Chess and religion haven’t always made for the happiest of bedfellows in fact they have a (excuse the pun) chequered history. Chess has been banned (and unbanned) by members of the Islamic faith, Catholics, Anglicans, Puritans and Jews.
Back in 642 A.D. the Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) son-in-law decided that chess would be haram (forbidden) because it used “graven images”. That means he wasn’t keen on the physical replication of figures through carving for the chess pieces.
In 780 A.D. it was the Muslim Caliphate of Al-Mahdi that began a letter writing campaign to the holy mosque in Mecca, instructing the forbidding of chess, but not all chess, just that played using dice.
Then in 1005, the Egyptians went on anti-chess spree and they not only banned the game but also handed down instructions that boards and pieces were to be burned.
In 1063, the Eastern Orthodox Church also banned chess, and then this was followed up in 1125 when one of its monks added chess to the list of sins covered by the term “debauchery”.
Then several bishops got in on the act of the next few years and the Knights Templar were told to stop playing, as were the English clergy. Not to be left out Louis IX of France, decided to ban the game in 1254 – though not because it was sinful but because he thought it was dull.
In 1260, the English King – Henry III unbanned chess for the clergy. But in 1291 the Archbishop of Canterbury threatened all his staff with restricted rations unless they quit playing.
In 1328 the Jewish leadership couldn’t decide whether to ban chess or not, and in the end they instructed people not to gamble on the game.
More recently the Ayatollah Khomeni put the kibosh on the game in Iran back in 1981, but he changed his mind 7 years later. The Taliban are also not fans of the game and it was banned in Afghanistan under their leadership.
Strangely many church figures have played chess and several popes have been big fans, so it’s not always been a controversial game amongst the more religiously minded.
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