Friday, 27 January 2017

Shakeyer Stupidity

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Sheikh is what passes for an intellectual in Saudi Arabia, and he holds the position of 'Grand Mufti'. I tell you all this, not because you care very much, but more as background and context.

This year he passed a fatwa i.e. He made a 'religious judgement' on something being permissible or not in Islam. Nothing new there, he will have passed hundreds if not thousands of these judgements over the decades .... anything from death sentences, to restrictions in the marital home or advice on prayers.

Chess Games Can Be A Matter Of Life And Death .....

But this one stood out like a sore thumb .... he banned chess as 'haram' (forbidden). Strangely he isn't the first Islamic 'scholar' to do so ... after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 the clerics banned chess from being played in public (however the ban was lifted in 1988). So why has this great thinker banned the game? Well he claimed that it was a form of "gambling" (although as no chance is involved in chess and its therefore not a gamble, its hard to see his point). He also said it was "a waste of time and money and a cause of hatred and enmity between players".

Ironically of course, whilst chess is believed to have originated in India (some time before the 7th century), the earliest evidence of chess was found in the nearby Sassanid Persian Empire around 600 AD (where the game was called 'chatrang'). Chatrang was picked up by Muslim world after the Islamic conquest of Persia 644 AD, where it was then named 'shatranj', but with the pieces largely retaining their Persian names .... where the game then flourished in both the Shiite Muslim Persian and Sunni Arab empires.

The oldest archaeological ivory chess pieces, were excavated in ancient Afrasiab (Samarkand), in Uzbekistan, central Asia, and they date to about 760 AD, with some of them possibly older. The oldest known chess manual was in Arabic and dates to 840-850 AD, written by al-Adli ar-Rumi a renowned Arab chess player, and titled 'Kitab ash-shatranj' ('Book of the chess'). The pieces took on their current powers in Spain in the late 15th century; the rules were finally standardized in the 19th century.

It had transferred to the Christian world in the in the 9th century with the Moors conquest of most of Spain. It got a boost when the Crusaders later arrived in the Middle East and brought it back with them. The Lewis chessmen for example are 12th-century chess pieces, most of which are carved in walrus ivory.

The Lewis Chessmen. Perhaps The Most Expressive Set Ever Made In Historical Times.

Not sure where I am heading with this post .... the barrenness of thought patterns of many Islamic scholars I have recounted before, and I certainly don't want to discuss the history of chess above a superficial level, so I will close with the only historical proof of violent chess I could find to support Sheikh Abdullah Al-Sheikh's assertion that the game leads to being a "cause of hatred and enmity between players".

Some years ago, I recall reading that a medieval knight killed a fellow knight with a chess piece, after they argued during a game. Whilst I am certain that this was the correct story, I am unable to source it now ..... so instead, en passant, I will use the example from January 2014 an Italian national was held in custody in Dublin, after the ritualistic style killing of an Irishman (his landlord), in a murder sparked by a row over a chess piece being moved.

Chess Games Can End Badly ......

He attacked and stabbed the victim with a kitchen knife a number of times, but he was beaten off .... but the attacker just resumed his assault with a weightlifters dumb bell.

He apparently then cut the body open, removed his lung and to eat his heart .... tough game that one.


  1. A Columbo episode had a deaf chess player murder his rival rather than be beaten in a game. Needless to say that he couldn't best our unassuming detective.

  2. I found a few chess murders including the story I had possibly been thinking of.

    Earl Ulf:

    King Canute (c. 994–1035) of Denmark, England and Norway, is said to have ordered an Earl killed after a disagreement about a chess game. By one account, the King made an illegal move that angered Earl Ulf, who knocked over the board and stormed off, after which the King sent someone to kill him for insulting him.

    Bavarian Prince:

    Possibly the anecdote with the most supporting evidence is given in the book Chess or the King’s game (1616) by Augustus, Duke of Lüneburg, who claimed to have obtained it from an old Bavarian Chronicle, then in the library of Marcus Welsor but now lost. The anecdote states that Okarius (also spelled Okar or Otkar), the prince of Bavaria, had a son of great promise residing at the Court of King Pippin. One day Pippin’s son was playing chess with the young Prince of Bavaria, and became so enraged at repeatedly losing that he hit the prince on the temple with one of his rooks and killed him on the spot. This anecdote is repeated in another Bavarian Chronicle, and in a work by Metellus of Tegernsee about Saint Quirin and other documents refer to his death while at Pippin’s court.

    1959 Antarctica Killing:

    After losing a chess game, a Russian at a Soviet Antarctic base murdered a colleague with an axe. Following this, the Soviet authorities prohibited those based in Antarctica from playing chess.

    As for the TV detective, as the villain was always the suspect from the first minute, and it was inevitable he would get them it was a pretty pointless show.

  3. Sheikh Abdullah Al-Sheikh is shit at chess then. No need to ban it, just don't play it sheikh!

    1. Yeah, I doubt he thinks like that .... banning other people aka 'haram' is the order of the day for these guys. Thanks for the comment.


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