Imams Revive Decade-Old Fatwa: Pokemon Go Is Haram

A virtual map of Bryant Park is displayed on the screen as a man plays the augmented reality mobile game ''Pokemon Go'' by Nintendo in New York City, U.S. July 11, 2016. REUTERS/MARK KAUZLARICH/FILE PHOTO - RTSI21Y

The most prestigious religious institution in Islam has reaffirmed a 2001 fatwa against the Japanese cartoon Pokemon, with its clerics calling the new game Pokemon Go a “harmful mania… that makes people look like drunkards in the streets.”

Abbas Shuman, deputy head of Al Azhar, issued a statement branding Pokemon Go haram on Thursday, condemning the game’s potential to attract “lunatics” to mosques looking to catch the game’s signature creatures within. “Will people neglect their work and earning their living and devote themselves instead to hunting for Pokemon?” he asked.

“This game makes people look like drunkards in the streets and on the roads while their eyes are glued to the mobile screens leading them to the location of the imaginary Pokemon in the hope of catching it,” he asserted.

Al Azhar is considered the premier Islamic academic institution and its university the heart of Islamic theological thought. It is not, however, the only Islamic institution to come out against Pokemon Go this week.

The head of Turkey’s Diyanet, the government’s official Islamic agency, condemned the game as having the potential of trivializing mosques identified as “Pokestops,” locations where players can pick up useful items in the game. Pokemon Go, imam Mehmet Bayraktutar argued, “undermines the significance and value of places where people worship.” He also, according to Agence France-Presse, “suggest[ed] the game was a western plot against Islam.”

The idea that Pokemon, a Japanese video game in which the player must collect all species of the titular mythical creatures, is a plot to subvert Islam is not a new one among Muslim clerics. When the game first became popular in the early 2000s, Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheik claimed the game featured symbols “of international Zionism and the state of Israel” and had the potential of “possessing the minds” of children with Zionist ideas. His fatwa stands today, reaffirmed by Egyptian clerics.

Yousef Qaradawi, a Qatar-based cleric known as the leading religious voice of the Muslim Brotherhood, issued his own fatwa against Pokemon in 2001, also citing the potential of the symbols used to identify Pokemon types (fire, water, ground, etc.) to be used for insidious anti-Islamic propaganda. Both Qaradawi and the Saudi Grand Mufti also cited the game’s use of the word “evolution” as an un-Islamic promotion of the theory of evolution, though the creatures in the game do not follow the rules of Darwinian evolution and instead “evolve” through experience fighting or exposure to magic minerals.

Imam panic has yet to stop the game from becoming a major hit in the Muslim world, despite the fact that it has not been officially released there. Players are changing their phone’s regional settings to download the game, which has become hugely popular in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Cairo. Abu Dhabi police have issued a warning to players to be mindful of traffic while playing, while businesses in Cairo have used the game as a promotion, promising players they will have a comfortable spot to play and catch the creatures if they patronize their business.


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