As women in Saudi Arabia prepare to challenge the kingdom’s ban on female driving next month, a leading Saudi cleric is warning women that driving could damage their ovaries and pelvises and could result in babies born with medical problems.
Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Luhaydan, decribed by Reuters as “one of Saudi Arabia’s top conservative clerics” warns that driving “rolls up the pelvis.”
A consultant to the Gulf Psychological Association, al-Luhaydan issued this warning about female driving in an interview published on the website sabq.org on Friday: “Physiological science and functional medicine studied this side [and found] that it automatically affects ovaries and rolls up the pelvis. This is why we find for women who continuously drive cars their children are born with clinical disorders of varying degrees.”
Women who want to be permitted to drive should place “reason ahead of their hearts, emotions and passions,” he said.
The sheikh’s comments have drawn ridicule on Twitter, including jeers at his “great scientific discoveries.”
One Arabic poster highlighted by Al Arabiya asked whether the sheikh “studied Shariah, medicine or foolishness,” while the hashtag #Women_driving_affects_ovaries_and_pelvises has become a popular location for similar jokes including these:
— Ali Khalil (@alkhalil72) September 29, 2013
— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) September 28, 2013
Saudi women have launched a campaign to drive on October 26 in defiance of the conservative Islamic kingdom’s strict ban. Al Arabiya reports that more than 11,000 women have signed onto oct26driving.com; however, the campaign’s website was blocked inside Saudi Arabia on Sunday, according to Reuters.
“Since there is no justification for the Saudi government to prohibit adult women citizens who are capable of driving cars from doing so, we urge the state to provide appropriate means for women seeking the issuance of permits and licenses to apply and obtain them,” the campaign says.
Sheikh al-Luhaydan is urging the supporters of the reform to consider “the mind before the heart and emotion and look at this issue with a realistic eye.”
“The result of this is bad and they should wait and consider the negativities,” he said.
The sheikh is one of 21 members of the Senior Council of Scholars, which means he can write fatwas and advise the government. Reuters reports that he has a large following among influential conservatives in Saudi Arabia.
Sheikh Abdulatif al-Sheikh, the head of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice religious police, last week said that “Islamic sharia does not have a text forbidding women driving.”
According to Reuters, the women’s driving ban is not detailed in a specific law; however, only men are granted licenses to drive. Women who drive are at risk of being fined, detained or put on trial for launching a political protest.