Question: Is playing chess allowed in Islam?
باسم الله والحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله وعلى آله وأصحابه ومن والاه
May Allah reward you for your question.
Our scholars (may Allah shower His mercy upon them) have differed in this subject. Some have stated the ruling of Haram (forbidden), whilst others have stated the ruling of Makrooh (disliked), with some ruling the game as something permissible as long as certain conditions are met.
Every view has its evidences and this difference of opinion is testimony to the richness of Jurisprudence Methodology in Islam as well as Islamic Jurisprudence as a subject.
In my humble view, playing chess from the outset, is permissible on condition the following criterion is taken care of. This criterion applies to other forms of games and activites as well, and is as follows:
1. That there is absolutely no form of gambling present in the arrangement of the two parties playing the game.
2. That it is not played for the sake of wasting time, but rather played with a more noble purpose and intention, such as training one’s mind and developing one’s strategic ability, or taking a deserved break whilst engaging in an activity considered ‘positive recreation’ etc.
3. That it does not become a means of missing a compulsory act in Islam, such as the observing of Salaah before the expiry of its time.
4. That it does not entail carelessness with regards to a more prioritised matter in the life of the person playing, such as one’s education, job or family responsibility.
5. That it is not done in a way that entails any matter forbidden in Islam, such as the creation of enmity between the two parties or becoming vulgar in one’s speech or character etc.
If diligence is lacking with regards to any of these five cited conditions; the Islamic ruling regarding chess or the game in question will change accordingly to Makrooh (disliked) and Haram (forbidden).
It should be noted that it is not befitting for a Muslim to engage in matters disliked by the shariah and thus the ruling of Makrooh (disliked) should not be taken lightly.
The above is based on the all important principle in Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh) that lists all matters not related to worship as permissible unless there is authoratative evidence from the sources of Islam stating otherwise.
I would like to add as well, that many of the scholars who have an issue with adults playing chess have done so based on the presence of elements resembling that which is animate. The discussion related to animate objects, its creation, purchase and procurement is a long one and beyond the scope of this answer. For now it is important that it is understood that the discussion does have precedence in Islam and again should not be a matter taken lightly.
As a solution; I have come across chess games with elements resembling inanimate objects, and would state that these products be used instead, especially in the case of adults playing the game.
This is what Allah Almighty has made easy for me to share, and Allah Almighty knows best.
Everything correct is from Allah Almighty and any mistakes are from myself and shaitan, and I seek Allah Almighty’s forgiveness.