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Pokemon Go prompts Saudi Arabian clerics to renew fatwa against franchise

The country's Council of Scholars has deemed the augmented reality phenomenon to be un-Islamic, due to the game's supposedly negative iconography and promotion of gambling.

The game's references to evolution have not gone down well in Saudi Arabia.
Sean Hollister/CNET

In light of the exploding popularity of Pokemon Go, Saudi Arabia's top clerics have renewed a decade-and-a-half old fatwa against the popular video game franchise, deeming it to be un-Islamic.

The original decree was made to deal with the then-growing Pokemon Card Game craze, which promoted gambling and featured forbidden imagery, according to the clerics. Gambling, of course, is forbidden in Islam, or haram.

Saudi site Arab News quoted Sheikh Saleh al-Fozan, a member of the kingdom's Council of Scholars, as saying that the current version of Pokemon Go retains the same un-Islamic qualities as older Pokemon properties and therefore the fatwa (No. 21,758) is being renewed.

A big issue the Council had with the franchise is that Pokemon "evolve".

"The theory of evolution is a main element. One of the most important things that makes man condemn this game is adopting the theory of evolution developed by Darwin," the edict states. "This theory states that all species of organisms evolve and that the origin of man was an ape. Astonishingly, the children frequently use the word 'evolution' inside and outside the game. You can hear them saying that this creature contained in the card has evolved to another form."

The original declaration also took issue with symbols in the series, including a six-pointed star that can be associated with Israel, as well as "many forms of the [Christian] cross."

It's not the only place in the Muslim world that Pokemon Go is coming under scrutiny. There is talk of banning the game in Egypt due to security concerns, Al-Jazeera reports. Similar discussions are happening in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, according to the Telegraph.