“O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, sacrificing to stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination, of Satan’s handiwork: eschew such (abomination) that ye may prosper. Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: will ye not then abstain?” (5:90-91)
Gambling connotes backgammon, chess and speculation by nuts, balls, stones and all kinds of betting. It ranks under encroaching upon people’s rights that Allah has made forbidden in His saying,
“And do not eat up your property among yourselves for vanities, nor use it as bait for the judges, with intent that ye may eat up wrongfully and knowingly a little of (other) people’s property.” (2:188)
It was also referred to in the Prophetic saying,
“Some people spend Allah’s wealth (i.e. Muslim’s Wealth) in an unjust manner, such people will be put in the (Hell) fire on the day of resurrection” (Bukhari and Ahmad)
“The one who invites his companions: Come let us gamble”, should (expiate his sin) by giving in charity.” (Bukhari)
Since the mere willingness to gamble requires expiation, what would be the sin of the real practice of gambling? The Muslim scholars have differed about the exact legal ruling on backgammon and chess in case of being played free from betting. However, the preponderant opinion is to prohibit backgammon.
They established their view on the Prophetic saying,
“He who played backgammon is like one who dyed his hand with the flesh and blood of swine” (Muslim)
“He who played backgammon has disobeyed Allah and His Messenger.” (Ibn Majah)
Ibn ‘ Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated,
“Backgammon is (a kind of) gambling, and (is sinful) as eating the pork, and playing it without betting is (as prohibited) as embrocating with the swine’s fat.”
Regarding chess, with or without betting, it is viewed as forbidden by most jurists, for if it includes betting, there is originally no difference of opinion concerning its prohibition. But in case it is void of betting, the prohibition stands more preferable.
However, according to a narration of Imam Shaffi’i, if it is played in privacy and does not take one’s mind away from obligations or observing prayer on its due time, it is regarded allowable.
An-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) when asked about chess said, “Most scholars held it forbidden. In case it leads to the negligence of prayer on time or includes betting, it is strictly forbidden.
Otherwise, it may be considered abominable”
The basic proof to prohibit chess by most jurists is derived from Allah’s saying,
“Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine… The division (of meat) by raffling with arrows.} (Al-Ma’idah: 3)
Sufyan and Waki’ Ibn Al-Jarrah interpreted “The division (of meat) by raffling with arrows as to refer to chess.
‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Chess is the gambling game of the “Ajam”- Non Arabs. He has also passed by a group of people playing chess and said to them,
“What are these idols to which you are dedicating yourselves in worship? To touch a firebrand until it gets quenched is better than touching such idols.” (Ibn Kathir) He added, “By Allah, it is not the purpose for which you have been created”. On another occasion he said, “He who plays chess is a great liar. You say to your fellow player. “You are dead”, while he is not so”.
Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari said, “No one plays chess except the sinful person”.
It was said to Yzhaq Ibn Rahwayh: “Is there something in playing chess?” (Al-Suyuti)
He answered, “It is wholly sinful”. When he was informed that the soldiers in camps were used to playing it as a means of training for war, he said, “It is impiety.” Muhammad Ibn Kab Al-Karzi commented, “The least punishment that a chess player will suffer on the Day of Resurrection is to be gathered with the wrong- doers”.
Concerning chess Ibn ‘Umar said, “It is more mischievous than backgammon.” And a similar narration with the same effect was quoted from Imam Malik. It is mentioned that Ibn ‘Abbas was appointed as the guardian of the property of an orphan. Among that property there existed a chess game. Thereupon, Ibn Abbas set that game on fire. Hence, if it was permitted to play that game, Ibn Abbas would not have destroyed it, since it was property of an orphan.
Accordingly, the prohibition of chess is measured to that of wine. Ibrahim Al-Nakha’i said about chess: “It is cursed”. Abu Bakr Al-Athram in his collection mentioned the Prophetic saying,
“Daily Allah has three hundred and sixty looks which comprehend all his creatures except the sheep player- i.e. chess player- for he says” check-mate.”
Abu Bakr Al-Ajiri related the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) saying,
“If you pass by those who play with these idols i.e. backgammon and chess and other amusement -do not greet them. For when they gather and are up to their elbows in playing, Satan alone with his fellows attend their game. And if one of the players averted his glance from playing, Satan would thrust him -to turn again to playing thus, they keep playing till they disperse. They are like a group of dogs that come across a cadaver, eat of it till they are fed up and then go away. In addition, the chess player usually commits lying, as he says, “mate”
Mujahid said, “Every man when he is dying views his fellowmen whom he used to accompany. One day, a man who was used to playing chess was at the point of death. When he was asked to pronounce the Shahadah -declaration of faith- he instead said,” mate” and died.
His tongue was wrenched by the words he used to say in his life. The Prophet (pbuh) said,
“Everyone dies in the same manner as he lives and is resurrected in the same manner as he dies” (Muslim)