What is Allamah Mansoor Hashemi Khorasani’s opinion about chess?
Every game in which there is a winner and a loser is makruh, except for the cases that directly increase the readiness of Muslims for Jihad, and the reason is the word of God that orders to compete and race in good deeds, which with its content implies that competition and race in other deeds are makruh; especially considering that competition and race can lead to enmity and grudge. However, a game is makruh as long as the loser does not pay the winner, but whenever the loser pays the winner, it is considered as gambling and is forbidden without any disagreement among scholars.
This is the general rule about games, but it seems that chess, even if it is not gambling, is forbidden because of two reasons:
One is that it is keeping statues, which is not permissible; as it has been narrated from Ali, peace be upon him: «أَنَّهُ مَرَّ عَلَى قَوْمٍ يَلْعَبُونَ بِالشَّطْرَنْجِ، فَقَالَ: مَا هَذِهِ التَّمَاثِيلُ الَّتِي أَنْتُمْ لَهَا عَاكِفُونَ؟»; “He passed by people who were playing chess, then he said: What are these statues which you are their companions?”, and this is a famous speech from Ali, peace be upon him; as Muhanna’ has said: «سَأَلْتُ أَحْمَدَ بْنَ حَنْبَلٍ عَنِ اللَّعْبِ بِالشَّطْرَنْجِ، هَلْ تَعْرِفُ فِيهِ شَيْئًا؟ فَقَالَ: لَا أَعْلَمُ إِلَّا قَوْلَ عَلِيٍّ»; “I asked Ahmad ibn Hanbal about chess, ‘do you know anything about it?’, he said: “I know nothing but the speech of Ali”, and al-Bayhaqi has said: «وَلِهَذَا شَوَاهِدُ عَنْ عَلِيٍّ»; “There is evidence from Ali for it”, and it has also been narrated from Musa ibn Ja’far, peace be upon them, that he asked his father about statues, and His Excellency replied: «لَا يَصْلُحُ أَنْ يُلْعَبَ بِهَا»; “it is not appropriate to play with them”, and it seems that by statues here, His Excellency meant chess, and one of our helpers informed us, he said:
«سَأَلْتُ الْمَنْصُورَ عَنْ قَوْلِ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى: ﴿فَاجْتَنِبُوا الرِّجْسَ مِنَ الْأَوْثَانِ وَاجْتَنِبُوا قَوْلَ الزُّورِ﴾، فَقَالَ: الرِّجْسُ مِنَ الْأَوْثَانِ الشَّطْرَنْجُ وَقَوْلُ الزُّورِ الْغِنَاءُ، قُلْتُ: أَرَأَيْتَ إِنْ لَعَبْتُ بِالشَّطْرَنْجِ دُونَ قِمَارٍ؟ قَالَ: دَعْهَا فَإِنَّهَا تَجْذِبُ الشَّيَاطِينَ كَمَا تَجْذِبُ الْقَاذُورَةُ الذِّبَّانَ، قُلْتُ: مَا لَهُمْ وَلِلشَّطْرَنْجِ؟! قَالَ: يُعْجِبُهُمْ لَوْنُهَا وَأَوْثَانُهَا»; “I asked Mansoor about the word of God Almighty, that says: ‘Avoid the filth of idols and avoid false words’, so he said: The filth of idols is chess and false words are music. I said: What if I play chess without gambling? He said: Abandon it; because it draws satans to itself, as filth draws flies to itself, I said: What business do they have with chess? He said: They like its color and idols”.
What implies this is a narration from the Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him and his household, in which it has been said: «إِذَا مَرَرْتُمْ بِهَؤُلَاءِ الَّذِينَ يَلْعَبُونَ الْأَزْلَامَ الشَّطْرَنْجَ وَالنَّرْدَ، فَلَا تُسَلِّمُوا عَلَيْهِمْ، فَإِنْ سَلَّمُوا عَلَيْكُمْ فَلَا تَرُدُّوا عَلَيْهِمْ، فَإِنَّهُمْ إِذَا اجْتَمَعُوا وَأَكَبُّوا عَلَيْهَا جَاءَ إِبْلِيسُ أَخْزَاهُ اللَّهُ بِجُنُودِهِ فَأَحْدَقَ بِهِمْ كُلَّمَا ذَهَبَ رَجُلٌ يَصْرِفُ بَصَرَهُ عَنِ الشِّطْرَنْجِ لَكَزَ فِي ثَغْرِهِ، وَجَاءَتِ الْمَلَائِكَةُ مِنْ وَرَاءِ ذَلِكَ فَأَحْدَقُوا بِهِمْ وَلَمْ يَدْنُوا مِنْهُمْ فَمَا زَالُوا يَلْعَنُونَهُمْ حَتَّى يَتَفَرَّقُونَ عَنْهَا حِينَ يَتَفَرَّقُونَ كَالْكِلَابِ اجْتَمَعَتْ عَلَى جِيفَةٍ فَأَكَلَتْ مِنْهَا حَتَّى مَلَأَتْ بُطُونَهَا ثُمَّ تَفَرَّقَتْ»; “Whenever you pass by these people who play Azlam, that is, chess and backgammon, do not say hello to them, and if they say hello to you, do not answer them; because whenever they come together and play them, satan, may God disgrace him, comes with his soldiers and surrounds them. Whenever one of them wants to turn away from chess, they punch him in the mouth, and then the Angels come and surround them and do not approach them and always curse them until they are scattered away, like dogs that gather around a corpse, then eat it to fill their stomachs, and then scatter”.
