minority, most of whom live in the oil-rich Eastern Province, continue to face discrimination that limits their access to government services and employment. Activists have received death sentences or long prison terms for their alleged participation in protests in 2011 and 2012.
All public gatherings are prohibited under an order issued by the Interior Ministry in 2011. Those defy the ban face arrest, prosecution and imprisonment on charges such as “inciting people against the authorities”.
In March 2014, the Interior Ministry stated that authorities had deported over 370,000 foreign migrants and that 18,000 others were in detention. Thousands of workers were returned to Somalia and other states where they were at risk of human rights abuses, with large numbers also returned to Yemen, in order to open more jobs to Saudi Arabians. Many migrants reported that prior to their deportation they had been packed into overcrowded makeshift detention facilities where they received little food and water and were abused by guards.
The Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny access to independent human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and they have been known to take punitive action, including through the courts, against activists and family members of victims who contact Amnesty.
Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. He has already received 50 lashes, which have reportedly left him in poor health.
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Dawood al-Marhoon was arrested aged 17 for participating in an anti-government protest. After refusing to spy on his fellow protestors, he was tortured and forced to sign a blank document that would later contain his ‘confession’. At Dawood’s trial, the prosecution requested death by crucifixion while refusing him a lawyer.
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was arrested in 2012 aged either 16 or 17 for participating in protests during the Arab spring. His sentence includes beheading and crucifixion. The international community has spoken out against the punishment and has called on Saudi Arabia to stop. He is the nephew of a prominent government dissident.
Iran criminalised chess-playing in public and declared it haram after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 but Ayatollah Khomeni repealed the ban nine years later. The game was also proscribed the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Nigel Short, a British chess grandmaster, told the BBC a crackdown in Saudi Arabia would be a “great tragedy”.
“I don't consider chess to be a threat to society,” he added. “It's not something that is so depraved as to corrupt morals.”
The proclamation has provoked ridicule on Twitter, where many commentators pointed out that the issue “isn’t black and white”.
“I heard a news item about Saudi Arabia banning chess,” wrote satirical blogger Karl Sharro. “I guess they don't appreciate games that aim to topple the king.”Reuse content