DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia is hosting a world chess tournament for the first time on Tuesday nearly two years after the country’s top cleric issued a religious edict against playing the board game. Politics have also interfered, with players from Israel and Qatar missing the tournament due to regional tensions.
Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, said in early 2016 that chess is “forbidden” in Islam because it wastes time and can lead to rivalry among players. Similarly, top Iranian clerics have also decried the game, saying it can lead to gambling, which is not permissible in Islam.
The mufti’s comments at the time led to an outcry on social media by young Saudis who defended the game as intellectually stimulating. Muslims, who introduced chess to Europe, have been playing the game since the 7th century in Persia.
Despite the mufti’s past criticism, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed for greater social openings, including lifting a ban on women driving that goes into effect next year, allowing concerts and movies, and easing rules on gender segregation.
The chess tournament, however, has also been hit by regional politics….