- Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh made a statement on Wednesday
- It followed Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi expressing reservations over text within a UN General Assembly draft on democracy
- The Grand Mufti said the kingdom categorically rejects homosexuality
- Saudi Arabia is widely regarded as having one of the worst LGBT+ rights records.
- Saudi Arabia’s top religious body has declared homosexuality ‘one of the most heinous crimes’ and gay people ‘a disgrace in this world and the next’.
In a statement released today, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh said the kingdom, which hosts Islam’s two holiest sites, categorically rejects homosexuality, even as Riyadh seeks to transform its ultraconservative image amid a modernisation drive. ADVERTISEMENT
His comments came after Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi expressed reservations over a UN General Assembly draft on democracy that included the terms ‘sexual orientation and gender identity’.
Saudi Arabia is widely regarded as having one of the worst LGBT+ rights records in the world, frequently punishing people for homosexuality.
The mufti said ‘homosexuality is one of the most heinous crimes’, according to a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.
He said homosexuals were a ‘disgrace and shameful in this world and the hereafter’, adding: ‘Human rights… are first and foremost within God’s law and not in the perverted desires that sow corruption on Earth.’
Local reports on Friday cited Mouallimi as saying such terminology goes against Arab-Islamic identity and the laws of many member states.
The grand mufti’s comments come as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has sought to project a moderate, business-friendly image of his austere kingdom as he seeks to boost investment to diversify the economy away from oil.
A shift in the conservative Gulf state has included the lifting of a ban on women driving, allowing mixed-gender concerts and other events, and clipping the power of the once much feared religious police.
Saudi has also invested heavily in recent years in the tourism, entertainment and sports sectors, even as a strict crackdown on dissent remains.
But despite the country’s attempts to present a reformist image, many things – including homosexuality and atheism – are illegal in Saudi Arabia.
While punishments for same-sex relationships are not outlined under the law in Saudi Arabia, they are strictly prohibited under Sharia law, from which the country draws its legal framework.
LGBTQ+ rights in Saudi Arabia were thrust into the spotlight in October when English Premier League football team Newcastle United was bought by a Saudi-backed consortium.
Many spoke out against the purchase spoke out against the purchase, citing Saudi Arabia’s human rights record – such as the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the country’s Istanbul embassy and the rights of LGBTQ+ people – as a reason to block the deal. Similarly,
a Yemeni man has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for Apostasy – or being an atheist.
According to Human Rights Watch, the sentence was based on comments he made on two anonymous Twitter accounts.
The court ruled that the tweets were ‘apostasy, unbelief, and atheism’, something that is illegal in the country.
Ali Abu Luhum, 38, was arrested by Saudi authorities on August 23, and is currently being held in Najran prison in southern Saudi Arabia.
A final judgement must be approved by the country’s supreme court.
‘Saudi authorities are sparing no expense to portray the country as tolerant and reforming, but contradicting state orthodoxy on religion still results in a decade-and-a-half prison sentence,’ said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
‘Performers involved in events supported by the Saudi government should think long and hard about whether they are helping to whitewash the government’s abuses.’
In some cases, Atheism is punishable by the death penalty in the strict Islamic country.
‘A ‘modernising’ Saudi Arabia needs to first stop policing people’s personal beliefs,’ Page said.
‘As it seeks to modernise its criminal justice system, Saudi Arabia should urgently prioritise decriminalising peaceful speech, starting with the decriminalisation of blasphemy.’