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)
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

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.