Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin-Abdullah al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s top Islamic cleric, defended the kingdom’s ban on female drivers by alleging that women will be exposed to new evils behind the wheel.
He told Almajd, a religious television channel, “that men with ‘weak spirits’ and who are ‘obsessed with women’ could cause female drivers harm.” He also cheered the ban because the female’s family members “would not know the whereabouts” of the woman if she could drive by herself.
Saudi Arabia does not have a law that specifically bans females from driving, but women cannot easily obtain a license. Authorities make exceptions for women in rural areas who need a car to perform necessary tasks.
A year ago, the government released Mayssa al-Amoudi and Loujain al-Hathloul from jail after 72 days in prison for driving. On December 1, 2014, Amoudi drove to the border to “support friend Ms. Hathloul, 25, who tried to cross the border in her car one day earlier.” Activists claim Amoudi did not intend to cross the border, but authorities arrested her with Hathloul. The government also did not release a statement explaining why they released the women.
Saudi Arabia is America’s closest Arab ally in the Middle East. The country’s Sharia-compliant laws treat women like second-class citizens. Another sheikh, Saleh Al-Loheidan, caused international outrage when he justified the ban, claiming that driving harms a woman’s ovaries. Women are not allowed to attend a doctor’s appointment without a male guardian. Courts outlawed “tempting eyes” (attractive eyes) and sentenced a woman to 50 lashes for cursing at the religious police.
Al-Sheikh is no stranger to controversy. In December 2014, he announced there is “nothing wrong” with girls under the age of 15 getting married. Human rights activists hoped the country would set the minimum marriage age at 15.
“There is currently no intention to discuss the issue,” he said.
In 2011, Saudi Arabia’s Justice Ministry wanted to pass a law that set a minimum age to marry, since family members force many young girls to marry much older men. Saudi Justice Minister Mohammed Al Issa said the issue came to light after “a surge in such weddings and growing criticism by local human rights groups.”
“The Ministry is studying a draft law to regulate the marriage of teenage girls… the marriage of under-age girls in the country is not a phenomenon yet as some claim… those who say this are wrong.” he said. “We are considering regulations in line with the Islamic Shariah to govern this kind of marriage.”
The ministry submitted a study about the “negative psychological and social effects of underage marriages” to scholars and “requested a fatwa.” However, the scholars never responded.