Life Lessons from Islam and Chess

If you’re worried about whether or not chess is even allowed in Islam see this brilliant article.

As part of our work as Muslim Chaplains with the Institute of Knowledge we have office hours with the students at UCLA and USC. A couple of weeks ago I spoke to the MSA about the relationship between the game of chess and divine decree (qadar) and decided to start bringing a chess board to office hours in case anyone wanted to play.

This week I had my first challenger :).

It was fun and all, but we ended up really discussing many things relating to life while bringing it back to chess. So here are some life lessons from Islam and Chess:

  • The board is the board. You can control your actions within the board and how you respond to the other player’s moves, but you cannot change the board and its limitations. Such is life. You have a board in front of you and you must decide how to move in relation to the movements of others.
  • All strategic social interactions are analogized by the board and its pieces. In any given situation there are different factors to consider and different people or institutions represent different pieces. Some are powerful and agile like the queen, others are firm and strong like the rook, others are limited but have amazing potential like the pawn. They are all there and understanding who’s who helps to act properly.
  • Although some pieces are stronger than others in general, there are specific situations where a seemingly weaker piece can be exactly what is needed. For example, in general the queen is stronger than the knight, but in a certain situation the check mate may only be possible with the knight. This is an important consideration when understanding ourselves and others.
  • Even the weakest pieces can be incredibly strong in the right place (related to above) or when they reach their potential. The pawn is considered the weakest piece. However, the pawn is absolutely essential to a proper and strong opening. The pawn also has amazing potential in that it transforms when it reaches the other side of the board.
  • Protect the king. In any social group there is a (atleast) king. That king must be protected or all is lost.
  • Power can be indirect or direct and the former can actually be stronger. At first glance the most powerful piece is the queen. This is actually not entirely true. The most powerful piece is actually the king. Why? He is not more powerful in and of himself. He is more powerful because the power of every piece on the board is in his service.
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