SOURCE: The Guardian
Time: 23 September 2017
A Saudi cleric who said women should not drive because their brains shrink to a quarter the size of a man’s when they go shopping has been banned from preaching.
Saad al-Hijri, head of fatwas (legal opinions) in Saudi Arabia’s Assir governorate, was suspended from all religious activity after advising against allowing women to drive in a speech that contained comments “diminishing human value”, a spokesman for the governor of Asir province said.
Women remain banned from driving in Saudi Arabia despite ambitious government targets to increase their public role, especially in the workforce.
The ultra-conservative kingdom has some of the world’s tightest restrictions for women. They are also bound by law to wear long robes and a headscarf and require the consent of a male guardian for most legal actions, including study, travel and other activities.
In a video this week, Hijri asked what the traffic department would do it if it discovered a man with only half a brain. “Would it give him a licence or not? It would not. So how can it give it to a woman when she has only half?” he said.
“If she goes to the market she loses another half. What is left? A quarter … We demand the traffic department check because she is not suitable to drive and she has only a quarter.”
The comments sparked outrage on social media, which is hugely popular in the kingdom.
Twitter users shared the video, many criticising it and making jokes about his remarks, under the Arabic hashtag “Al-Hijri-women-quarter-brain”.
The hashtag was used 119,000 times in just 24 hours.
Some users posted pictures of Saudi female scientists and academics in response and questioned Hijri’s own intellectual capacities.
But there were many others who supported the cleric, and the hashtag “Al-Hijri is with the woman, not against her” was used on 20,000 tweets in the same time period.
Hijri’s suspension, ordered by the provincial governor, was aimed at preventing the spread of views that spark controversy and do not serve the national interest, the provincial spokesman said.
The Saudi government’s modernising reforms, backed by Saudi Arabia’s business class, have sparked tensions with influential clerics upon whose support the ruling family relies.
Some clerics have millions of followers on social media.