Manama: The Council of Senior Scholars, Saudi Arabia's highest religious body that advises the king on religious matters, has endorsed the decision to allow women to drive in the kingdom.

“May God protect the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, who maintains the interest of his country and its people in the light of Islamic law,” the council posted on its Twitter account following the announcement of the decision.

In his order to issue driving licences to men and women starting June 2018, King Salman referred to the approval of the Council of Senior Scholars.

“We refer to the view of the majority of the members of the Council of Senior Scholars regarding women driving vehicles and which states that the religious ruling in this regard is permissibility.

"The view of those who opposed it is based on considerations related to preventing possible [negative] results that are not certain or almost certain," the royal order stated.

"The scholars do not see anything preventing women from driving, provided there are all the necessary legal and regulatory guarantees to avoid [negative] results, even if they are within the scope of doubtful possibility,” according to the royal order.

Protecting religious values

The order said that the state would do its utmost to protect the country’s religious values.

“Since the state is – with the assistance of God – the guardian of Shariah values, it considers their preservation and care among its priorities, whether in this matter [women driving] or others, and it will not hesitate to take the necessary measures to maintain the security and safety of society.”

There is no official law in Saudi Arabia that prohibits women driving, only one that requires a licence to drive, which women cannot obtain.

“The ban originated from Saudi’s conservative religio-cultural tradition and, over the course of decades, evolved from observed tradition to full institutionalisation,” Fatimah S. Baeshen, appointed on Tuesday as spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in Washington wrote in an article for the Time in June when she was director with the Arabia Foundation.

“This occurred in 1991 when, following a female driving campaign, a prominent Saudi cleric issued a religious decree linking women’s driving to the promotion of ‘sinful’ practices, such as free mixing of the sexes, unveiling, etc..

"As the ruling drew widespread support from Saudi’s large conservative religious base, the Ministry of Interior was compelled to endorse it. This is one example where activism backfired.”