ONE of Egypt’s highest ranking religious officials has condemned the Orlando mass shootings, saying violence against gays and lesbians is not acceptable.

Grand Mufti Shawki Allam is a highly influential figure in Egypt – a country where 95 per cent of people say homosexuality should be rejected – has denounced violence against LGB people despite saying homosexuality is a sin.

He also condemned the murder of 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando in June, where shooter Omar Mateen targeted the LGBTI community in the name of Islam.

“Yes, it is religiously not allowed and not accepted practice in a correctly practiced Islam. But that does not give anyone the right to hurt homosexuals or to take the law into their own hands,” he told German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

“But we live in a system and have to respect it. Islam is not alone in condemning homosexuality. The Pope of the Coptic Church in Egypt has quoted the Bible and condemned homosexuality.

“But even if we view homosexuality as a religious sin, it does not give anyone the freedom to anyone to injure other people, each person is equally inviolable.

“What happened in Orlando, is totally unacceptable.”

Allam, the country’s 19th Grand Mufti has been described as a moderate who denounces fundamentalism and is an influential figure not only in Egypt but across the Arab Muslim world.

Imam Nur Warsame, Australia’s first openly gay Imam and founder of Marhaba, a support group for LGBTI Muslims, welcomed Allam’s statement but was cautious of his agenda.

“What he’s said, it’s a huge progress… it’s better than the previous Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa who said gay people should be stoned to death,” he said.

“But he says that it’s a sin (homosexuality), so I disagree with that totally.”

Both Allam and Warsame studied at Al-Azhar University, the oldest Islamic university in the world, which selects Egypt’s Grand Muftis and according to Warsame is controlled by the country’s military.

“I do not find credibility in most of the Grand Mufti from Al-Azhar, it’s because they’re picked by the military,” Warsame said.

“Most of the fatwas he issues serve the Egyptian military.”

Egypt is not a friendly place for LGBTI people, with many having to hide their identities for fear of persecution and authorities “arresting people suspected of being gay or transgender, and prosecuting those accused of defaming religion”, according to the Human Rights 2016 World Report.

The report also detailed the arrests of 26 men in January last year who had been accused of debauchery in connection with a raid on a bathhouse allegedly used by gay men.

Other arrests in 2015 occurred when morals investigators arrested seven allegedly transgender people who had met at a Cairo club to celebrate a friend’s birthday, police arrested two allegedly transgender people on prostitution charges in May and 11 allegedly gay men were arrested in September accused of prostitution.

“Egyptian authorities routinely subject allegedly gay men arrested for “debauchery” or “insulting public morals” to forced anal exams, which amount to torture,” the report said.

Dalia Abd Elhameed, gender and women’s rights officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights told CNN, “the police would make the defendants go through their contacts and the pictures they post on [dating apps and social media] to use them as evidence against them and get information on others”.

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