Translated by Zameelur Rahman
Zuhayr ibn Harb narrated to me: ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Mahdi narrated to us: from Sufyan: from ‘Alqamah ibn Marthad: from Sulayman ibn Buraydah: from his father: that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
“He who played backgammon is like one who dyed his hand with the flesh and blood of swine.” (Sahih Muslim)
His statement “dyed his hand with the flesh and blood of swine”: Al-Qurtubi said, “This is an allusion to sacrificing and slaughtering it while [it is know that] its slaughter is prohibited (haram).” Al-Nawawi said, “It is an allusion to eating it because the one who consumes swine his hand is polluted by the flesh of swine and if he slaughters it his hand is polluted by its blood.”
Whatever [the case], the hadith proves the impermissibility of playing backgammon, and the ‘ulama have agreed on this with the exception of what was narrated from Ibn al-Mughaffal, Ibn al-Musayyab and Abu Ishaq al-Marwazi as [mentioned] in Nayl al-Awtar (8:85).
The majority have analogised it to chess, thus taking the view of its impermissibility also. Al-Haskafi said in al-Durr al-Mukhtar:
Playing backgammon is prohibitively disliked, and likewise chess … al-Shafi’i permitted it as did Abu Yusuf according to one narration, and the commentator of al-Wahbaniyyah versified this and said:
There is no harm in chess, which is one narration transmitted
From the great scholar, the Qadi of the East and the West (i.e. Abu Yusuf)
This is when there is no gambling, and no persistence, and one does not forsake an obligation, for otherwise it is prohibited by consensus. (See Radd al-Muhtar 6:394)
Moreover, although al-Shafi’i (may Allah have mercy on him) did not take the view of the prohibition of chess, it is however disliked (makruh) even according to him, as was explicated by al-Nawawi, although its reprehensibility is less than the reprehensibility of backgammon.
It was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn Umar, Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, Abu Sa’id and ‘A’ishah (Allah be pleased with them) that they disliked chess. It was related in Daw’ al-Nahar from Ibn ‘Abbas, Abu Hurayra, Ibn Sirin, Hisham Ibn ‘Urwah, Ibn al-Musayyab and Ibn Jubayr (Allah be pleased with them) that they deemed it permissible. This was [mentioned] in Nayl al-Awtar (8:95), but I did not find the transmission from them in the books of hadith.
The Ruling of Entertainment (malahi) and Sports (al’ab) in the Shari’ah
As regards to the ruling of entertainment and sports in general, my teacher and my father ‘Allamah Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ (may Allah have mercy on him) compiled an independent treatise on it, published in his book Ahkam al-Qur’an. I will summarise in what follows the conclusions that he reached after enumerating the texts narrated on the subject, by quoting certain of his different statements:
Know that the pure and magnanimous Shari’ah of the Chosen One does not prohibit gains and benefits which the human nature is disposed to, and it does not approve of monasticism (rahbaniyyah) and absolute asceticism (tabattul), rather it demands civilisation and proper social intercourse. Yes, it prohibits extremism in entertainment and total immersion in it whereby one is distracted from the necessities of religion and livelihood. From what is acknowledged is that one of the needs man is disposed to is [the need to] exercise the body and relax the heart and give it enjoyment from hour to hour. Hereof, he (upon him be blessing and peace) said, “relax the hearts from hour to hour.” Abu Dawud transmitted it in his Marasil from Ibn Shihab in mursal form, and Abu Bakr al-Muqri’ in his Fawa’id and al-Quda’i from him from Anas (al-Jami’ al-Saghir). And hereof the practice of joking occurred in his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) sayings and actions.
