Why is backgammon forbidden in Islam?

Backgammon is a classic boardgame that dates back millennia—it is approximately 5000 years old and originated in Persia and Mesopotamia. The game consists of a wide variety of strategies and offers players a challenge that requires planning and deep thinking.

Not all cultures and religious groups play backgammon, however, despite its popularity around the world. In this article, we’ll uncover why the game is forbidden in Islam, and discuss some differing beliefs surrounding this subject.

What is backgammon?

Let’s start by going through the basics of backgammon. For a more in-depth look at how to play the game, visit https://backgammonguide.nz/.

When it originated, backgammon was commonly played by wealthy people in ancient Persia.

The objective of backgammon is for a player to move all their checkers into their home board and then bear all their pieces off the board.

Backgammon is played between two players on a board with 24 triangles called points. The triangles alternate in colour and are divided into four quadrants, which each contain six triangles. Two quadrants act as the outer board and two act as the home board. The bar down the middle of the board separates the home and outer boards.

Both players begin the game with 15 checkers, one white set and one red set, placed on their respective starting points. Two checkers each go on the twenty-four point, five on the thirteen point, three on the eight point, and five on the six point. 

Each player has a pair of a dice and dice cup to shake it in. Players take turns rolling the two dice, and then must move their pieces according to the numbers rolled on the dice. If a player rolls doubles, they get to move twice as many pieces as the number shown on each die.

Islam’s Stance on Backgammon

Islam forbids its followers from playing backgammon, just as it forbids them from playing chess. This is because backgammon is classified as an instance of gambling, which is not allowed under Islam.

Hadiths state that backgammon is a vain action, and even if it not played for money, it is prohibited. One hadith declares that “Whosoever plays with backgammon is as though he dipped his hands in the flesh and blood of a swine.”

This hadith is of course taken very seriously by devout Muslims, and therefore followers of Islam are prohibited from playing the game. They believe that the Prophet forbade playing backgammon and chess, and other hadiths declare that it is a vain and useless action.

Alternative Views on the Subject

With that being said, alternative opinions exist among Muslims regarding this subject. Backgammon was played as a form of gambling for money, so it was discussed in jurisprudential books under forbidden transactions or business. Backgammon was therefore seen as an instrument of gambling.

Many jurists concluded that the hadiths prohibit playing backgammon under any circumstances, regardless of whether gambling is involved in the game. Al-Shaykh al-Ansari wrote: “It is forbidden to play backgammon even if it is not used as a gambling instrument, because it is prohibited in certain hadiths only as a vain useless act, and not merely as a gambling instrument”.

However, contemporary jurists have spoken out on the topic too and offered contrary views. They believe that boardgames like chess and backgammon were forbidden purely due to being seen as instruments for gambling. Therefore, if they are not used as gambling instruments, it is not forbidden to play them.

So, while the overarching point is that Islam prohibits playing backgammon, the issue is also a bit complicated, with some Muslims interpreting this prohibition differently.