Medieval Muslims played board games such as checkers and chess.
Medieval Muslims played board games such as checkers and chess.

Muslims in the medieval period played many games of physical endurance and games to promote mental development and cultural exchange. Board games became popular in the medieval Islamic world as a replacement for the betting dice games that had been played in a previous Arabic culture that was more tolerant of gambling.

Chess

The game of chess was introduced to Persia from India and it was played in medieval Islamic society to help people train their mind. Although it was played by many in the Islamic world, some medieval Muslim scholars viewed it as a form of gambling and argued against playing the game because it caused players to neglect their prayers and religious life. Muslims brought the game of chess into Europe through the Muslim conquest of Spain in the 8th century.

Polo

The game of polo gained popularity during the Abbasid caliphate which came to power in 750 AD. Polo was played by two teams of seven players each riding a small horse. The game used four-foot-long wooden sticks and a ball with goal lines marked at the end of both sides of a large field, which was typically between 200 and 600 yards across.

Archery Contests

Archery contests were very popular among Muslims during the medieval period, especially the so-called “flight archery” contests which tested shooting distance. According to the University of Missouri Museum of Anthropology, Muslim flight archery records reached distance records of 800-900 meters and were not surpassed until the mid-20th century.

Poetry Contests

Arabic poetry performances were very popular in medieval Islamic culture. The winner of a poetry performance would enjoy both financial reward and would win social prestige for his entire clan. James E. Lindsey, author of “Daily Life In The Medieval Islamic World,” said that these poetry performances were first popular at the trade fairs in seventh century Arabia and continued to be “extremely popular throughout the medieval Islamic world.” Poetry performances were often accompanied by music and singing girls who were typically enslaved for this purpose.