Saudis split over playing Pokémon at Grand Mosque

The UAE and Kuwait have warned of security dangers associated with the app
Saudi men play with the Pokemon Go application on their mobiles in the capital Riyadh on July 17, 2016. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)
Saudi men play with the Pokemon Go application on their mobiles in the capital Riyadh on July 17, 2016. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

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The race to capture characters with Japanese smartphone app Pokémon Go has reportedly reached Saudi Arabia’s holiest location, with people spotted playing the game outside the gates of the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

It has divided opinion among members of the public, judges and religious scholars, with some claiming it is a violation of the sanctity of the mosque and should be banned, according to reports in local media.

Saudi Gazette said Pokémon Go ‘points of collection’ – where players can virtually ‘scoop up’ characters in the game – are being found in and around the mosque.

One of the fighting grounds, it said, was even atop the Kaaba, the building at the centre of the mosque, and the mataf, the newly constructed area around it.

This poses a threat to security, according to one member of the council of senior scholars, Sheikh Abdullah Al Munea.“The game is a national security hazard as it aims to uncover secret locations, which is considered treason,” he was quoted as saying.

Suhaib Khairallah, a technology expert and partner member in Microsoft Saudia, explained that Pokémon Go characters are largely found in mosques, markets and restaurants because the game covers areas where lots of people are found. He also noted that the game was not officially available in Saudi Arabia – without explaining how some players may have gained access to it.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Issa Al Ghaith, an appeal court judge and member of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council, said: “In general, I do not think there is anything ‘haram’ (forbidden) in [the game] as it is.”

Earlier this month, authorities in the UAE and Kuwait warned of security dangers associated with playing the hugely successful app.

The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said in a statement that Pokémon Go allows criminal groups such as hackers to spy on users and know when they are in isolated places and vulnerable to burglary or other attack.

And Kuwait’s Interior ministry warned users not to play the game in front of the Kuwaiti Emir’s palace, or near mosques, oil facilities and military bases.

The app has been downloaded at least 50 million times in the 19 days since its launch, according to reports.

However, shares in its creator Nintendo sank by 18 percent – the most since 1990 – after the company said on Friday its financial benefits from Pokémon Go would be limited.

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