Answered by Mufti Yusuf Mullan
Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullah,
The basis of the prohibition is the saying of Allah’s Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him:
“Whosoever plays with backgammon is as though he dipped his hands in the flesh and blood of a swine”. (Sahih Muslim, No. 2260).
If one looks towards the relevant sayings of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), one may classify games into three categories:
Those that have been clearly and explicitly prohibited, such as backgammon in the above quoted Hadith. Those that have been clearly permitted or encouraged, such as archery. Games that have no clear mention in the primary texts of Hadith.
The scholars mention that this third category of games will be assessed based on how engrossed individuals become when engaged in them. If it is to the point where normally one neglects one’s worldly and other worldly obligations, particularly the prayer, the ruling of category 1 will apply and the game will be deemed prohibitively disliked. In such cases the ruling will be that of general impermissibility based on the inevitable nature of the game. Therefore, even when one takes all precautions to not neglect religious and other worldly obligations, the game will still be impermissible to play, since the established Fiqhi principle states “the inevitable is considered actual”.
If engrossment is not to this degree (and the game has not been prohibited by primary text), then subject to strict conditions, playing it would be permissible, such as many sports which are essentially permissible e.g. hockey and football.
As for chess, according to the Hanafi scholars it falls under the first category based on the few narrations reported concerning its prohibition.
[Ahkam al-Quran, Mufti Mohammad Shafi]
And Allah alone gives success.
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