It was narrated from the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that he said “entertain [yourselves] and play, for indeed I dislike to see harshness in your religion.” Al-Bayhaqi narrated it. And it was narrated from ‘A’ishah (Allah be pleased with her) that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Do you have with you any amusement (lahw), for indeed the Ansar love amusement?” Al-Hakim narrated it. Hereof, it was transmitted from ‘Ali and ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with them): “the heart becomes bored just as the body becomes bored, so search for it paths of wisdom.” And it was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased him) that when talk about the Qur’an and traditions became excessive he would say to one near him “entertain us” i.e. immerse [yourself] in poetry and stories. And [others] besides him said “relax the hearts along with [doing] dhikr“. This is [mentioned] in Kaff al-Ru’a’ on the margins of al-Zawajir (1:164)
… The upshot of the discourse is that relaxing and giving enjoyment to the heart and likewise exercising the body are from the permissible benefits and human interests which the magnanimous Shari’ah has not prohibited completely. Yes, it prohibits extremism and total immersion in it whereby it harms the worldly life or the afterlife. This is the underlying reason in the permissibility of some [forms of] entertainment in some situations, since this [type of] amusement (lahw) with this intention and purpose is no longer futile (lahw), rather it pertains to an interest and benefit, as has preceded in the hadiths cited on the permissibility of swimming, archery and competition with the crossbow, and racing with camels and beasts and riding horses and playing with the family, for although these are in the form of futile entertainment, because engaging in them is with the correct purpose and [contains] benefits for this life and the afterlife, it is excluded from true futility (lahwiyyah), and is thus made permissible, and at times is recommended. Yes, one who did these with the intention of amusement (talahhi) and play (tala’ub) it would indeed be prohibited and disliked. The fuqaha (jurists) have clarified this.
Just as amusement (lahw) occasionally becomes a benefit with the [right] intention and is excluded from futility (lahwiyyah), similarly good deeds occasionally become futile by a corrupt intention, or because of its prevention from the remembrance of Allah it relates to [mere] play and disobedience. He (upon him be blessings and peace) said, “All things not from the remembrance of Allah are futile (lahw) and play (la’b).” Al-Suyuti mentioned this in al-Jami’ al-Saghir with the abbreviation [indicating it was transmitted] by al-Nasa’i and he placed by it the sign for “sound” (hasan).”
… Once you understand that amusement sometimes becomes a benefit by the right intention and an anticipated benefit and benefits become futile by a corrupt intention or total immersion in it whereby it distracts from the remembrance of Allah, then it should be clear to you why the fuqaha differed about a certain [form of] entertainment, since one permitted it [when it is done] for a good purpose and with a good intention … and the one who prohibited it prohibited it because of his lack of confidence in that good intention and acceptable objective in respect to the corrupt practices that will result and because of what he discovered by experience that its harm is greater than its benefit.
… Hence, the rule in this subject, according to our [Hanafi] scholars, acquired from their principles and statements, is that entertainment by itself which has no purpose behind it, and does not have a beneficial goal in the worldly life or the afterlife is prohibited (haram), or prohibitively disliked (makhruh tahriman) and this is a matter that is agreed upon in the ummah and the imams have concurred upon this. And that which contains an objective and a religious or worldly benefit, if its prohibition is mentioned in the Book or the Sunnah, like in backgammon, it is prohibited or prohibitively disliked, and that benefit and goal is legally [hukman] negated due to its opposition to the transmitted prohibition since its harm is greater than its benefit … and this too is agreed upon amongst the imams.
However, its prohibition may not have been established according to some of them and thus they permitted it and gave a dispensation in it, and it may be established according to others, so they forbade it and disliked it. This is the case with chess since the prohibition narrated about it is disputed from the perspective of narration and transmission. It is established according to the Hanafis and the generality of the fuqaha so they disliked it, and it is not established according to Ibn al-Musayyab, Ibn al-Mughaffal and in a narration according to al-Shafi‘i too, so they permitted it.
As regards to that which prohibition from the Lawgiver has not been mentioned, and contains a benefit and interest for the people, then it is by jurisprudential opinion of two types:
 First, that which experience has shown its harm is greater than its benefit and its evils outweigh its uses, and that one who engages in it is distracted from the remembrance of Allah alone and the [obligatory] prayers and mosques, that will join what has been prohibited because it shares the ‘illah (ratio legis or underlying reason) so it is prohibited or disliked.
 Second, what is not so [i.e. experience has not shown it to be harmful], if people engage in it with the intention of amusement and play it is disliked, and if engaging in it is for the purpose of acquiring that benefit, and with the intention of seeking to attain that benefit, it is permissible; rather it may rise to the level of recommendation (istihbab) or greater than that.
This is a summary of what my father Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ concluded in Ahkam al-Qur’an (3:193-201).
Based on this principle, sports which are intended to exercise the bodies or minds are permissible in themselves, so long as they do not contain other sins, and so long as one is not totally immersed in them to the degree that they infringe on the responsibility of man in his religion and his living. And Allah Most High knows best.
Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim, 4:380-2