Saudi Sheikh Saad al-Hajari has reportedly come out strongly against the movement to allow women in the Kingdom to drive. Sheikh Saad al-Hajari said that the ban should remain because women possess a “lack of intellect” compared to men. He explained that they have only half the brainpower of males.
We have repeatedly discussed the plight of women in Saudi Arabia who face medieval Sharia laws and state-supported sexism. A brave cadre of women continue to defy these restrictions. Progress has been slow and incremental. Recently, the Kingdom indicated that women might be able to go to the Opera – a measure of the ludicrous laws imposed in the Kingdom.
If Sheikh Saad al-Hajari has his way, they will not be driving to the performance. He noted that the intelligence of women is half that of men and that their intellect falls to a quarter when they “went to the market”.
Just in case you thought that this is just some madman with a Koran, al-Hajari is the head of the Saudi government’s religious edict authority in the southern province of Assir. In a country imposing Sharia law on its populace, clerics like this play critical roles in explaining the religious basis for laws and traditions.
The cleric is quoted as saying that people must be understanding and sympathetic to women: “It is not their fault, but women lack intellect do they not? Would you give a man with half an intellect a driving license? So how would you give one to a woman when she has half an intellect?” He then added “And if they go out to the market this gets halved again! So they now have a quarter of an intellect.” If the last point was a joke, it was hardly funny. The problem with the Saudi clerics is that it is hard to tell when something is a fatwa or a joke given their extremist views.
I have said it before but will say it again. The women fighting for basic rights in Saudi Arabia are some of the most courageous civil rights advocates in the world. They risk whippings and arrests from the government as well as abuse from citizens in the fight for equal rights. They must advocate for these rights against ignorant figures like al-Hajari who hold key religious positions. However, one can only hope that history and intellect will prevail in the long-run.