Religon and Chess

Chess (shatranj) was a legal issue after Mohammad died in 642 A.D. In 655 his son-in-law, Caliph Ali Ben Abu-Talib disapproved the game for his sect of Muslims because of the graven images.

In 680 the 50th rule of canons was interpreted as forbidding chess. (Murray p. 167)

It was still disapproved in 725 by Sulaiman ibn Yashar but still popular among caliphs, especially when they moved their capitol to Baghdad in 750 and took their top chessplayers with them.

The caliph al-Mahdi wrote a letter to Mecca religious leaders to give up gambling with dice and chess in 780, but he died in 785 and caliph al-Rashid came to power who was an avid chess player.

By 810 the top chessplayers in the world were known and recognized and all had sponsors by powerful caliphs. In fact, the word Grandmaster was introduced by caliph al-Ma'mun in 819 AD.

Chess was getting serious in India as well but tolerated. By 900 there was a problem of players actually wagering fingers in their chess matches - you lose, you cut off a finger.

The Egyptian al-Hakim banned chess in Egypt in 1005 and ordered that all chess sets and pieces be burned in Egypt.

Chess had picked up in Europe and pretty soon many of the clergy was spending more time playing chess than saving souls. In 1061 Cardinal Damiani of Ostin forbad the clergy from playing chess. He died in 1072 and chess was resumed in his domain.

By 1093 the Eastern Orthodox church condemned chess. The Church stamped out chess in Russia as a relic of heathenism.

In Europe some members of the clergy thought that receiving a "check" in chess was similar to committing a sin which one was able to redeem. A checkmate was similar to committing a sin that was perishable, and thus deadly.

By 1100 chess was accepted as a regular feature of noble life in England. It was even a knightly accomplishment to play chess in 1106 under Petro Alfonsi. Chess was played by the upper classes and excluded women from playing the game.

By 1115, the emperor of the Byzantine empire was a chess addict. Despite that, it was still being banned in the churches up to 1125. John Zonares, a former captain of the Byzantine imperial guard, became a monk and issued a directive banning chess as a kind of debauchery.

St. Bernard (1090-1153) forbade his knights templars from playing chess.

Chess become more popular during the crusades, but Alexander Neckam, a British author, condemned chess as being frivilous.

By 1195, the Jews were seriously involved in playing chess, but Rabbi Maimonides included chess among the forbidden games for jews.

In 1197 the Abbot of Persigny was warning folks not to play chess.

In 1208 the bishop of Paris, Odo Sully, banned chess in Paris to his clergy.

It was also forbidden in Worcester, England in 1240 by the religous leadership.

In 1254 St Louis of France restricted chess to laymen. Provinical councils were forbidding chess in France (Beziers).

King Henry III (1207-1272) instructed the clergy to leave chess alone "on pain of durance vile."

In 1291 the Archbishop of Cantebury, John Peckman, was forbidding chess. He threatened to put anyone on a diet of bread and water if they played chess.

Priests were forbidden to play chess up to 1299. The Clementine Kormch wrote a series of directions of priests. It included no chess play.

Chess was forbidden in Germany in 1310 after the Council of Trier.

In 1322 the Jewish rabbi Kalonymnos Ben Kalonymous condemned chess. By 1328 the Jewish laws were intrepreted by some Jewish leaders that chess could be played, but not for money.

Chess was still forbidden in Germany up to 1329 after the Synod of Wurzburg.

Charles V (1337-1380) of France prohibited chess.

In 1380 William of Wickham (1324-1404), founder of New College, Oxford, and Winchester College, forbade chess. He was the Bishop of Winchester and the Chancellor of England twice.

Charles VI (1368-1422) of France continued to forbid chess. He later became unsane.

In 1405 John Huss (1369- ), Bohemian religious reformer, sought repentance for loss of self-control at the chess table during a game in Prague.

In 1416 the Jews of Forli, Italy relaxed a bit and forbade all games of chance except chess.

In 1420 Werner von Orseln, the Grand Master of the Knights of the Teutonic Order, abandoned the prohibition of chess on the grounds that chess was a proper amusement for a knight.

By 1476 chess was being played in France again under Charles the Bold.

In 1495 the Inquisition saw victims of persecutions stand in as figures in a game of living chess. The game was played by two blind players. Each time the captured piece was taken, the person representing that piece was put to death.

By 1500 chess was a recognized pastime for Jews on the Sabbath.

In 1549 the Protohierarch Sylvester wrote that those who play chess shall go to hell and be accursed on earth. This was documented in his work Domostroi (Household Goverment), a book of principles of family life. This was the first printed book in Moscow.

In 1550 Saint Teresa of Avila, a Spanish conventical reformer, mentioned chess in her writings to illustrate ethics and chess. The Church authorities in Spain proclaimed her patron of chessplayers.

In 1551 Czar Ivan IV (1530-1584), Ivan the Terrible, of Russia banned chess.

The leading clerics compiled the Stoglav Collection (council of the Hundred Chapters) in 1551, which prohibited chess in Moscow. This same document prohibited shaving as well as beards were said to imitate the visage of God and to distinguish Orthodox males from women.

In 1575 a plague hit Cremona, Italy. Afterwards, all games were considered evil and the cause of their troubles. All games but chess were banned.

Chess was still banned in Russia in the 17th century. In 1649 Czar Alexei (1629-1676) found some players playing chess and had them whipped and imprisoned.

The Puritans were against chess and discouraged chess play.

Religious leaders who have played chess include Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Cantebury), Charles Borromeo (Bishop of Milan), Pope Gregory VI, Pope Innocent III, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, Pope Leo X, Pope Leo XIII, Cardinal Richelieu, and Billy Graham.

In 1981 chess was forbidden in Iran as it encouraged gambling (haram). The chess players went underground with their boards and pieces. In 1988 the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900-1989) issued a religious decree (fatwa), permitting chess play for Muslims as long as it was not played for the purpose of gambling (haram) and it does not delay the obligatory prayers or neglects other duties. The Ayatollah changed his mind after admitting that chess had its high educational and intellectual values. Chess made a comeback, spawning chess parks, chess palaces, and chess masters. In 2000, an Iranian became a world chess champion. In October, 2000, the World Girls' Chess Championship for 12 and under was won by Atousa Pourkashian of Iran at the tournment held in Madrid, Spain. Iran also produced a recent World Boys' Under 10 Champion. Today the Chess Federation of Iran occupies one of the best buildings among all sportive federations in the country. All over the country there have construction of chess clubs.

Prior to the Ayatollah, Iran, under the Shah, was the only Islamic country that organized chess and participated in chess tournaments, including the 22nd chess olympiad in Israel in 1976 (in Haifa).

In 1996 chess and other clubs were banned from some high schools in Salt Lake City, Utah. Most of the school board is Mormon which condemns homosexuality. Rather than let gay high school students form an organization, they banned all nonacademic clubs. School board members said federal law gave them only two options: allow all extracurricular clubs or eliminate them all. Some 30 clubs, including the chess club, are banned for 1996-97.

The Taliban believed chess was a form of gambling and distracted people from saying thier prayers. When the Taliban caught people playing chess, they would burn the chessboard and pieces and put the players in jail. For five years (1996-2001), Afghanistan was the only place in the world where playing chess was illegal. It was banned by Mullah Mohammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban.