Passport

Return of the Pokémon Fatwa in Saudi Arabia

An old religious fatwa has been dug up to ban the Pokémon Go virtual game.

387921 03: Ash, Pikachu and Misty (background) in 4Kids Entertainment's animated adventure "Pokemon3," distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. (Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)
387921 03: Ash, Pikachu and Misty (background) in 4Kids Entertainment's animated adventure "Pokemon3," distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. (Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures)

Conservative Saudi clerics were probably relieved when Pokémon, banned by the country’s top religious body in 2001, fell out of favor over the past decade.

But those years of Pikachu-less peace faded into oblivion in recent days, as the country’s Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Iftaa was forced to dig out of its archives the 2001 fatwa banning Pokémon games. This time, it’s an order to ensure Saudis aren’t wandering the streets of Jeddah and Medina hunting for imaginary monsters with their phones.

The resurgence is due to Pokémon Go, a wildly popular mobile game, that is technically not available in Saudi Arabia, but users have found ways to download it illegally. That’s prompted a wave of questions from the public, who want to know whether religious scholars believe playing the game violates the teachings of Islam.

Conservative Saudi clerics were probably relieved when Pokémon, banned by the country’s top religious body in 2001, fell out of favor over the past decade.

But those years of Pikachu-less peace faded into oblivion in recent days, as the country’s Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Iftaa was forced to dig out of its archives the 2001 fatwa banning Pokémon games. This time, it’s an order to ensure Saudis aren’t wandering the streets of Jeddah and Medina hunting for imaginary monsters with their phones.

The resurgence is due to Pokémon Go, a wildly popular mobile game, that is technically not available in Saudi Arabia, but users have found ways to download it illegally. That’s prompted a wave of questions from the public, who want to know whether religious scholars believe playing the game violates the teachings of Islam.

The old fatwa, posted on the clerical body’s website this week, said the game should not be played by Muslims because it employs “deviant” characters inspired by polytheism.

According to the edict, Pokémon is also similar to gambling. It’s unclear what part of the Japanese game — the virtual version of which involves hunting for various monsters — resembles gambling. One guess? Its addictive nature apparently triggers the same part of the brain as food and cocaine.

Photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

More from Foreign Policy

The Taliban delegation leaves the hotel after meeting with representatives of Russia, China, the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Qatar in Moscow on March 19.

China and the Taliban Begin Their Romance

Beijing has its eyes set on using Afghanistan as a strategic corridor once U.S. troops are out of the way.

An Afghan security member pours gasoline over a pile of seized drugs and alcoholic drinks

The Taliban Are Breaking Bad

Meth is even more profitable than heroin—and is turbocharging the insurgency.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the U.N. Security Council from her office in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 4, 2020.

Belarus’s Unlikely New Leader

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya didn’t set out to challenge a brutal dictatorship.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid

What the Taliban Takeover Means for India

Kabul’s swift collapse leaves New Delhi with significant security concerns.