In Islam, there are a number of reports (of variable grades of authenticity) that the prophet Muhammad either forbade or explicitly disliked the playing of chess. As is known, he was centered in what is now known as Saudi Arabia during the seventh century; while he may have known about chess as it was played in India, or China, that doesn't necessarily reflect how chess was played in Arabia during his rule. The colored areas in the following map (courtesy Wikipedia), especially those in brown, represent the regions he was most likely familiar with:
Islamic scholars have, as is their wont, attempted to derive rulings from (or in spite of) these reports as to whether playing chess itself halal or haram, and this is an issue on which there is no scholarly consensus. Even assuming that the reports themselves are deemed authentic, it is difficult to come up with a ruling as it is less clear why such a discouragement was originally made; this is especially important when attempting to derive rulings of analogous situations. Three major interpretations that I have seen posited are as follows:
- Due to the fact that (some of) the pieces are carved in the shapes of living creatures, it is merely an extension of the ruling regarding graven images.
- It is a form of entertainment (i.e. distraction) with no discernible benefit, so it is merely discouraged (but not outright forbidden) as a waste of time.
- It an extension of the prohibition on gambling, as people would wager on the outcome of such games.
My own personal theory — and I am hardly an Islamic scholar — is based on the fact that similar reports are made discouraging and/or forbidding games of dice (especially backgammon): Such games where the outcome is based on chance would fall under (or at least encroach on) the prohibition against divination by arrows (i.e. a practice similar to "drawing the short straw" for decision-making).
Of course, modern chess has no element of random chance; it is a perfect-knowledge game in which the outcome can be based entirely on skill, in which case my own interpretation doesn't really make much sense. However, as the intellectual benefits of modern chess have received significant study (which would fly against the second scholarly opinion listed above), and even though gambling on games does exist, it is hardly the predominant goal of playing nowadays (which would fly against the third), it seems clear that what is now known as chess is not necessarily the same as what was known as chess back then.
I do, however, know that modern chess did not arrive from whole cloth; like many games, it evolved over centuries to become the game we see today. I know I have personally played (what is claimed to be) a dice-based precursor to chess that called itself Chatranga (although a bit of Wikipedia research suggests it was actually Chaturaji). As such, it is feasible that whatever variant of chess was popular in the Arab world during the seventh (and possibly early eighth) century could involve randomization in some form.
As such, the question lies thus: What flavour of chess was predominant in the early Islamic world during the time of Muhammad himself (570-630CE), as represented by the above map?