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Thu 21 Feb 2008 11:24 AM

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Islamic law permits women to drive - scholar

Islamic leader offers support to Saudi women campaigning for the right to drive.

An Islamic leader has offered support to Saudi women campaigning for the right to drive, stating there in nothing in Islamic law to stipulate that women must not drive.

Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al Obaikan, a member of the kingdom’s Council of Senior Islamic Scholars, said ‘in principle, women driving is permitted in Islam’, Saudi’s Arab News reported on Thursday.

Al Obaikan said the current ban was focused on the social complications rather than the act of driving, which included harassment of women from men, and traffic safety.

If these issues are resolved, there was no religiously motivated conflict with women driving, he said.

However, Saudi women’s rights activist Fawzeyah Al-Oyouni, said while most people agreed that Islam did not forbid women from driving, the government was not moving fast enough to implement the action allowing women to drive.

Last month Saudi women activists began a fresh effort to get a ban on women drivers lifted in 2008, handing a petition to Saudi's King Abdullah urging him to quash the restriction.

Signatories of the petition hope that 2008 will be the year in which Saudi women obtain their natural right to drive a car, the document said.

The petition was part of a continuing effort to quash the ban in the kingdom, where women have to cover from head to toe in public.

Women also cannot travel without the written permission of their male guardian, who could be the woman's grandfather, father, uncle, husband, son or brother.

Although women cannot drive themselves, they can be chauffeured around by hired drivers.

Although Saudi Arabia has taken small steps toward reform, women were barred from landmark municipal elections in 2005 and remain subject to a host of restrictions.

A group of 47 women defied the ban on driving by taking to the streets of the capital Riyadh in 15 cars in November 1990. They were rounded up by police and penalised, while their male guardians were reprimanded.

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