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Saudi Arabia Religious Leader Condemns Chess

(CN) - Chess is the devil's sport, breeds hatred and is a waste of time, according to a fatwa newly issued to Saudi Arabia's Sunni sect of Islam.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, the grand mufti of the Sunni sect of Islam, issued the fatwa, or religious ban, during a Jan. 22 episode of his weekly television show, as translated by the Middle East Eye and shared Thursday by the U.S. Library of Congress.

Likening chess to gambling, and condemning the hostility it breeds among players, the grand mufti pinned his edict on the Quran, which states, "O you who have believed, indeed, intoxicants, gambling [sacrificing on] stone alters [to other than Allah] and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid if that you may be successful."

Though his declaration has no legal impact on politics in the country, devout Muslims are expected to heed the warning.

It didn't stop the Saudi Chess Association from holding its annual chess tournament in the kingdom's city of Jeddah the day after the edict was released. Iran sent players to compete in the matches.

Nigel Short, the president of the law committee in the Saudi Chess Association, took to Twitter to point out that playing chess is "an old religious debate," with Islamic religious leaders long pooh-poohing the game because it encourages gambling.

It's not the first time the game of strategy has been banned in the peninsular country. Shiite Iranian Grand Ayatolla Ali al-Sistani banned the game earlier this month during a televised interview, the Guardian reported.

"Playing it [chess] is absolutely forbidden even without placing a bet," according to the religious leader's website .

"And there is no difference in this, whether it is [played] with customary pieces or by computer."

"Playing chess is haraam mutlaqan [absolutely or under any circumstances] even though betting is not used. There is no difference between the two methods of play," he wrote in a question-and-answer session published on his official webpage.

Shi'a clerics banned chess in Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution but Iran's Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini lifted that ban in 1988.

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