As Saudi Arabia mulls executing members of the LGBT community, a senior religious cleric from the Gulf kingdom has delivered a shocking statement about Islam and homosexuality.
Dr. Salman al-Ouda has publicly stated that same-sex relations should not be criminally punished.
“Even though homosexuality is considered a sin in all the Semitic holy books, it does not require any punishment in this world," al-Ouda, a member of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, said in an interview with the Swedish Sydsvenskan newspaper.
"One of the fundamentals of Islam is man's freedom to act as he wants," he added.
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A lot of people, especially (and predictably) on Saudi social media, are criticizing al-Ouda for endorsing gay rights. However, that is not the case.
In the interview, the cleric clearly maintained homosexuality is not acceptable in Islam.
"Even though homosexuality does not distance oneself from Islam, the Islam does not encourage individuals who have same-sex attraction to show their feelings in public," he said.
But he also suggested governments do not possess the right to prosecute people for their personal choices.
"Homosexuals are not deviating from Islam. But those who say that homosexuals deviate from Islam are the real deviators. By condemning homosexuals to death they are committing a graver sin than homosexuality itself.”
The shocking comments come almost a month after Saudi authorities called for executions for people who come out online.
In March, a Saudi doctor was arrested for flying a rainbow flag above his home in Jeddah, although he claimed he was unaware of the flag's LGBT symbolism.
It’s not just Saudi Arabia — homosexuality is one of the most controversial issues in the entire Muslim world. In 2014, The Washington Post published a list of 10 countries where homosexuality may be punishable by death.
All of them were Muslim-majority countries.