Saudi Arabia’s top religious authority said Wednesday the kingdom, which hosts Islam’s two holiest sites, categorically rejects homosexuality, as Riyadh seeks to transform its ultraconservative image amid a modernisation drive.
Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh’s statements come after Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi expressed reservations over text within a UN General Assembly draft on democracy that included the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity”.
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.