But the second reason is that chess has now become a symbol for satanists and freemasons, as in the past it was a game for kings and the like, and clearly it is not permissible to resemble them. For this reason, it has been narrated from Ali, peace be upon him, that said: «الشَّطْرَنْجُ مَيْسِرُ الْأَعَاجِمِ»; “Chess is the gambling of non-Arabs”, and it has been narrated that Abu Ja’far, peace be upon him, was asked about it, so he said: «دَعُونَا مِنْ هَذِهِ الْمَجُوسِيَّةِ»; “Let us be free of this Magian work”, and his son, Ja’far peace be upon him, was asked about it, so he said: «دَعُوا الْمَجُوسِيَّةَ لِأَهْلِهَا لَعَنَهَا اللَّهُ»; “Leave Magian works for its people, may God curse it”, and it has been narrated from Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha, peace be upon him, that he said Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah was playing chess while the head of Husain, peace be upon him, was in front of him, and then he said: «فَمَنْ كَانَ مِنْ شِيعَتِنَا فَلْيَتَوَرَّعْ عَنِ اللَّعْبِ بِالشَّطْرَنْجِ»; “So whoever is our follower must avoid playing chess”, and the statement about the prohibition of chess is proved by mutawatir narrations from the Ahl al-Bayt, peace be upon them. Also, it has been narrated from ibn Abbas that he took charge of the property of an orphan, so he found a chess board among the inheritance of the orphan’s father, so he burned it, whereas if playing with it was lawful, he was not allowed to burn it, and it has also been narrated from ibn Umar that he said: «هِيَ شَرٌّ مِنَ النَّرْدِ»; “It is worse than backgammon”, in the sense that it is, a fortiori, unlawful; because backgammon has been unlawful in their opinion, and it has been narrated from Abu Musa that he said: «لَا يَلْعَبُ بِالشَّطْرَنْجِ إِلَّا خَاطِئٌ»; “no one plays chess except for a wrongdoer”, and it has been narrated from Abu Sa’id al-Khudri that he hated playing chess, and it has been narrated from al-Zuhri that he said: «هِيَ مِنَ الْبَاطِلِ وَلَا يُحِبُّ اللَّهُ الْبَاطِلَ»; “It pertains to falsehood, and God does not like falsehood”, and the same has also been narrated from Sa’id in Musayyib, and it has been narrated from Muhammad ibn Ka’b al-Qurazi that he said: «أَدْنَى مَا يَكُونُ فِيهَا أَنَّ اللَّاعِبَ بِهَا يُحْشَرُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ مَعَ أَصْحَابِ الْبَاطِلِ»; “The least thing about it is that whoever plays it will be gathered with companions of falsehood on the Day of Judgment”, and it has been narrated from Ibrahim al-Nakha’i that he said: «إِنَّهَا مَلْعُونَةٌ فَلَا تَلْعَبْ بِهَا»; ”It has been cursed, so do not play it”, and it has been narrated from Muhammad ibn Sirin that he said: «لَوْ رُدَّتْ شَهَادَةُ مَنْ يَلْعَبُ بِالشَّطْرَنْجِ كَانَ لِذَلِكَ أَهْلًا»; “If the testimony of someone who plays chess is rejected, he deserves it”, and about the word of God that has said: ﴿وَأَنْ تَسْتَقْسِمُوا بِالْأَزْلَامِ﴾; “And (you are forbidden) to make the division by means of divining arrows”, Wakee’ and Sufyan have said: «هِيَ الشَّطْرَنْجُ»; “(The example of) it is chess”, and Ishaq ibn Rahwayh was told: «أَتَرَى فِي اللَّعْبِ بِالشَّطْرَنْجِ بَأْسٌ؟»; “Do you see any problem in playing chess?”, he replied: «الْبَأْسُ كُلُّهُ فِيهِ»; “All problems are in it”, then he was told: «إِنَّ أَهْلَ الثُّغُورِ يَلْعَبُونَ بِهَا لِأَجْلِ الْحَرْبِ»; “The border guards play it because of war”, then he replied: “It is a wrongdoing”, and it has been narrated from Malik that he said: «لَا خَيْرَ فِي الشَّطْرَنْجِ»; “There is no goodness in chess” and said: «أَمَّا الْمُدْمِنُ عَلَى لَعْبِ الشَّطْرَنْجِ فَلَا أَرَى أَنْ تُقْبَلَ شَهَادَتُهُ»; “But someone who is addicted to playing chess, I do not see it right to accept his testimony” and said: «أَوَّلُ مَنْ جَاءَ بِالشَّطْرَنْجِ وَالنَّرْدِ عَمْرُو بْنُ الْعَاصِ، تَعَلَّمَ ذَلِكَ فِي الْحِيرَةِ»; “The first one who brought chess and backgammon was Amr ibn al-‘As, he learned them in the city of Hirah”, and it has been narrated from Abu Hanifa and Ahmad that they have forbidden it, rather it has been narrated from Abdullah ibn Nafi’ that he said: «مَا أَدْرَكْتُ أَحَدًا مِنْ عُلَمَائِنَا إِلَّا وَهُوَ يَكْرَهُهَا»; “I have not found any of our scholars unless he has hated it”, and His Honor Mansoor hates it so much that he has refused to sit on a carpet colored like a chess board, and has said: «إِنَّهُ مَجْلِسُ الشَّيَاطِينِ»; “It is the seat of satans”.