A cleric in Saudi Arabia has called to keep the ban against women driving there, after claiming that their “lack of intellect” compared to men meant they should not be in control of a car.
Sheikh Saad al-Hajari said that they had just half the brainpower of males – but this fell to a quarter when they “went to the market”.
But he tried to soften his criticism by adding that they could not pray as much as men because they had periods and so it was “not their fault” they were not on the same cerebral level.
Mr al-Hajari’s comments sparked calls for him to be ousted from his religious role, with his comments described as “offending and denigrating” women in Saudi Arabia.
It comes amid growing protests against the ban on women driving that have swept across the ultra-conservative Islamic kingdom.
Mr al-Hajari, the head of the Saudi government’s religious edict authority in the southern province of Assir, spoke out against “the evils of allowing women to drive” at a lecture.
The cleric, who was quoted in a report by Saudi daily Sabq, said: “It is not their fault, but women lack intellect do they not?
“Would you give a man with half an intellect a driving licence? So how would you give one to a woman when she has half an intellect?
“And if they go out to the market this gets halved again! So they now have a quarter of an intellect.”
He added: “Their lack of intellect does not harm their piousness because they are made that way.” Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed pray while they are menstruating.
Mr al-Hajari made no effort to support his claims, which were criticised on social media.
Alshehri tweeted: “This person is offending and denigrating Saudi women, authorities must take action against him and fire him from his position.”
Wad Almtyr wrote: “The real problem is that a few of these clerics explain and interpret religion as they please and use our religion as an excuse to do the worst things.”
Saudi Arabia banned women from driving 60 years ago as part of a wider move to segregate men and women as it aligned to the brand of Sunni Islam it practises, known as Wahhabism.
Protests against the hardline decree are growing, including in a petition last year signed by 14,500 women in the kingdom.
Senior figures have joined the chorus of condemnation, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who called it “unjust”.