Status of Chess

Q: I have heard that a Muslim should stay away from playing chess. What is the reason for this and how do I explain this to a non-Muslim who wants me to play with him?
1) According to the Hanafi Madhab chess is not allowed, for the following reasons:

a) There is a Hadeeth that states: One who plays chess, it is as if he has soaked his hands in the blood of swine.

b) The reason for this stern reprimand is that chess consists of miniature idols (pawns, bishops, queen, etc.) Chess requires a lot of thinking and pondering. When players sit and ponder their next move, it is as if they are meditating over these idols. It thus resembles idol-worship. The idolaters of the past used to sit in deep meditation in front of their idols.  Hence, one day when Hadhrat Ali (Radhiyallaahu Anhu) came across a group of people playing chess, he remarked: "What are these idols over which you meditate?"

c) Chess takes up a lot of time and makes the player oblivious of his surroundings. This causes him to miss Salaah, and to neglect important religious and social duties. Experience has shown that this always happens. Chess players don't have any time for anything else. Days pass playing just one game. There is an incident on record that a man's son had died whilst he was playing chess. He could not leave the game, so he appointed others to see to the funeral arrangements. So much so that he did not even participate in the Janaazah Salaah!

In the Shaafi'ee' Madhab, chess is allowed on one condition, that is must be played for the purpose of learning how to manoeuvre troops in battle. However, in today's times, methods of warfare have changed and so chess won't have a bearing on this aspect of Islam. Therefore, even in the Shaafi'ee' Madhab, chess will not be allowed.

Mufti Siraj Desai