CAIRO — Like elsewhere, Pokémon Go is the rage of the Arab world.
But there’s one huge difference: The game has long been deemed un-Islamic by many influential clerics, from Egypt to Qatar. In 2001, one of Egypt’s most senior Muslim leaders — Nasser Farid Waseel, the grand mufti — issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against Pokémon because, among other vices, the game “teaches children about gambling” and features “Zionist and Masonic” symbols.
Other leading clerics have called the game “time-consuming” and “psychologically unhealthy,” according to the al-Arabiya network.
Despite the religious ruling, Arabs are embracing the latest incarnation of the Pokémon franchise with zeal. The Japanese game is described as an “augmented reality mobile device game” that allows players to “travel between the real world and the virtual world.” Through a free app downloaded onto their cellphones, gamers hunt, fight or trade virtual creatures. The app allows players to see the creatures hiding in real-life physical places through their phone’s camera and GPS app.
Today, fans in Dubai and Beirut are scouring streets in search of the virtual creatures.
In Cairo, “Pokéstops,” where you can gather more “supplies” for the game, have been found in mosques, in churches, and even inside newsrooms. The game hasn't been officially released here, but that hasn’t stop gamers: They are downloading the app from websites that have hacked into the program, created by San Francisco-based Niantics.
Some authorities are so concerned that they have issued warnings for the Pokémon-crazed gamers. In Abu Dhabi, police have urged gamers to keep watch and not to expect “cars to know you are there” as they comb streets for the creatures, according to the National newspaper.
In Cairo, though, some gamers worry that pointing their phone’s camera at a site to “catch” one of the creatures could lead to questions — or worse.
"It might get hard sometimes, when you suddenly stop to catch a Pokémon and [point your phone’s camera] at a store or at someone walking or at a police station," Hisham Yousry, a social media specialist who plays the game, told Egypt’s Ahram Online, part of the country’s largest news organization.
Yousry admits he is addicted.
"Saturday night, I took my scooter and went searching for nearby Pokémon," he said.