Riyadh - Saudi Arabia's mufti, the highest religious authority in the conservative Muslim state, has banned the popular children's game of Pokemon for being too much like gambling and suspiciously Jewish, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

In a fatwa, or religious edict, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh urged "all Muslims to beware of this game and prevent their children from playing it so as to protect their religion and manners," the newspaper said.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz charged that the worldwide phenomenon of Pokemon launched in Japan in 1996 was a bad influence.

"It resembles a game of gambling because of the competition, which at times involves sums of money being exchanged between collectors of the cards," the mufti said.

The kingdom's top cleric also protested that the concept of the characters in the game appeared to be based on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which is rejected by Islam.

Most of the cards "figure six-pointed stars, a symbol of international Zionism and the state of Israel" as well as "different-shaped crosses," he said.

Pokemon was developed by Satoshi Tajiri, based on his childhood fondness for gathering insects and watching monsters on TV. He created a video game inhabited by 150 animated creatures with personalities.

Its success has spread to trading cards, comic books, a television series, film and toys, with sales running into billions of dollars. - Sapa-AFP