Sa'id bin Jubair: The Blindfold Master of Chess

The Persian empire fell to the Muslims in the 7th century and the game of Shatranj began its spread throughout the Middle East. While it is debated whether Indian Muslims derived Chaturanga (or "Chathurangum") from Persia's Shatranj, what is certain is that what we know as the forerunner of today's chess began to spread throughout the Middle East in the 7th century.

Many worried chess would be banned by an Islamic law banning gambling. Chess become very popular after Islamic theologians decided that chess playing wasn't contrary to the teachings of
Muhammad ibn Abdullah (PBUH). This decision took about 100 years and illustrates the curious power of a simple game. After the official decision that there was no harm in chess, the Muslims created a greatly-detailed literature about it.

Around 700 A.D., there lived a Black African judge named
Sa'id bin Jubair (665-714 AD) who was living in the Middle East. Of course, board sports have always been popular among the Muslims and Jubair gained fame for his ability to play blindfold chess. In fact, he allegedly took up chess to make himself ineligible for an appointment as a judge, which he thought would conflict with his religious beliefs. Under Muslim law, chess (once played with dice)  was mukarrah or disapproved of, though not haram or forbidden, but was regarded as incompatible with judgeship.

He was the first blindfold player to turn his back on the board and play without sight of the board in contrast to the contemporary custom of feeling the pieces. Jubair was condemned for his part in a revolt, and his executioner is said to have dreamed that God would kill him once for every man he had killed, but 70 times for the death of Jubair.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 8 February 2003