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Religion and Culture

"Saudis Issue Edict Against Pokemon"

by Tarek Al-Issawi (The Associated Press, March 27, 2001)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Saudi Arabia has banned Pokemon cards, saying they show symbols associated with Israel and are harmful to kids.
Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority has declared a fatwa, or religious ruling, against the cute little characters Japan's Nintendo has made into a multibillion dollar enterprise that is enormously popular around the world.
Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia's Higher Committee for Scientific Research and Islamic Law said Pokemon games and cards have ``possessed the minds'' of Saudi children.
The fatwa said Pokemon video games and cards have symbols that include ``the Star of David, which everyone knows is connected to international Zionism and is Israel's national emblem.''
``A number of parents have been involved in the game and spare no expense to support their children and use the game to reward or punish them,'' said the edict.
Khaled Ismail, an Egyptian living and working in Saudi Arabia, said in a telephone interview that he set aside more than $130 every month to buy Pokemon merchandise for his four children.
But ``I long suspected the game had symbols and logos that were contrary to Islam,'' he said.
Because of severe punishments for violators, which would include lashings, revoking of a trade license, stiff fines and deportation, the Saudi edict is expected to be strictly followed.
Despite being one of the Middle East's most conservative countries, where Western influences are frowned upon, the oil-rich kingdom is one of the largest markets in the region, with countless Western fast food chains, international designer clothes shops and foreign music.
Many Saudi shops and restaurants had used Pokemon merchandise to market their products, ranging from meals for children to toys.
In Tokyo, a Nintendo spokesman denied on Monday that religious symbols are depicted on Pokemon items and said Nintendo did not design them with religious symbols in mind. Pokemon cards typically have a brightly colored picture of a character along with geometric symbols corresponding to its fanciful powers.
The Pokemon phenomenon originated in Japan three years ago as a Nintendo video game. It quickly expanded into cartoons, comic books and trading cards.
The game has been criticized in several countries, with a Christian church in Mexico calling it ``demonic,'' and organizations in Slovakia saying television shows based on the game hurt children. Many schools in the United States have banned the trading cards because they are distracting youngsters from their studies.
But until the Saudi ban, the Pokemon phenomenon had not attracted much notice in the Mideast. On Monday, Sheik Abdel Basset Ahmed of Egypt's House of Fatwa, in charge of issuing religious edicts, said he'd never heard of Pokemon before. But the cleric said anything that distracts people from praying and remembering God is ``haram,'' or religiously forbidden.

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