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.

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 photo collage illustration shows U.S. political figures plotted on a foreign-policy spectrum from most assertive to least. From left: Dick Cheney, Nikki Haley, Joe Biden, George H.W. Bush, Ron Desantis, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Bernie Sanders.
A photo collage illustration shows U.S. political figures plotted on a foreign-policy spectrum from most assertive to least. From left: Dick Cheney, Nikki Haley, Joe Biden, George H.W. Bush, Ron Desantis, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Bernie Sanders.

The Scrambled Spectrum of U.S. Foreign-Policy Thinking

Presidents, officials, and candidates tend to fall into six camps that don’t follow party lines.

A girl touches a photograph of her relative on the Memory Wall of Fallen Defenders of Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian war in Kyiv.
A girl touches a photograph of her relative on the Memory Wall of Fallen Defenders of Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian war in Kyiv.

What Does Victory Look Like in Ukraine?

Ukrainians differ on what would keep their nation safe from Russia.

A man is seen in profile standing several yards away from a prison.
A man is seen in profile standing several yards away from a prison.

The Biden Administration Is Dangerously Downplaying the Global Terrorism Threat

Today, there are more terror groups in existence, in more countries around the world, and with more territory under their control than ever before.

Then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez arrives for a closed-door briefing by intelligence officials at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
Then-Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez arrives for a closed-door briefing by intelligence officials at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Blue Hawk Down

Sen. Bob Menendez’s indictment will shape the future of Congress’s foreign policy.