Pokemon and the Arabs: First banned by fatwa, but now good to ‘Go’

This week, Arab fans have joined a growing worldwide Pokémon GO craze, all set to “gotta catch 'em all!”

Shounaz Meky - Al Arabiya English
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Despite a fatwa (religious edict) that recommended a ban on the “un-Islamic” Pokémon cartoon and game in 2001, its popularity in the Arab world has endured – as seen with the “Pokémon Go” game now sweeping the region.

The mobile-gaming hit, which was only released last week, has added $9 billion worth of market value to Nintendo in just a few days and is trending in Dubai, Lebanon and Qatar on Twitter with 2.3 million tweets at the time of writing.

The free smartphone app places creatures and items in real locations in search for hidden Pokémons. It became the top grossing app in the iPhone app store just days after its Wednesday release in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Arab gamers are now taking to the streets in search of digital monsters in the real world.

Fans in Dubai are running around the city, eyes glued to their phones, in a bid to catch the virtual Pokemons. Meanwhile downtown Lebanon last night witnessed people hunting for the fantasy characters.

In Egypt, ‘Poke Stops’ are at times being located at mosques and other random places.

In Abu Dhabi, police have issued a warning urging players to not expect “cars to know you are there” as they wander across streets, according to The National.

The game was created by Niantic Inc., a San Francisco spinoff of Google parent Alphabet Inc. that previously became known for a similar augmented-reality game called "Ingress."

To play, you start the game and make your way to prominent local landmarks - represented in the game as "Pokestops" - where you can gather supplies such as Pokeballs. The balls are what you throw at online "pocket monsters," or Pokemon, in order to capture for training. At other locations called "gyms" - which may or may not be actual gyms in the real world - Pokemon battle one another for supremacy.

Naturally, the game has also induced people to post pictures of themselves on social media chasing creatures in all sorts of situations.


Like many around the world, Pokémon won the hearts of Arab fans when it first came out in the late 1990s.

But the relationship began to be slightly awkward when some Muslim clerics accused the cartoon of being a “Zionist conspiracy” and dubbed it as “un-Islamic.”

Back then, some Muslim clerics, among them Qatar-based Sheikh Yousef Qaradawi, described the cartoon’s games and cards as “time-consuming” and "psychologically unhealthy" for children.


Outside the Arab world, Pokemon was also making waves. Pokémon games were being banned across many schools in the United States, Britain and Mexico. A television channel in Turkey was ordered by authorities to stop airing the Pokémon cartoon series after two children leaped from balconies, allegedly believing they had superhuman powers, according to an ABC report.

WATCH: The Arabic theme song to Pokemon's dubbed version has become a nostalgic favorite for many Arabs.

(With AP)

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